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Decision No. 1218

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October 26 2012
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the New York Annual Conference Regarding the Resolution “The Spiritual Crisis Caused by the Requirement to Discriminate” in Light of ¶¶161f, 304.3, 341.6 and 2702.1(b, e)

Digest of Case

The Bishop’s decision of law holds that the petition “The Spiritual Crisis Caused by the Requirement to Discriminate” is an historical and aspirational statement, without prescriptive force, which does not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline. The bishop’s decision is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

On June 8, 2012, the New York Annual Conference adopted amended Item 3009, Petition 2012-305. The “resolved” paragraphs follow:

RESOLVED, that the New York Annual Conference reaffirm its historic commitment to the civil and ecclesiastical rights and privileges of all persons, including LGBT persons, and declare its passionate opposition to continued distinctions of church law that restrict the rights and privileges of LGBT people in the (sic) United Methodist Church; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the New York Annual Conference, acknowledging the grave pastoral crisis facing the church at all levels with regard to the pastoral care of LGBT people, acknowledge that clergy, lay persons and congregations encountering institutional discrimination that inhibits equal access to the means of grace for all persons may feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis. Those who so act according to conscience do so in a way that is consistent with the longstanding principled declarations of this annual conference; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the New York Annual Conference acknowledge that leaders of the conference, including cabinet members, bishops and members of boards and agencies of the annual conference, while bound by the Book of Discipline, are also bound to exercise their consciences and are bound by Jesus’s commandment to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed in our midst when called upon to enforce unjust laws, policies and procedures to the detriment of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals wishing to participate fully in the life of the United Methodist Church and those who minister faithfully to them; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the conference recognize that individuals who take punitive actions against others for offering the sacraments and rituals of the church on an equal basis do so contrary to the historic expression of the New York Annual Conference at the risk of causing grave harm to LGBT persons, their loved ones, their sisters and brothers in Christ, faithful clergy and the annual conference itself.

A request for a bishop’s decision of law was brought forth by a clergy member of the Annual Conference who presented a written and signed document which stated:

I request the Bishop issue a decision of law on the following question of law: is Petition 2012-305- ‘The Spiritual Crisis Caused by the Requirement to Discriminate’ unlawful, void and of no force or effect because it legally negates, ignores and/or violates provisions of the 2008 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church including, but not limited to Paragraphs 161(F), 304.3, 341.6, and 2702.1 (b,e). See Judicial Council Decisions 886, 1105, 1111, 1115, 1120, 1178, 1185 and 1201. This pertains to lines 18, 19 and 30 on page 48 of the Preconference Reports and Petitions.

Bishop Jeremiah J. Park ruled as follows:

