Bishop Harvey Reflects on Judicial Council Rulings

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey
April 29, 2019

As many of you may have heard by now, the Judicial Council, (the Supreme Court of the United Methodist Church) delivered its rulings on legislation passed at the February Special Called Session of the General Conference 2019. 

Portions of the Traditional Plan previously deemed unconstitutional were upheld as unconstitutional and portions previously deemed constitutional remained constitutional. 

The Disaffiliation Plan that would allow churches to leave the UMC with their property was initially ruled unconstitutional, but the court reconsidered their decision and deemed it constitutional with the caveat that churches choosing to leave the denomination would only be allowed to do so once the Annual Conference session ratifies the decision. 

I am encouraged with this particular action of the Judicial Council that acknowledges and reaffirms our connectional nature and that the annual conference is the basic body of the Church. 

Connectionalism is an important part of our identity as United Methodists.

While some are elated with these decisions, others I know are troubled. 

One important note is that the Judicial Council does not legislate but instead interprets the legislation.  They are not makers of the law but interpreters of the law.  Only the General Conference delegates legislate. 

I am thankful for the care and discernment of the Judicial Council and respect their work and their decision.  I, like many, continue to be troubled by the punitive nature of the work of the General Conference and the harm that continues to be inflicted upon LGBTQIA+ persons, their families, and allies. 

While some of you will agree with me, I know others will not, and yet, I am still in ministry with you and respect your position.  Our agreement on human sexuality is not the basis of our faith, ministry, or mission; the basis of our faith, ministry, and mission is in Jesus Christ.

I will continue to work to find a more just way for us to fully express our Wesleyan witness.  We must honor and respect one another in Christian love even as we disagree.

I believe one of the reasons it has been so difficult to make the Traditional Plan fully constitutional is because it is not who we are.  We are people of justice, grace, inclusion, reconciliation, and restoration and the Traditional Plan falls short of embracing these important tenets of our faith.

I believe in the authority of scripture and as Wesleyan Methodists believe we interpret scripture using tradition, experience, and reason.  We each bring who we are, what we have experienced, where we grew up, where we went to school to our understanding of the scriptures.  To deny that is to deny the whole person of God.

"I will continue to work to find a more just way for us to fully express our Wesleyan witness. We must honor and respect one another in Christian love even as we disagree."



I must also remind us of who we say we are as Louisiana United Methodists...

The mission of the Louisiana Annual Conference is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We have said that Christ’s love compels us. We the people, lay and clergy leaders of the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church are:

  • Leading others into an abundant life in Christ.
  • Engaging with our surrounding communities locally and globally in significant ways.
  • Learning, living and telling the gospel story to the nations.
  • Reaching out and drawing in people from all walks of life resulting in vibrant, alive and vital congregations.

 
We have embraced our core values and have said that in order to live into our vision for our preferred future, we will live and lead with:

Integrity

  • We will describe honestly what we see with grace and compassion.
  • We will be guided and directed by missional purposes.
  •  We will be forthright and transparent in all that we do.

Accountability

  • We will measure our actions and decisions by their connection to our mission.
  • We will be accountable to each other for this connection to purpose.

Unrelenting Love for All People

  • We will place the needs and interests of people before the needs and interests of the institution.
  •  We will prioritize transformative relationships over sustaining buildings and budgets.

Courage and Risk

  • We believe that new times call for new actions.
  • We are willing to trust ourselves and each other, and risk acting in new and courageous ways in order to transform a dying institution into a vibrant movement of faith and action.

Holding Nothing Sacred But The Mission

  • We will be open to the creative movement of God’s spirit, not institutional priorities, in order to serve the mission.


While I am grateful for the commitment and work of the delegates of General Conference 2019, neither their actions nor the actions of the Judicial Council will deter us from our mission. 

Disciples (perhaps thankfully) are not made at General Conference or at the Judicial Council table but are being made in your churches day after day.

Below, you will find an overview of the decisions of the Judicial Council although I would urge you to read the full decisions for yourself. 

 

The Traditional Plan

The Judicial Council ruled constitutional

  • an expanded definition of “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” to include anyone in a same-sex marriage or who publicly states that he or she is a practicing homosexual,”
  • that District and Conference Boards of Ordained Ministry cannot recommend LGBTQ persons for ministry and that the bishop cannot commission or ordained them,
  • that bishops cannot consecrate duly elected persons to the episcopacy if they are “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,”
  • mandatory penalties (one-year suspension for the first offense and termination for the second offense) for clergy who are convicted by a jury of peers for performing a same-sex marriage,
  • the complaint process to include a “statement of harms” and “every effort to be made” to include the complainant in the resolution, and
  • the church’s ability to appeal the verdict of a trial court to the committee on appeals and then the Judicial Council in cases of “egregious errors of Church law or administration.”
     

The Judicial Council ruled unconstitutional

  • that the annual conference certify that the bishop had only nominated persons to the Board of Ordained Ministry who would “uphold, enforce, and maintain the Discipline in its entirety,” and
  • that the Board of Ordained Ministry is required to conduct a thorough examination specifically to determine whether someone is LGBTQ, including through the use of social media.
     

The Disaffiliation Plan

The disaffiliation petition was ruled constitutional with the reminder that the requirements include the annual conference vote, which is stated elsewhere in the Book of Discipline.
 
The Disaffiliation Petition…

  • focuses on “the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality,”
  •  and provides “a local church...limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate” with the church property.  The standards for disaffiliation shall be developed by the General Board of Finance and Administration.  The terms and conditions for disaffiliation shall be established by the Annual Conference Board of Trustees with the advice from the Cabinet, the Annual Conference Treasurer and Benefits Officer, the Director of Connectional Ministries and the Annual Conference Chancellor.  The petition delineates the requirements to disaffiliate, including a 2/3rds vote of professing members present and voting at a charge conference, 24 months of apportionment payments, “other liabilities” (which may include past health and property insurance and unpaid pension payments, and timelines for decision making).

 
You can find other descriptions and interpretations through United Methodist News Service as well as a synopsis borrowed from the New Jersey Conference.

We will continue to bring further definition to these decisions and determine their direct impact on our Conference, on you and your church. 

In the meantime, I give thanks for each of you and for your love and commitment to the United Methodist Church, to the communities you so diligently serve and for helping to multiply the United Methodist witness in as many places as possible in the world as possible. 

May God continue to bless you and your ministry, as you hold nothing sacred but the mission.


Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey