Marriage Equality decision

Mary Ann Barclay decision

Same-sex spouse benefits decision

 


Marriage Equality decision

Decision No. 1552

In Re: IN RE: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Desert Southwest Annual Conference Regarding a Resolution Entitled “Marriage Equality Resolution” SUBJECT TO FINAL EDITING AND REVISION

DIGEST OF CASE

The Bishop’s decision of law is modified. An annual conference may express an aspiration or a prophetic appeal for a change in Church Law. But an annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate the provisions of the Discipline. In its first “Resolved” section, the “Marriage Equality Resolution” by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference expresses an aspiration. In its second “Resolved” section, the action ignores Church law and encourages a violation of Church law. In its third “Resolved” section, the Resolution declares that the annual conference and its local churches will offer some limited forms of support for those who violate Church Law. The decision of law by the Bishop neglects to recognize the factors where the Resolution may ignore Church Law, negate Church Law, or affirm a violation of Church Law.

The Bishop’s decision of law is modified to acknowledge these deficiencies. The first “Resolved” portion of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” is within Church Law. The second “Resolved” section is null and void and of no effect. The third “Resolved” section is within Church Law to the extent that its definition of supporting someone “spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully” is understood not to ignore, negate, or violate Church Law.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

At the 2013 session of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, a “Marriage Equality Resolution” was adopted. The text of the resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, the recent SCOTUS ruling makes Marriage Equality legal in California, and,
WHEREAS, Our Annual Conference consist of part of California, and
WHEREAS, the continuing denial of full access to all the rights and privileges in the United Methodist Church is causing deep spiritual harm to our LGBT brothers and sisters and is a threat to us all; and
WHEREAS, our membership vows call us “to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”; and
WHEREAS, we are called to be obedient to the whole of church law which calls the church to be in ministry with all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons.

WHEREAS, the opening section of The Book of Discipline, which reminds us of serious flaws and shortcomings manifest in the larger history of Methodism. Shortcomings specifically listed include our previous accommodation of racial segregation by establishing a race-based Central Jurisdiction, and our extended denial of ordination rights and prominent leadership roles for women, and
WHEREAS, the “Social Principles” of The United Methodist Church (Part IV) strongly endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with emphasis on respect for the inherent dignity of all persons. Explicitly cited are the full rights of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; and the rights of children, young people, the aging, women, men, immigrants, and persons with disabilities. The list concludes by declaring the full human rights of all persons without regard to their sexual orientations, a reference that suggests rational and experiential grounds for endorsing the rights of same-sex couples to marry, and
WHEREAS, It is in the context of these traditions that we must address current shortcomings in United Methodist polity, in particular, forty-one years of prejudicial language portraying the life practices of gay and lesbian persons as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” a standard that has excluded them from ordination, from marriage, and in some cases even from church membership (Judicial Council Ruling 1032). These exclusionary principles are prominent components of the “chargeable offenses” assigned to the “Judicial Administration” (chapter 7, par. 2702). Such unjust rules, combined with the prosecution of clergy who refuse to uphold them, are themselves incompatible with United Methodist visions of inclusiveness, which call of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.”
WHEREAS, The Desert Southwest Annual Conference is part of the Larger Western Jurisdiction, which adopted the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” that states the denomination is in error in its stance on the practice of homosexuality and urged United Methodists to operate as if that position does not exist.
WHEREAS, at last years (sic) Annual Conference we resolved that the Desert Southwest Conference reaffirm its commitment to and work for the full civil and ecclesiastical rights and privileges of all persons including LGBT persons and that the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church work together to build a fully inclusive church. We commit to be in ministry with all people, regardless of their economic status, race, age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, or immigration status, therefore let it be
RESOLVED that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference make a public statement supporting and upholding Marriage Equality. Let it further be
RESOLVED that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference will support our clergy who take the bold and faithful stand to minister to all equally and include all in the life of the church, which includes but is not limited to, conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is civically legal to do so. Let it further be
RESOLVED, that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, will support (spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully) clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

After the annual conference approved the resolution, a clergy member submitted a request for a decision of law. The specific request was submitted as follows:

I rise to seek a decision or ruling of law on the Marriage Equality Resolution. My question is Does this resolution comply with the requirements of our covenant, the Book of Discipline and the decision of our Judicial Council? The basis of my question is Decision 1220 made on October 27, 2012 by our Judicial Council.

