Judicial Council Thoughts

Having listened to the oral arguments in front of the Judicial Council today, I wanted to make some remarks about them. What I am not going to do is try and argue the finer points of Methodist church law in this. I think that the legal arguments in this are actually secondary. Don’t misunderstand, the Judicial Council is going to rule on the legal aspects, and rightly so, but I don’t think that is really what is being argued about. That is just my opinion however, so take it as such.
“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.” (Atifete Jahjaga)
A couple of initial thoughts. Bishop Jones doubled down on calling the brief Bishop Ough’s comments, etc. while Bishop Ough kept referring to what was brought forward as being from the Council of Bishops. They still can not, as a group, decide what they actually said. Bishop Ough did clear up what would be on the table at the called General Conference. The local option will be proposed. The other two options will be in the “historical narrative” (whatever that means) including their legislative language, and they will be able to be acted upon. Bishop Ough also said that the late date for the report being submitted was not part of some nefarious plan, then went on to say that the Council did this with the expectation of no other petitions being allowed, so it wouldn’t be a big deal. Considering that they had to bring the question to the Judicial Council, that seems pretty pretentious to me. I’ll just say it, I believe that he is telling a falsehood. There has been no transparency with this process from the start, so the only judgement that I can make is based upon the past actions. I think this also because he made his position clear that anything that was not a part of the Bishop’s report, was then not “in harmony” with it and thus unable to be submitted prior to the Special General Conference. Of course he also said that only the General Conference could decide what was in harmony after he announced what would be in harmony. Got to love the double speak. (I think he acts more line Bishop Orwell personally.) He claimed that a 3/4 vote would be necessary to determine harmony, but when questioned on this by a member of the Judicial Council, he retreated to the position that the report was what would be in harmony. Bishop Ough(Orwell) also declared that he thought an open and transparent process was the best way forward, and then announced that doesn’t happen by allowing petitions, but by acting upon the Bishop’s recommendation. Transparency now seems to mean what ever the Bishop’s tell us.
The claim is that the 2016 General Conference gave the Bishop’s a mandate and they have followed it by compiling a proposal, and bringing it before the special General Conference. That is all and nothing else. That is the contention of the Council of Bishop’s, except the Bishops who disagree of course. Basically, the report is the only thing that may be discussed and acted upon. That means that unless you happen to be a delegate to the General Conference, you have no voice. Much like rule 44 sought to do, the voice of the multitude of Christians who call themselves United Methodist, would be silenced by the inability to submit legislation. At the end of the day, that is what those arguing for nothing but the Bishop’s report seek to do, silence anything they do not want heard and can not control. That may not be their motivation, though I think for some it is, but it is the end result. That would mean that all the Bishops need to do is call special General Conferences and control whatever they wished. Yes, the argument could be made that they would not do such a thing, but the better argument is that they should not have the power to do such a thing in the first place. That power can only come at the cost of silencing the masses.
The counter argument is that petitions can be submitted, and if they are not “in harmony” then they would require a 3/4 to be considered. What is “in harmony” with the stated purpose of the called General Conference? When the called General Conference was announced, it had the following purpose as stated by Bishop Ough (Orwell): “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”  This makes a great deal of sense as a specially called General Conference should be limited in scope. What then was the purpose of the Commission of a Way forward? That was established at General Conference 2016. “We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts. We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two- to three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference. (We will consult with GCFA regarding cost-effective ways to hold that gathering.)” (http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/general-conference/2016/documents/council-bishops-statement-offering-way-forward-may-18-gc2016.pdf)
Now I may be being to simple here, but if it has to do with the Discipline’s language regarding human sexuality, it seems to me that makes in “in harmony” with the commission’s report. I want to point something out here though. The General Conference authorized the Bishops, to form this commission to do what was described above. (Note, the Commission did an excellent job under less than ideal circumstances, this is not about them, their faithful work, or their dedication.) Here is the job that the commission was tasked with. Take a moment and read it for yourself please. Then compare it with what they were authorized to do by the General Conference. See any differences? Did the General Conference even give the Bishop’s authority to form a commission to completely rework the connection? I’m not so sure, but I digress. The point of this is that if the commission was empowered to deal with human sexuality issues and change the nature of the connection, then how is a petition that deals with human sexuality or the nature of the connection not “in harmony”?  The answer is that the Council doesn’t control the narrative then and does not have the chance to shove a reworked local option that has continuously failed down the throats of anxious and nervous United Methodists seeking an end to all that has been going on in the past decades. Thankfully people like Bishop Jones, and John Lomperis advocate for the voices of all United Methodists to be honored in this.
The argument here is not about what language means in the Book of Discipline, or the United Methodist Constitution, it’s not about what can properly come before a special General Conference, it is about who gets to be heard. Is it the Council of Bishops alone, or is it the whole church?

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5 Replies to “Judicial Council Thoughts”

  1. the assignment clearly says: “We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”

    It states that the commission will report. It says the commission will be representative of all positions. It says nothing about any one else reporting. Seems you have no leg to stand on.

    1. Point one, The commission that the Bishops formed and the mandate they gave it already goes beyond the scope of what the GC empowered it to do. The GC empowered the Bishops to form a commission to look at the BoD statements on human sexuality. The Bishops took it upon them selves to empower the COWF to do more, so if we are talking about legs to stand on, the Bishops report is already beyond the scope of what was authorized.
      Point two, things “in harmony” (the language in the BoD) with the purpose of a called special conference are very much allowed to be discussed. Given that the Bishops are presenting their report about the way forward, anything that is in harmony with that is allowable. What is in harmony? That is of course the question, none the less, from a plain reading it sure seems like there is a whole lot that is in harmony with discussing the future of the church.
      Point three, all positions are not represented in their report unless they lied about it. There is nothing there that touches on full inclusion. While that is nowhere near my understanding of scripture, it is indeed a position, and a vocal one at that.
      Point four, and most importantly, “I think that the legal arguments in this are actually secondary.” You seem to have missed the point of this entirely.
      I’m feeling pretty good about my legs, but thanks for asking.

  2. You miss another aspect to this mess/debacle. Bishop Ough and others constantly refer to General Conference as the supreme decision making body of the church–and he is absolutely correct and Bishops are supposed to be responsive to General Conference. However there are Bishops who have made it painfully clear that when it comes to sexuality–and some other issues have recently been added to the list– they are not subject to General Conference/The Discipline but rather their own conscience. However, whenever it suits their purposes they are extremely responsive to General Conference and the Discipline. And I do not remember which other presenter made the inane comment I have heard before that when it came to the sexuality question, the legislative process is not working. The point I am trying to make is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with the polity of the United Methodist Church. The problem is those that pick and choose what they will and will not abide by. And we are supposed to restructure the church to accommodate those who refuse to abide by the current guidelines? Has anybody heard Bishop Ough or the current President of the COB declare that the entire council of Bishops will abide by whatever decision GC2019 brings forth and the church will move on with that decision? Also, when the new Secretary of GC was questioned about how other petitions will be vetted, he had a “deer in the head light” look and his response was that unlike what happens with regular General Conferences, there are no established criteria by which to determine whether or not any other petitions submitted to GC2019 are in harmony with the call–and he asked the Judicial Council to set parameters which they did not do. There is nothing clear cut about any of this.

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