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Bishops seek court ruling on Way Forward plans

The United Methodist Council of Bishops has asked the denomination's top court to rule on the constitutionality of some of the legislation heading to the 2019 special General Conference.

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The bishops want the Judicial Council — the United Methodist equivalent of the Supreme Court — to decide whether any of the Way Forward petitions that aren't constitutional amendments run afoul of the denomination's constitution. The Council of Bishops appointed the 32-member commission to develop ways for resolving differences over how to be in ministry with LGBTQ people.

Members of the 2016-2020 Judicial Council pose for a group photo. The United Methodist Council of Bishops has asked the denomination's top court to rule on the constitutionality of the legislation submitted by the Commission on Way Forward. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

"We are asking for this so that we can gain greater clarity about constitutional issues within the three plans, and in service to and support of the delegations, who will do extremely important work in a very limited amount of time," Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr., president of the Council of Bishops, said in a statement. Carter also leads the Florida Conference.

In a vote by email July 7, the bishops agreed to seek a ruling on the proposed legislation for the One Church, Connectional Conference and Traditional plans.

The bishops' vote came a day before the July 8 deadline for submitting petitions.

The Council of Bishops announced July 9 that it was revising its call for the special General Conference so it would receive and act on a report from the commission rather than the Council of Bishops.

Meanwhile, the organizers of General Conference also announced that the translation work has begun on the Way Forward report as well as petitions submitted by other United Methodist individuals and groups.

The Way Forward report will be sent to the bishops and the Way Forward Commission to post publicly after it has been translated from English to the three other official languages of General Conference — French, Kiswahili and Portuguese.

The Council of Bishops is among the church bodies the Book of Discipline, the denomination's policy book, authorizes to seek Judicial Council ruling.

Getting a decision from the Judicial Council in advance of the special General Conference could prevent difficulties later.

The special General Conference is scheduled for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis. The Judicial Council's fall meeting is set for Oct. 23-26 in Zurich.

Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS

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