In response to the request for a decision of law, Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata said that a vote had to be taken in order to determine if the annual conference wanted to have him make such a decision. The results of the vote showed that 26% of the conference favored having the Bishop make a decision of law, 63% opposed it, and 10% abstained. The Bishop announced that, because more than one-fifth of the conference voted to seek such a decision, he would make a ruling in thirty days from the date of the action.

Bishop Hoshibata delivered his decision of law in a timely manner. The text of his decision of law itself reads as follows:

The Resolution invites the members of the annual conference to participate in the ministry of the annual conference, and makes a case that this participation will strengthen the ministry of the annual conference. The Resolution upholds the right of an annual conference to make public statements that announce its support of, or opposition to, a proposition or idea and thereby publicly declare a point of view; and the Resolution calls upon each person in covenant with one another as disciples of Jesus Christ, to offer support through spiritual care, emotional nurture, and prayer, as that person undergoes the process of facing formal complaints or charges in the church’s response to formal complaints for such actions. The Resolution does not legally negate, ignore, or violate the Discipline and is in concert with the provisions of Judicial Council Decision 1220. The Resolution is not out of order.

The Bishop offered a brief in support of his decision. A clergy member of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference also submitted a brief.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶¶ 51 and 56.3 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and under ¶ 2609.6 of 2012 Discipline, as interpreted by Judicial Council Decision 1244.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

Both the legislative history of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” and the text of the Bishop’s decision of law involve complex considerations.

The “Marriage Equality Resolution,” according to the documents filed in this matter with the Judicial Council, was presented to the annual conference in at least three different versions. For its work, the Judicial Council must rely solely on the minutes of the annual conference to discern what the conference actually adopted. The minutes for June 30, 2013, include the full text of the resolution that the annual conference approved, so that is the official record of the conference action. The minutes also show that the clergy member asked, “[D]oes this resolution comply with the requirements of our covenant, the Book of Discipline and the decision of our Judicial Council?”

The Bishop’s decision of law addresses the authority of an annual conference “to make public statements” and “to offer support through spiritual care, emotional nurture, and prayer” as discussed in the Resolution. But his decision of law ignores the specific reference in the “Marriage Equality Resolution” to a list of chargeable offenses in ¶ 2702 of the 2012 Discipline. Therefore, the Bishop’s decision of law ignores Church Law on a significant and relevant issue for the “Marriage Equality Resolution,” namely the fact that the legislation identifies one of the chargeable offenses as “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same sex wedding ceremonies.” (¶ 2702.1b)

Therefore, the Bishop’s decision of law fails to address an essential aspect of the Resolution that has an important relationship to Church Law. That makes it an important consideration for the Judicial Council, especially because the role of the Judicial Council in reviewing decisions of law is narrowly limited. As Decision 1220 states, “the Judicial Council is authorized only to pass upon the decisions of law made by bishops as matters of church law.”

Moreover, as Decision 1220 also makes clear, any decision of law by a bishop is a matter that requires careful attention from the Judicial Council. The bishop’s decision is “authoritative” in the specific case prior to its review by the Judicial Council and, after review by the Judicial Council, a bishop’s decision “shall become the law of the Church to the extent that it is affirmed by the council.” (See ¶ 2609.6) So a bishop, in a decision of law, can make Church Law. And the Judicial Council has a responsibility to examine whether, in so doing, a bishop’s decision of law may ignore, negate, or violate Church law. (See Decisions 96, 232, 544, 886, 1044, 1111.)

For this case, an important precedent was established in Judicial Council Decision 1111, which states, “An annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions.”

The text of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” adopted by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference includes three statements that are labeled “Resolved.”

In its first “Resolved” section, the Resolution urges the adoption of a statement that affirms and upholds marriage equality. This is a legitimate appeal as an aspiration in form and content.

In its second “Resolved” section, the Resolution declares that the conference and the churches of the annual conference

will support our clergy who take the bold and faithful stand to minister to all equally and include all in the life of the church, which includes but is not limited to, conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is civically legal to do so.

