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Bishops urge Judicial Council to restrict petitions to 2019 General Conference

Bishop Bruce Ough speaks during the oral hearing of the Judicial Council meeting on May 22, 2018. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.
Bishop Bruce Ough speaks during the oral hearing of the Judicial Council meeting on May 22, 2018. Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMNS.

For Immediate Release
May 23, 2018

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS -- The Council of Bishops is urging the Judicial Council to declare that the business of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church be "limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward" as stated in the April 24, 2017, call.

This argument was made during the oral hearing of the case in which the bishops asked for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the meaning, application and effect of Paragraph 14 of the Constitution in relation to Paragraph 507 of the 2016 Book of Discipline.

Specifically, the bishops are asking: "If petitions are in harmony with the restricted purpose stated in the Council of Bishops' call on April 24, 2017 as determined by a two-thirds vote of the General Conference and if the petitions are post-marked or received by July 8, 2018, may organizations of The United Methodist Church, clergy members, and lay members submit petitions to the special General Conference session called for February 23-26, 2019 that are not consistent with the 'report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward' as stated in the call?"

Speaking of behalf of the bishops, Immediate Past President Bishop Bruce R. Ough urged the court to answer the question in negative. "Opening the door to any organization, clergy member or lay member of The United Methodist church to determine if a petition is in harmony with the stated purpose for a special session would, in effect, nullify Section II, Article II of the Constitution. Any special session would, in effect, become a regular session. This is a dangerous precedent."

Listening to him were Judicial Council members Dennis L. Blackwell, Beth Capen, Lidia Gulele, Øyvind Helliesen, Kabamba Kiboko, Warren Plowden (sitting in for Deanell Reece Tacha), Ruben T. Reyes, Luan-Vu "Lui" Tran, and N. Oswald Tweh.

Bishop Ough told the justices that 2016 General Conference, as the supreme legislative body, acted within its constitutional authority when it requested and accepted the bishops' proposal. "It was stopping the endless, quadrennial cycle of legislative battles over human sexuality. It requested leadership from the Council. It was asking for a concrete, alternative plan for a way forward."

He said the Council of Bishops has been seeking to honor the intent and actions of the 2016 General Conference's request of the bishops and to ensure a productive special session that moves the global United Methodist Church beyond its prolonged impasse on homosexuality.

Bishop Ough argued that Paragraph 14 and Paragraph 507 are not on equal footing and should not be construed together. "Paragraph 14 is a constitutional provision that restricts the focus of special sessions of the General Conference. Paragraph 507 establishes the manner in which petitions are to be filed but cannot supersede the constitutional provision of Paragraph 14 and bestow the right to file petitions at a special session of the General Conference."

The Commission on the General Conference, which was named as the respondent in the case, did not offer an opinion. Rev. Gary George of the East Ohio Conference, speaking on behalf of the Commission, noted that the Commission sees its role as one of implementing the actions and logistical responsibilities determined by the General Conference, rather than that of defining the particular wording of the call to the Special Session or the application of Paragraphs 14 and 507 as applies to the legislative process.

Secretary of the General Conference Rev. Gary Graves told the court that his role was to implement the General Conference processes and not determining the question before the Judicial Council.

Three people, Rev. Keith Boyette, John Lomperis and Bishop Scott Jones, spoke against the bishops' case with Boyette contending that there was no conflict between Paragraph 14 and Paragraph 507 and thus anyone should be allowed to submit a petition to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.

Bishop Jones said the Council of Bishops was not the sole repository of all wisdom and therefore it was up to the General Conference to determine which petitions are in harmony with the purpose of the call for the special session.  Lomperis argued that limiting petitions would unduly restrict the right and ability of delegates to effectively do their work.

Two other people, Stephanie Henry and Tom Starnes, spoke in favor of the bishops' case with Henry arguing that the only business in harmony with the explicitly specific call is "receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward. Any other business is a discord, not a harmony," she said. 

Starnes, speaking on behalf of a group of conference chancellors, said the crux of the bishops' Way Forward proposal was to lead the church toward new behaviors, principally by stepping back from attempts at legislative solutions hatched and debated in scores. "If we open up the petitions to everyone, we would have nullified the clear purpose of the call," he said.

Under questioning from the Judicial Council members, Bishop Ough maintained that the Judicial Council had a duty to maintain and secure the intent and purpose of the 2016 General Conference and insisted that the supremacy of the Constitution in Paragraph 14 cannot be superseded by Paragraph 507.

Bishop Ough said what the bishops were doing was following the request made of them by the delegates of the General Conference in 2016, who asked the bishops to discern a way forward for the denomination.

Once the bishops deliver the report to the General Conference with legislative petitions, it would be up to delegates to decide how they want to proceed, whether it was amending, substitution, tabling or any other actions available to the delegates, Bishop Ough said in response another question.

Asked if the bishops were taking all three plans to the General Conference for action, Bishop Ough said the bishops were recommending one plan, the One Church Plan, for legislative action but would provide details of the other plans for the delegates to have a full appreciation of the work that the Commission on a Way Forward did.

The Judicial Council is meeting this week but did not indicate when a decision on the case would be announced.


Media Contact:
Rev. Dr. Maidstone Mulenga
Director of Communications – Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
[email protected]

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