Showing posts with label Judicial Council. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Judicial Council. Show all posts

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not of One Mind

Some interesting news from the recent Jurisdictional Conferences of the United Methodist Church, which meet every four years to elect and assign bishops for the coming quadrennium: 

The Northeastern Jurisdiction voted to affirm the actions of California pastors who choose to bless same sex marriages, even though they are prohibited to do so by the Book of Discipline (you can read the UMNS story here). The delegates also encouraged leniency on those who choose to practice this kind of civil disobedience as a prophetic witness against what they believe to be an injustice.

In the Western Jurisdiction, Rev. Frank Wulf took the very courageous step of being the church's first openly gay candidate for bishop (UMNS story here). Although he was not elected, Rev. Wulf showed both tremendous personal integrity by being honest about his sexuality and tremendous pastoral sensitivity by his concerns over the backlash from people filled with hate should he be elected.

Also in the Western Jurisdiction, Bishop Beverly Shamana of the California-Nevada Conference issued a "ruling of law" declaring same sex marriages performed by UMC clergy to be "null and void" according to the Discipline, even though they are legal under California state law (UMNS story here). Any ruling of law issued by a Bishop is automatically reviewed by the Judicial Council (our denomination's Supreme Court), guaranteeing a very interesting a controversial meeting of the JC this fall.

I bring this up because earlier this summer at General Conference a legislative committee recommended adding some additional language to the Book of Discipline regarding our official stance on homosexuality. While this language did not change our official position, it did acknowledge that the church is "not of one mind" on the issue and that "good and faithful Christians" are on both sides. This majority report went to the floor of GC and was narrowly voted down. The debate over this language was described by many in attendance as one of the most divisive and hate filled exchanges they had ever seen.

But whether the Book of Discipline says so or not, we are clearly not of one mind on the issue of sexual orientation. Perhaps it's time we laid aside our rhetoric and sound-bytes, came out of our armed camps, and actually had some dialogue with one another. We're not of one mind, and the sooner we admit that, the sooner we can deal with it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

General Conference- April 28

One very positive development at General Conference is giving me some hope. The slate of delegates for the Judicial Council (the United Methodist version of the Supreme Court) approved by the Council of Bishops and ratified by the GC delegates (again, kind of like the President nominating judges and being voted on by Congress) are a much more moderate group than has been elected to the JC in recent years. In the past four years the Judicial Council has been populated with people who lean toward the extreme conservative end of the UM spectrum, and as such have produced a number of disappointing and frankly unjust decisions. 

Chief among these unfortunate decisions was the case of a Virginia pastor who refused to admit a man as a member of his congregation for the sole reason that the man in question was homosexual. The pastor was disciplined by his Annual Conference, but the decision was reversed by the Judicial Council, citing the paragraph in the Book of Discipline where it says that pastors are charged to make sure people are adequately prepared for membership. This interpretation basically opens the doors for me as a pastor to refuse membership to anybody who I deem unfit for pretty much any reason I want, no matter how small the disagreement.

For example, I believe very strongly that Christianity is against violence in all of its forms, including war. So according to the Judicial Council, I could refuse membership to someone who is in the military because they could be called upon to serve in a war and possibly have to commit acts of violence against another one of God's children. Aside from being an extremely unpopular choice in Clarksville (Ft. Campbell, a huge Army base, is right next door), I would be sending the message that to be a part of the church you have to get all your opinions straight. I would be saying that the church is a place for those who have already achieved perfection, rather than a place for those who are mutually seeking perfection together.

I hope that this decision will be reversed by the new Judicial Council. Electing JC members is a proscribed duty of the General Conference, so I'm glad they made a good decision when they were forced to make one. There are a number of other important decisions that the GC seems to be postponing, but that will be the subject of my next post.