Top Court Has Full Docket This Week
October 25, 2012
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Denominational discussions on job security for clergy and job evaluations for bishops are among the topics addressed in 18 docket items before the United Methodist Judicial Council at its Oct. 24–27 meeting in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
The top court will decide whether action taken by the 2012 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, to end guaranteed full-time appointments for clergy is constitutional. In addition to the constitutional issue, the Judicial Council could weigh whether the 2012 General Conference actually made the intended change to guaranteed appointments at all, a question that arose after the controversial action was referred to the church court.
In a docket item that relates to the involuntary early retirement of Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops is requesting a declaratory decision on constitutionality of the church law provision the episcopacy committee referred to in making its decision on Bledsoe.
Paragraph 408.3 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination's law book, says that a jurisdictional episcopacy committee, by a two-thirds vote, can place a bishop "in retired relation" if the committee finds it "to be in the best interests of the bishop and/or the Church."
During the South Central Jurisdictional meeting in July, it was noted that the paragraph was amended at the 2012 General Conference. The amendment added a sentence that said the committee would need to report clearly the reason for a decision on involuntary retirement to the jurisdictional conference. The change took effect immediately.
Bledsoe himself has appealed to Judicial Council for a decision regarding his retirement. His appeal will be considered during a special session Nov. 9–11 in Phoenix.
Other issues before the council
The Western Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference has asked the top court to determine whether funds given to the East Africa Annual Conference by the former Pittsburgh East District were used in accordance with the intent of the donors as required by the 2008 Book of Discipline (Paragraph 258.4.f).
Concerns expressed by some in Western Pennsylvania are among the unanswered questions and accusations that have clouded several mission projects by U.S. United Methodist conferences working in East Africa.
Bishop Daniel Wandabula, episcopal leader for East Africa, has disputed the accounting concerns that also have led to the temporary suspension of funds by some church agencies.
The council will review a ruling by Wisconsin Area Bishop Linda Lee on questions of law regarding the conference's proposed clergy covenant team. She said the questions were hypothetical and therefore not properly before the conference. The Judicial Council automatically reviews rulings on questions of law.
The clergy covenant team concept was initiated by the Rev. Amy DeLong, who was convicted of performing a same-sex union in 2011 and sentenced to a 20-day suspension and a yearlong process to "restore the broken clergy covenant relationship."
Another document item reviews a bishop's decision of law in the California-Pacific Annual Conference regarding the "Resolution in Response to General Conference 2012" approved on June 15.
The resolution rejects the denomination's position "that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and declare(s) that it is itself incompatible with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ" and commits to building church communities inclusive of all people.
Other annual conferences this summer also debated or rejected the church stance on gay rights and same-sex marriage.
New council members
This will be the first regular session for the new Judicial Council, which convened in July for orientation. Two new members, as well as alternates, were elected during the 2012 General Conference last spring in Tampa, Fla.
Joining the council are the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko, originally from Southern Congo, now a clergy member of the Texas Annual (regional) Conference, and N. Oswald Tweh Sr., of the Liberian Annual Conference, both in Africa.
The Rev. Dennis L. Blackwell, Greater New Jersey Conference, and Beth Capen, New York Conference, were re-elected for a second term. The five council members continuing their eight-year terms are Angela Brown, California-Nevada; the Rev. William B. Lawrence, North Texas Conference; Ruben Reyes, Philippines; the Rev. Kathi Austin-Mahle, Minnesota and the Rev. F. Belton Joyner, North Carolina.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.