The denomination's Council of Bishops had requested a declaratory decision on whether petitions inconsistent with the bishops' own report could be considered at the Special General Conference, set for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis.
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Although the bishops have talked about the broad outlines of the report, it has yet to be made public. Judicial Council held a May 22 oral hearing on the request before beginning its deliberations on a declaratory decision.
The United Methodist Church's top court ruled that other petitions — in addition to legislation from the Council of Bishops — can be submitted for the 2019 special session of General Conference.
In its analysis, the court cited Paragraph 14 of the church's constitution in declaring that "petitions which are in harmony with any business which may be proposed in the Bishops' Report are allowed."
Any organization, as well as clergy members and lay members, can file a petition for the 2019 special session of General Conference, which is devoted to working through a longstanding impasse over homosexuality. Those petitions must be "in harmony with the purpose stated in the call" for the special session, the United Methodist Judicial Council said in Decision 1360.
The purpose of the call for the special session "is limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Way Forward," the Judicial Council noted in its ruling.
"It is the obligation of the General Conference to determine, in the first instance, through its committees, officers and presiders, acting in accordance with The Discipline and the rules and procedures of the General Conference, whether any such petition is 'in harmony,'" the ruling said.
Business deemed not "in harmony" is not permitted unless approved by a two-thirds vote of General Conference, Judicial Council said.
The Council of Bishops said it was sharing the commission's work, which was conducted at closed meetings, and recommending the One Church Plan for legislative action by the special General Conference. The council also will provide supplementary materials about two other options, the Traditionalist Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.
In the analysis of its decision to allow other petitions, Judicial Council cited Paragraph 507 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, which allows for a petition from organizations and clergy or lay members "if it meets the criteria set forth therein." There is no distinction "whether such petitions are to a regular or special session of General Conference," the court said.
Linda Bloom, assistant news editor, UMNS based in New York.
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