This portion of the Resolution does not define “support.” Yet it clearly expresses some intention and encouragement for ignoring Church Law, violating Church law, or both. The Discipline is clear (¶ 2702) that conducting such ceremonies, regardless of the statute that happens to be in place in a civil jurisdiction, is a violation of Church Law and a chargeable offense for clergy. Hence, this portion of the Resolution is a summons either to ignore or to violate Church Law. The Bishop’s decision of law does not address the issue of ignoring or violating the Law of the Church.

In its third “Resolved” section, the “Marriage Equality Resolution” states that the conference and the churches of the annual conference will support (spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully) clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

In this section, the annual conference does offer some definitions for the term “support.” But the text of the Resolution as adopted by the conference does not clearly state whether supporting someone “spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully” while that person faces charges for violating Church Law is to be understood as limiting the support to those specific forms. The Bishop’s decision of law rules that those forms of “support” do not violate or ignore Church Law. But his decision of law does not clarify whether the “support” is understood as exclusively limited to those actions, or whether those actions are illustrative of other possible “support” actions. Therefore, the Bishop’s decision of law opens the possibility that “support” could include other acts besides the three that are named in the Resolution. Some other acts could involve ignoring or violating or negating Church Law.

Judicial Council Decision 1111 is careful to say that an annual conference “may not negate, ignore, or violate” the provisions of the Discipline, no matter how vigorously or conscientiously the conference disagrees with the Church Law. If an annual conference action either negates or ignores or violates the Law of The United Methodist Church, it breaches the covenant that binds the Church together.

The Judicial Council has authority only to “pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse decisions of law made by bishops” in accordance with the Constitution and the Discipline (See ¶ 2609.6) In this case, the Bishop’s decision of law endorses an action by the annual conference that, at least in part, either ignores Church Law, or supports the violation of Church Law, or both. Such a decision of law could itself become Church Law unless the Judicial Council modifies it.

DECISION
The Bishop’s decision of law is modified. An annual conference may express an aspiration or a prophetic appeal for a change in Church Law. But an annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate the provisions of the Discipline. In its first “Resolved” section, the “Marriage Equality Resolution” by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference expresses an aspiration. In its second “Resolved” section, the action ignores Church Law and encourages a violation of Church Law. In its third “Resolved” section, the Resolution declares that the annual conference and its local churches will offer some limited forms of support for those who violate Church Law. The decision of law by the Bishop neglects to recognize the factors where the Resolution may ignore Church Law, negate Church law, or affirm a violation of Church Law.

The Bishop’s decision of law is modified to acknowledge these deficiencies. The first “Resolved” portion of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” is within Church Law. The second “Resolved” section is null and void and of no effect. The third “Resolved” section is within Church Law to the extent that its definition of supporting someone “spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully” is understood not to ignore, negate, or violate Church Law.

Ruben Reyes was absent.
Beth Capen was absent.
Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.
Randall Miller, third lay alternate, participated in this decision.

Friday, August 27, 2021.

 


Mary Ann Barclay decision 

Decision No. 1553

In Re: IN RE: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Southwest Texas Annual Conference Regarding the Meaning, Effect, and Application of ¶¶ 313 and 635.2 in Regards to the Discontinuance of a Certified Candidate in Light of Judicial Council Decision 1244 SUBJECT TO FINAL EDITING AND REVISION

DIGEST OF CASE

The Bishop’s decision is affirmed. When a district committee on ordained ministry recommends a candidate for election to provisional membership, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry shall include a personal interview with the candidate as part of its full examination of the candidate in order to determine his/her fitness for election to provisional membership. Because this disciplinary point was ignored by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the candidate remains a certified candidate for ordained ministry.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

The Southwest Texas Annual Conference convened on June 6-8, 2013, in Corpus Christi, Texas. On June 6, 2013, at the Clergy Session, the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry informed the Clergy Session of the decision of the Board of Ordained Ministry to remove the name of a candidate from the list of candidates under Question 19a. The chair indicated that the removal was pursuant to ¶¶ 666 and 304.4 of the 2012 Discipline and Judicial Council Decision 844.