Petition 2012-305 does not violate VI 161f (Social Principles, human sexuality), 304.3 (qualifications for ordination), 341.6 (ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions) nor the chargeable offenses delineated in 2702.1(b) and (e) of the 2008 Book of Discipline.
Judicial Council Decision 1120 has a very succinct and clear statement of the principles which govern the review of Annual Conference resolutions passed in opposition to the provisions of the (sic) United Methodist Book of Discipline which restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons: The Discipline is the law of the Church that regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church. Decision 96 made clear the principle that the Discipline is the only authoritative book of law of the Church. All entities of the Church are bound by its provisions. All actions of an annual conference must be faithful to and consistent with the Discipline. An annual conference may express disagreement with other bodies of The United Methodist Church, but is still subject to the Constitution, the Discipline and the decisions of the Judicial Council. In Decision 886 the Judicial Council announced the principle that annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to those provisions. Judicial review of an annual conference resolution requires an intensive fact specific examination of the text of the annual conference resolution, and a clear understanding of the context of the annual conference debate. The context of the debate is normally supplied by a complete and comprehensive record of annual conference proceedings. The Judicial Council has reviewed numerous resolutions adopted by annual conferences concerning the issue of human sexuality. Judicial Council jurisprudence on this issue is not a model of clarity. Nevertheless, the current state appears to be that a resolution may express disagreement with the current language of the Discipline and may express its aspirational hopes, but an annual conference may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objection to those provisions. (Emphasis added.) (Judicial Council Decision 1120) In petition 305, in the first Be It Resolved, the Conference declares "its passionate opposition" to the position in Church law that restricts the rights of LGBT people. This expresses disagreement with the current language of the Discipline only, but it does not negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline. See Decision 1044. In the second Be It Resolved, the Annual Conference acknowledges the pain of the Church's discrimination against LGBT people, and acknowledges the historical fact that the clergy have acted as a matter of conscience in accordance with declarations and resolutions of the annual conference. This in no way challenges the previous decisions of the Judicial Council that clergy actions which violate the Discipline are not excused because they are taken as acts of conscience. Neither have the many previous resolutions of the Annual Conference referred to in this Resolution, but not the subject of this Request for a Ruling of Law, negated, ignored or violated provisions of the Discipline. Rather, they have all been pronouncements of disagreement. In the third Be It Resolved, the Resolution states the enormous conflicts placed on the clergy of the UMC who disagree with the current language of the Discipline which restricts the rights of LGBT people. It recites those conflicts, naming first the binding nature of the Book of Discipline, together with their personal consciences. However, in so naming the conflict, the Resolution contains no call to action to clergy to be disobedient. Finally, in the fourth and last Be It Resolved, the Resolution again makes a mere statement of fact that punitive actions against these historic expressions risk causing harm to many persons. In sum, while representing the extreme pain and hurt that many members of the Annual Conference felt in the aftermath of the actions of the 2012 General Conference on these issues, the Resolution does not violate ¶¶ 161(F), 304.3, 341.6 and 2702.1, it never advocates disobedience, and the provisions of the Discipline which it opposes are not negated, ignored or violated.
JURISDICTION
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE
Bishop Jeremiah J. Park’s ruling is based on a review of Decision 1120 that offers a clear and careful articulation of the statements of the governing principles used to review annual conference resolutions in reference to issues of human sexuality. We acknowledge that differences in opinion exist on this very difficult issue. The guidelines expressed in Decision 1120 provide an evaluative way to deal with such resolutions. The overarching principle is stated in the first paragraph of Decision 1120:
The Discipline is the law of the Church that regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church. Decision 96 made clear the principle that the Discipline is the only authoritative book of law of the Church. All entities of the Church are bound by its provisions. All actions of an annual conference must be faithful to and consistent with the Discipline. An annual conference may express disagreement with other bodies of The United Methodist Church, but is still subject to the Constitution, the Discipline and the decisions of the Judicial Council. In Decision 886 the Judicial Council announced the principle that annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to those provisions.
The second paragraph states:
Judicial review of an annual conference resolution requires an intensive fact specific examination of the text of the annual conference resolution, and a clear understanding of the context of the annual conference debate. The context of the debate is normally supplied by a complete and comprehensive record of annual conference proceedings.
In this instant case we have only a notarized copy of the portion of the annual conference minutes that deal with the presentation of the resolution, Item 3009 Petition 2012-305, placed before the New York Annual Conference on June 8, 2012. The minutes included the amendments to the original petition and the final approval of the amended document along with a written and signed request for a bishop’s decision of law regarding the action taken. We do not have the minutes of the full session in which this action was taken. Thus, the Judicial Council does not have the larger context for this action. The request as recorded in the minutes was very specific about the particular lines on which the petition wished the Bishop to rule: specifically lines 18 and 19 and line 30 on page 48 of the petition as presented in the Pre-Conference material. These lines seem to be without context. They read as follows: “…ecclesiastical rights and privileges of all persons, including LGBT person, and declare it(sic) passionate opposition to continued distinctions of Church law that restrict the rights and privileges of LGBT people in The United Methodist. . .” (part of the first RESOLVED paragraph) and “…midst when called to enforce unjust laws, policies and procedures to the detriment of gay, lesbian bisexual or …”(part of the third RESOLVED paragraph). These specific phrases themselves lack the context necessary to determine if they call for action that may negate, ignore or violate the Discipline. Lines 18-19 seem to express aspirational disagreement with the Discipline that is permissible seeDecisons 913, 1021, 1028, 1044. Line 30 does not have meaning as quoted. Thus, in and of itself, this phrase does not negate, ignore or violate the Discipline. If the third resolution is taken as a whole, there is distinct acknowledgement that clergy cannot blithely, ignore, negate or violate the Discipline without consequence. Bishop Park, in this decision of law, chose to speak not just to the specific lines cited by the petitioner, but broadened his decision to include all parts of the four resolutions passed by the Annual Conference. The Judicial Council considered this broadened ruling. His ruling makes clear that clergy cannot ignore, negate or violate the Discipline without consequence. The statements in this resolution are historical and aspirational in nature and are non-binding even though the statements indicate that they disagree “passionately” with the Discipline. The statements do not advocate for any specific action (emphasis added) of disobedience on the part of clergy. The Judicial Council has previously acknowledged that non-binding resolutions do not require clergy to take particular action or engage in action that violates the Discipline. They have no “prescriptive force.” See Decision 1021. This is also the case in this resolution. No one is required to engage in any particular action or inaction in violation of the Discipline. This resolution is descriptive and not prescriptive in nature and is non-binding. It does not ignore, negate or violate provisions of the Discipline.

