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Sexuality issues on docket for Judicial Council this week

By Linda Bloom
April 22, 2014 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

A marriage equality resolution and a request for a decision regarding benefit coverage for same-gender spouses of United Methodist general agency employees are among the issues to be considered when the denomination’s Judicial Council meets this week in Little Rock, Ark.

The five-item docket for the top court’s April 23-26 meeting also includes the response to an October 2013 ruling requiring an opinion from Southwest Texas Bishop James Dorff regarding the candidacy of Mary Ann Kaiser, a certified candidate for ordained ministry who also happens to be a lesbian.

The question before him was whether the candidacy “can be discontinued without an interview and examination by the (conference) Board of Ordained Ministry.” Dorff ruled that Kaiser was due “a full examination” and remained a candidate for ministry. As with all decisions of law by a bishop, that ruling will be reviewed by the Judicial Council.

Directors of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration decided last October to extend general agency employee benefits to same-sex couples.

The GCFA board on Oct. 21 changed the general agencies’ welfare benefits program’s definition of “spouse” to include same-sex spouses, recognized by a state as being legally married to the employee, and civil partners, either through a civil union or a comprehensive domestic partnership, recognized by a state as being the legal partner of an employee.

Because the church’s official position is that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, the finance agency has requested a declaratory decision about the extension of benefits from Judicial Council.

A bishop’s decision regarding the marriage equality resolution passed by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference in June 2013 also is under review. The resolution called for the conference and its churches to make a public statement “supporting and upholding” marriage equality and to support clergy who minister to all, including those who celebrate homosexual unions or perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, actions that are in violation of church law.

Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata ruled the resolution in order July 29 and said it did not “legally negate, ignore or violate” the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.

Also on the docket is a review of a decision by New Jersey Area Bishop John Schol regarding the relationship between the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and “A Future with Hope,” the Superstorm Sandy relief organization, and a follow-up request on a rules-related matter from the Philippines Central Conference.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.