The United Methodist Church’s top court has ruled that other petitions — in addition to legislation from the Council of Bishops — may be submitted for the 2019 special session of General Conference. But the Judicial Council said only petitions “in harmony” with the purpose stated in the call for a special session are acceptable.
Any organization, clergy or lay member can file a petition for the 2019 special session, to be held Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Mo. 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 special session will be devoted to working through the church’s longstanding impasse over homosexuality. The 2016 General Conference voted to put petitions related to human sexuality on hold amid open talk of a denominational split. They agreed instead to receive a report from the Council of Bishops, based on recommendations from a Special Commission on a Way Forward, to be created by the bishops.
The Judicial Council 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.” The decision was posted May 25 on the Judicial Council’s website after the conclusion of its meeting in Evanston, Ill.
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. General Conference is the top legislative body of The United Methodist Church.
Although the bishops have talked about the broad outlines of their 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.
“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 Commission on a Way Forward finished its work this spring, after a series of discussions. 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.
That plan would loosen current restrictions on same-sex weddings and gay clergy at the conference and local levels. The council also will provide supplementary materials about two other options, the Traditionalist Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan.
NEWSpirit will report Tuesday, May 29, on recent discussions about this concern among conference members and also plans for addressing it at Annual Conference and at District Town Hall Meetings with Bishop Peggy Johnson in the fall.
We welcome more viewpoints and would like to cover more discussions of A Way Forward as they happen across our conference. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.