Decision

The Bishop’s decision of law holds that the petition “The Spiritual Crisis Caused by the Requirement to Discriminate” is an historical and aspirational statement, without prescriptive force, which does not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline. The bishop’s decision is affirmed. Beth Capen was absent. Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

DISSENTING OPINION
I respectfully dissent from the majority decision. The issue of human sexuality has long been an issue within The United Methodist Church. However, attempts to have the language in the Discipline relating to human sexuality changed have for the past years been rejected by the General Conference. The current Discipline prohibits same-sex unions or marriages, disallows the candidacy, ordination, or appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. Changes in Church law can only be made by the General Conference. The Discipline is the law of the Church that regulates every phase of the life and work of the Church. Decision 96 made clear the principle that the Discipline is the only authoritative book of law of the Church. All actions of an annual conference must be faithful to and consistent with the Discipline. An annual conference may express disagreement with other bodies of The United Methodist Church, but it is still subject to the Constitution, the Discipline, and the decisions of the Judicial Council. See Decision 1120. In a long line of Decisions the Judicial Council has upheld and reaffirmed the principle that annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to those provisions. Judicial review of an annual conference resolution requires an intensive fact specific examination of the text of the annual conference resolution, and a clear understanding of the context of the annual conference debate. The context of the debate is normally supplied by a complete and comprehensive record of annual conference proceedings. In the instant case, the records submitted include the amendments to the original petition and the final approval of the amended petition, stating all the amendments to the original petition. The Judicial Council has reviewed numerous resolutions adopted by annual conferences concerning the issues of human sexuality. The current controlling principle is that an annual conference resolution may express disagreement with the current language of the Discipline and may express aspirational hopes, but an annual conference may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline, even when disagreements are based upon conscientious objection to those provisions. See Decision 1120. In Decision 1120, the Judicial Council’s analysis of the subject resolution covered the entire resolution and not only the specific lines referenced in the request for the decision of law, and the bishop’s decision of law was reversed. Applying the principles enunciated in various decisions in conjunction with a review of the resolution, the New York Annual Conference resolution is impermissible because it doesn’t merely express disagreement with the current language of the Discipline and it doesn’t merely express aspirational hopes, but it expresses support for prohibited conduct and endorses prohibited actions. The resolution goes beyond a permissible statement of mere disagreement. The effect of the New York resolution is to negate and ignore the church’s clearly stated position as reflected in current disciplinary language. The resolution while expressing disagreement with the Discipline, speaks about “institutional discrimination”, and states that those who violate the Discipline “do so in a way that is consistent with the long standing principled declarations of this annual conference.” This is a statement of endorsement and support for violation of the church’s clearly stated position as reflected in the Discipline, as these “institutional discrimination” can only be referring to the current Discipline provisions prohibiting same-sex unions or marriages and, disallowing the candidacy, ordination, or appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. The resolution in acknowledging that leaders of its annual conference are “bound to exercise their consciences and are bound by Jesus’s commandment” is supporting and endorsing leaders of the annual conference to follow their own consciences and ignore and violate the Discipline. If annual conferences were free to violate provisions of the Discipline because they disagree with them, this would have the effect of negating or ignoring the Discipline. Such acts would leave the Church without any enforceable law, which would lead to chaos in the Church. See Decision 886. The resolution is also expressly discouraging members of the denomination from enforcing provisions of the Discipline by stating that it is against the “long standing principle declarations” and “historic expressions” of the New York Annual Conference. This in essence is placing the “long standing principle declarations” and “historic expressions” of the New York Annual Conference above the Discipline. This undermines the authority of the Discipline. For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent. N. Oswald Tweh

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