Judicial Council won't reconsider 2 decisions


By Neill Caldwell

United Methodist News Service

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The United Methodist Judicial Council has rejected appeals to reconsider two decisions that have created much debate within the church.

The council voted not to revisit Decisions 1031 and 1032, issued last October and related to the case of the Rev. Ed Johnson of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church, who blocked a practicing homosexual man from taking membership in the church.

Johnson was placed on involuntary leave last June by his clergy peers in the Virginia Annual Conference, and Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer upheld the action. But in Decision 1031, the Judicial Council ruled that Johnson’s due process rights were violated when the conference transformed an administrative complaint against him into a judicial complaint. And in Decision 1032, the council made a much more far-reaching ruling, saying that the senior pastor of a local church does have the right to determine a person’s readiness for membership.

Following the rulings, Kammerer returned Johnson to the South Hill pulpit.

The two rulings created much protest across the denomination from those who said the decisions stood in contrast to the spirit of the church’s theme of “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” The decisions also triggered official appeals from Kammerer and the Virginia Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, as well as briefs from the principals in the case and numerous friends of the court.

During the council’s April 26-28 meeting, about 50 demonstrators held a silent vigil in the public areas of the Embassy Suites hotel where the court met. The group, which included clergy, laity and students from around the country, wanted the council to reconsider and overturn Decisions 1031 and 1032 (see related story).

The Judicial Council issued short memos (1040 and 1041) declaring it would not reconsider the two rulings. Four of the Judicial Council members joined in writing dissenting opinions, and three members signed a concurring opinion. The court has nine members.

On its docketed items in this spring session, the Judicial Council:

Affirmed the decision of law by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward in the Mississippi Annual Conference in the case of a protest of the removal of trees from the property of Aldersgate United Methodist Church. The bishop ruled that the Discipline was not violated during the tree removal, and that the action was a local church matter and not the business of the annual conference.

Declined jurisdiction due to the “inadequacy of the record” in two requests from the California-Pacific Annual Conference to rule on the withdrawal of a recommendation for probationary membership by the conference’s board of ordained ministry, and the continuance of a probationer beyond eight regular sessions of the annual conference. Both memoranda stated that “although the record reflects the request for declaratory decision, it provides little else upon which the Judicial Council can logically proceed.”

Ruled that Amendment VII to the United Methodist Constitution defines clergy membership in an annual conference and does not limit or change the voting rights of the various clergy categories that remain. The case came from a request by the Dakotas Annual Conference to examine how Amendment VII, adopted by the 2004 General Conference and ratified by annual conferences last year, would affect voting rights. “The Constitution now mandates a definition of clergy status that includes only those categories specified in Paragraph 32,” the ruling says. “Amendment VII has no effect on the voting rights of lay members of the annual conference,” the council added.

Ruled that there was no authority to assume jurisdiction in the question of a pair of bishop’s rulings during a West Michigan Annual Conference debate on parsonage standards and escrow funds, respectively, because the rulings were parliamentary in nature.

Affirmed the decision of law by Bishop Warner H. Brown Jr. in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference that a proposed amendment allowing clergy to waive base minimum compensation was in violation of the Book of Discipline. “Only deacons may choose to waive minimum base compensation” and can be appointed to a non-salaried position, the ruling stated. “Elders and local pastors are entitled to receive not less than the equitable compensation established by the annual conference.”

The Judicial Council is next scheduled to meet Oct. 25-28 in Cincinnati.