In 2008, the candidate was certified as a candidate for ordained ministry on the deacon track. In April 2013 the district committee on ordained ministry voted to recommend the candidate to the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning and provisional membership in June 2014. The candidate was on schedule to be interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry during its upcoming interview sessions. Prior to the Annual Conference convening, the candidate received conflicting reports regarding Board of Ordained Ministry’s revoking her certification.

An elder in the Clergy Session moved to reinstate the name of the candidate as a certified candidate. The motion was seconded. During the discussion of the motion the question was asked if the Board of Ordained Ministry could decline to comply with ¶¶ 635.2h and 635.2j, which require the candidate to be interviewed before a decision is made regarding the candidate’s ability to proceed in the ordination process. The chair of the committee explained that the decision of the Board of Ordained Ministry to remove the candidate’s name was pursuant to the reasons stated above (¶¶ 304.4 and 666 and Decision 844) and because the candidate is “a self-avowed, practicing lesbian.” The District Superintendent of the district where the candidate is a member explained to the body that when the District Committee on Ordained Ministry interviewed the candidate she stated she has a partner that she lives with and acknowledged that the relationship is an “active lesbian” relationship. The question regarding reinstatement of the candidate was called for with a vote of 119 in favor and 124 opposed. The motion failed.

During the afternoon plenary session on June 7, 2013, an elder requested in writing a decision of law of the bishop regarding ¶¶ 635.2h and 635.2j. The elder explained this related to the action that was taken during the clergy session of the Annual Conference the day before. The question was stated as:

In response to the Southwest Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry’s decision to remove Mary Ann Kaiser from the Candidacy process at their June 6, 2013 meeting, I request a ruling of law as to whether a Board of Ordained Ministry can discontinue the candidacy of a certified candidate for ordained ministry who has been appropriately recommended by a District Committee on Ordained Ministry without an interview and examination by the Board of Ordained Ministry? (sic)

The bishop submitted the following decision within the thirty-day deadline:

It is my ruling that the question, as asked, is moot and hypothetical. Therefore, the request is improper and no decision on the substance of the request will be given. This determination is based on the Rules of Procedure of the Judicial Council. ‘Questions of law shall be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the conference session and shall state the connection to a specific action taken, or the question must be raised during the deliberation of a specific issue of a matter upon which the conference takes action.’ Judicial Council Decisions 33 and 799 uphold these standards. The question posed has nothing to do with the discussion, consideration, or business of the annual conference. It also raises no issue of any specific matter upon which the conference took action asking only a hypothetical question. The request raises issues related only to the work of the Board of Ordained Ministry.

The matter was docketed for deliberation at the October 2013 session of the Judicial Council. On October 26, 2013, the Judicial Council released the following decision that stated in part:

…The Bishop’s decision of law is reversed. The matter was properly before the Annual Conference as business of the Annual Conference pursuant to ¶ 33. The matter is remanded to the bishop for a decision on the questions presented. His submission is to be submitted to the Secretary of the Judicial Council within 60 days of this notification. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction.

Subsequently, in a timely way, the bishop submitted his ruling of law as follows:

It is the responsibility of the Board of Ordained Ministry to examine and interview all candidates recommended to it by a District Committee on Ordained Ministry (Par. 635.2h, 635.2j, and 324.11). The Austin District Committee recommended the candidate (Par. 324.10). In this case, the responsibility for full examination by the Board of Ordained Ministry was not carried out. Therefore, the action of the Board in effectively discontinuing the candidacy of Mary Ann Kaiser was not appropriate according to the Discipline and is of no effect. Since the action of the Clergy Session was to uphold the action of the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the action of the Board of Ordained Ministry was not in keeping with the Discipline, I rule that Ms. Kaiser remains a Candidate for Ministry and is due full examination, including an interview, by the Board of Ordained Ministry.

