Bishop Nunn Explains Judicial Council Rulings
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ. My purpose in this conversation is to update you on recent actions taken at the February 2019 General Conference, and the decisions of the Judicial Council that were made last week about those actions. I realize that some of you will be pleased with the actions and decisions, while others will be disappointed. I acknowledge the pain and uncertainty of the day. In this video, I will provide a context for our mission from the Constitution of the church, summarize Decisions 1378 and 1379, and conclude with my hope for the future.
To remind us of the context for our mission together, I want to review Division 1, article 4 in the Constitution of the UMC. This document did not change at General Conference.
“The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.”
You may be wondering who makes the decisions on behalf of the church. As Bishop Ken Carter, President of the Council of Bishops, has written, “Our polity disperses authority to lay and clergy delegates to General Conferences in writing legislation and to the Judicial Council in interpreting the constitutionality of that legislation.” Only GC can create policy for the church. The role of delegates elected by annual conferences around the world is to create legislation for the church. The role of the judicial council is to provide decisions when questions of law and constitutionality are forwarded to them. The role of the bishop is to put into practice that which is adopted at General Conference.
With that backdrop, what has changed in United Methodist polity? In Decision 1378, the Judicial Council considered each piece of legislation as an independent item, rather than deciding on all the legislation as a whole. There were eight actions ruled constitutional and seven items ruled unconstitutional.
The first constitutional item is a definition. The definition of the term “Self-avowed practicing homosexual” was expanded to include persons “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union, or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual.”
Second, Boards of Ordained Ministry shall closely examine candidates under the provisions for ordination outlined in ¶304 and shall not recommend candidates who do not meet the requirements for candidacy, commissioning, or ordination.
Likewise, a bishop may not consecrate bishops, commission provisional elders or deacons or ordain persons who do not meet the requirements of 304, even if the candidates are duly elected.
Other approved legislation prohibits bishops from dismissing official complaints at their discretion. Dismissals must have a basis in law or fact. The goal of any complaint is to resolve it by means of a just resolution. New legislation states that “Just resolutions shall state all identified harms and how they shall be addressed.” In addition, “every effort shall be made to have the complainant(s) agree to the resolution before it may take effect.”
Should a clergyperson perform a same gender wedding and a formal complaint be filed, and the matter go to a church trial, the penalty for the first offense is suspension from ministry for one year without pay. The penalty for the second offense is loss of credentials.
Items ruled unconstitutional include the proposal that accountability for bishops be transferred from the various jurisdictions to the Council of Bishops. Additional certification proposals over and above those required of the Board of Ordained Ministry were also declared unconstitutional.
The provisions of the legislative action take effect January 1, 2020.
The Judicial Council also issued Decision 1379 after its recent session. This matter deals with the right of a local church to exit the denomination.
The minimum requirements to leave the denomination are (1) a resolution approved by a two-thirds majority of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference, (2) the terms and conditions are negotiated with the annual conference trustees, (3) the agreement must be ratified by the majority present and voting at annual conference.
These provisions take effect immediately.
I encourage us to live out our baptismal vows. I encourage us serve the people in our mission field, whoever they are, whatever their way of life, wherever they find themselves, we all stand in the need of God’s grace and God’s love. Finally, I encourage us to love one another. May God bless you.