United Methodist high court to meet in Philippines
Feb. 5, 2007
NOTE: Photographs are available at http://umns.umc.org.
A UMNS Report By Neill Caldwell*
The highest court of The United Methodist Church has a relatively short docket of 10 items - including reconsidering its complex decision on General Conference representation for the African nation of Cote d'Ivoire - but its meeting place may be the most significant aspect of this spring's session.
The Judicial Council will convene April 25-28 in Manila, Philippines, in the body's first meeting in history outside the United States.
As The United Methodist Church grows globally, various church bodies have held more meetings overseas. In recent months, for example, both its Council of Bishops and its Commission on Communications have met in Africa.
The upcoming Judicial Council meeting location stems from the 2000 election to the court of Rodolfo C. Beltran, an attorney from Cabanatuan City, Philippines. The first person from outside the United States to serve on the council, Beltran invited his colleagues to meet in the Philippines.
Two items on the spring docket come from the Philippine Central Conference. The first asks about clergy membership in an annual conference as it relates to the Central Conferences, which lie outside the United States. The second concerns the authority of a bishop when serving as a member of the board of a university.
On another international question, the Judicial Council will revisit its fall 2006 decision regarding the number of delegates that the Methodist Church of Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) can send to the 2008 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body. Meeting in Cincinnati, the council let stand the 2004 General Conference vote to give Cote D'Ivoire just two delegates to the 2008 General Conference, set for April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The representation deviates from the formula for representation outlined in the 2004 Book of Discipline which, if followed, would entitle the new African conference to as many as 70 delegates, making it the largest delegation at General Conference. If the General Conference sticks to its ceiling of 1,000 delegates, the size of other delegations would have to be reduced.
That issue remains in the air, however. In Cincinnati, a majority of four of the seven Judicial Council members present voted to hold the General Conference action unconstitutional. However, Paragraph 2608 of the Book of Discipline requires a minimum of six votes to "declare any act of the General Conference unconstitutional."
In a dissenting opinion, the four council members - Beltran, Dennis Blackwell, Keith Boyette and Jim Holsinger - stated that the 2004 vote "denies a fully functioning annual conference duly created by the actions of the 2004 General Conference and the West Africa Central Conference its proportionate representation amongst the delegates to the 2008 General Conference. The General Conference, and now this Judicial Council, has acted in a way which substantially disenfranchises what statistically is the largest annual conference in The United Methodist Church."
One item left over from the council's fall meeting is a request from the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race regarding the merger of the National United Methodist Native American Center with the Native American Comprehensive Plan. The commission seeks to reverse that move, which was recommended by the United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration. Its appeal is supported by the board of the Native American Comprehensive Plan.
Also on the spring docket, the council is asked to:
* Review a bishop's decision of law on the constitutionality of the plan of organization for the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference; * Respond to a request from the Minnesota Annual Conference to define the term "urban center" in Paragraph 2548.7 of the Book of Discipline; * Review a bishop's decision of law in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference on the authority of a district superintendent to require a pastor to take a leave of absence; * Review a bishop's decision of law in the New York Annual Conference concerning action of the clergy executive session on a pastor on administrative location; * Review a bishop's decision of law in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference on the suspension of a pastor; * Review a bishop's decision of law in the Detroit Annual Conference concerning a bishop's power to insist that a full-time pastor live in a parsonage.
The Book of Discipline requires all bishops' decisions of law to be reviewed by the Judicial Council.
*Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate magazine and covers the Judicial Council for United Methodist News Service.
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