Protocol legislation tops agenda of top court

November 19, 2020

The United Methodist Judicial Council expects to decide soon whether it has the jurisdiction to consider the constitutionality of legislation for a proposed plan for separating the denomination.

A March 11 request from the Council of Bishops for a ruling on the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation has been added to the docket for the top court’s first judicial session since the coronavirus pandemic began. The court will also revisit a request concerning improper voting at the 2019 General Conference.

Both requests are now part of a revised docket held over from last spring. The pandemic and subsequent postponement of the 2020 United Methodist General Conference forced the cancellation of the court’s April 29-May 2 meeting in Minneapolis. General Conference is the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly.

Normally, the Judicial Council’s nine members — who live in the U.S., the Philippines, Liberia, Mozambique and Norway — meet together at different locations around the U.S. But it became clear the Fall 2020 session could not proceed in the usual way.

Instead, members of the court will “conduct its deliberations through a series of video conferences throughout the coming weeks and months,” the council announced on its website.

Decisions on docket items will be published on the website “as each decision and memorandum is perfected,” the announcement said. No oral hearings will take place.

“This is a new process for the Judicial Council,” the announcement said. “There is a 16-hour time span among the time zones in which the members reside. The council will endeavor to remain faithful in its work albeit slower than meeting in person for one four-day session as is the custom.  The Judicial Council asks for the denomination’s patience.”

Judicial Council had received briefs already for items on the original spring docket. The protocol and three other new items added to the revised 2020 docket, items 0420-15, 16, 17 and 18, will be posted by Nov. 18 and the deadline for submission of all briefs is Dec.18.

Those items include a review of a bishop’s ruling of law requested during a special session of the Alaska Annual Conference concerning missionary conference status and a request for a declaratory decision from the Council of Bishops regarding Judicial Council Decision 1383, an earlier ruling on Book of Discipline provisions on administrative process on changes in clergy status.

The court also added a request for a declaratory decision from the General Council on Finance and Administration related to apportionments, the shares each annual conference pays to support international, national and regional missions.

A diverse group of representatives from United Methodist advocacy groups and several bishops from around the world collaborated on the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation, which was made public early this year.