From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Judicial Council issues two decisions
Fri, 30 Apr 2004 14:00:26 -0500
April 29, 2004 GC04-020
By Neill Caldwell*
PITTSBURGH (UMNS) - The United Methodist Judicial Council issued rulings in
the two cases on its docket as the church's highest court held its spring
meeting at the site of the 2004 General Conference.
The council will continue to meet during General Conference and respond to
requests from the legislative assembly as they arise. General Conference
adjourns May 7.
In one April 29 decision, the council ruled that local pastors in the United
Methodist Church do not lose the right to the supervisory process and a
possible trial if their appointment is terminated, provided that they had
received a written and signed complaint from their bishop or district
superintendent. The request for a declaratory decision came from the
California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference.
In the second case, the council ruled that the Louisiana Annual Conference's
structure and rules are still not in compliance with the denomination's Book
of Discipline and previous Judicial Council decisions. This is the fourth
time the council has ruled the Louisiana Conference's revised structure null
In the California-Pacific case, a local pastor received a letter of
termination from his district superintendent, citing chargeable offenses
under Paragraph 2702.1 of the Book of Discipline. A clergy advocate of the
terminated pastor regarded the letter of termination as a formal complaint,
and asked the annual conference to request a decision from the Judicial
Council as to whether the termination of an appointment ends a local pastor's
right to due process.
The council ruled that once a complaint is filed, the right to fair process
is not affected by any change in a pastor's appointment status. However, the
local pastor must be informed of the process for filing the complaint and its
Four of the council's nine members signed a dissenting opinion, stating that
the ruling dilutes the power of a bishop to discontinue a local pastor's
appointment. The dissenters argued that termination of an appointment ends a
local pastor's right to due process.
"The discontinuance of the appointment of a local pastor severs the
conference ministerial relationship and the attendant fair process rights
because that individual is no longer a local pastor," they wrote. "The
Discipline, in Paragraph 346.1, does not impose upon the bishop any criteria,
constraint or guideline for the discontinuance of a local pastor's
appointment. If a bishop's authority of appointment or discontinuance of a
local pastor is to be diminished or curtailed, it must be accomplished by the
General Conference and not by the Judicial Council."
The dissenting opinion was signed by Sally Curtis AsKew, Sally Brown Geis,
the Rev. Larry D. Pickens and Mary A. Daffin. Those in the majority were the
Rev. John G. Corry, the Rev. C. Rex Bevins, Rodolfo Beltran, the Rev. Keith
Boyette and James Holsinger.
In the other case, the Louisiana Conference had approved revisions and
amendments to its conference structure and rules in 2002, after the Judicial
Council had found that deficiencies continued to exist. The court had
instructed the conference to advise and resubmit its structure and rules.
However, in reviewing the 2002 revisions, the council found that many of the
same deficiencies still exist. The ruling listed a number of examples where
Louisiana's rules "fall short" of the Discipline and also stated that the
list of examples was "not exhaustive." The conference was directed to review
its entire plan for compliance.
The decision reads, in part: "When an annual conference seeks to establish
its own structure, the structure must be in accordance with the requirements
of the Discipline and the decisions of the Judicial Council in order to be
The council remanded the structure and rules back to the Louisiana Conference
and directed that any revision or amendments be submitted to the Judicial
Council by July 15 in the year which they are approved.
The council will continue to be available during General Conference to make
additional decisions. In a motion that was approved on the floor of General
Conference on April 27, the Judicial Council was requested to rule whether or
not Paragraph 304.3 of the Book of Discipline constitutes a declaration by
the United Methodist Church that "the practice of homosexuality is
incompatible with Christian teachings," and if so, does Paragraph 2702.1(b)
"incorporate that declaration into church law by reference?" The council has
not yet ruled on that question.
# # #
*Caldwell is a correspondent for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.
After May 10: (615) 742-5470.
United Methodist News Service
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