The Conference Secretary certified copies of the relevant minutes of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference. Briefs were filed by interested parties and by amici curiae.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has continuing jurisdiction under ¶¶ 51 and 56.3 of the Constitution and ¶ 2609.6 of the 2012 Discipline as modified by Decision 1244.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

At issue in the question of law raised by the elder at the 2013 Southwest Texas Annual Conference is whether or not the Board of Ordained Ministry can discontinue a certified candidate for provisional membership without interviewing and examining the candidate to determine fitness for ordained ministry. In the instant case, the sexual orientation and practices of the candidate are irrelevant for determining the matter.

Paragraph 314 indicates the conditions under which a certified candidate may be discontinued: “on their own request, upon severing their relationship with The United Methodist Church, or upon action to discontinue by the district committee on ordained ministry.” None of these conditions was met, so the candidate’s certification remains in effect.

Paragraph 666.1 states that “The district committee on ordained ministry shall be amenable to the annual conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry.” In carrying out its duties and responsibilities, the district committee acts in behalf of the annual conference. This accountability is expressed in several ways, but none of these circumstances identified in ¶ 666 allows the Board of Ordained Ministry to determine whom the district committee can or cannot approve as a candidate for ordained ministry or whom the district committee can or cannot recommend for provisional membership.

It is the purview of the district committee on ordained ministry “to supervise all matters dealing with candidacy for the ordained ministry and with the license for local pastor” (¶ 666.5). In the case at hand, the district committee on ordained ministry has fulfilled these duties.

The response to Question 19a of the Business of the Annual Conference further supports the rationale that certification of candidates is the work of the district committee on ordained ministry. It asks: “Who are the certified candidates (¶¶ 310, 313, 314) (a) Who are currently certified as candidates for ordained or licensed ministry?”
The answer to this question is to be provided by the district committee on ordained ministry and reported by the Board of Ordained Ministry, to be received as information by the Clergy Session, but not subject to its vote.

It is the responsibility of the district committee on ordained ministry to identify persons who are certified as candidates for ordained ministry (¶¶ 310.2f and 666.6). It is the responsibility of the district committee on ordained ministry to submit to the Board of Ordained Ministry the names of individuals being recommended for provisional membership (¶ 666.8). It is the responsibility of the Board of Ordained Ministry to make recommendation for Clergy Session action on those who are proposed for election to provisional membership (¶ 635.2h). The record shows that these provisions were met.

Although the Board of Ordained Ministry had no authority to revoke the candidacy of the individual (that is a district committee responsibility–¶ 313), the Board of Ordained Ministry does have the responsibility either to recommend or not recommend those persons proposed by the district committee for provisional membership

However, this recommendation must be done in accordance with disciplinary provisions. In the matter before us, the Board failed to do so. Paragraph 324.11 calls for the candidate to have “a personal interview with the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.” This did not happen. Paragraph 635.2h requires an examination of “all applicants as to their fitness for the ordained ministry and make full inquiry as to the fitness of the candidate for…election to provisional membership…” This examination is incomplete without a personal interview, so this disciplinary intent for due process was ignored.

DECISION

The Bishop’s decision is affirmed. When a district committee on ordained ministry recommends a candidate for election to provisional membership, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry shall include a personal interview with the candidate as part of its full examination of the candidate in order to determine his/her fitness for election to provisional membership. Because this disciplinary point was ignored by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the candidate remains a certified candidate for ordained ministry.

Ruben Reyes was absent.
Beth Capen was absent.
Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.
Randall Miller, third lay alternate, participated in this decision.

Friday, August 27, 2021.

 

Decision No. 1552

In Re: IN RE: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Desert Southwest Annual Conference Regarding a Resolution Entitled “Marriage Equality Resolution” SUBJECT TO FINAL EDITING AND REVISION

DIGEST OF CASE

The Bishop’s decision of law is modified. An annual conference may express an aspiration or a prophetic appeal for a change in Church Law. But an annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate the provisions of the Discipline. In its first “Resolved” section, the “Marriage Equality Resolution” by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference expresses an aspiration. In its second “Resolved” section, the action ignores Church law and encourages a violation of Church law. In its third “Resolved” section, the Resolution declares that the annual conference and its local churches will offer some limited forms of support for those who violate Church Law. The decision of law by the Bishop neglects to recognize the factors where the Resolution may ignore Church Law, negate Church Law, or affirm a violation of Church Law.

The Bishop’s decision of law is modified to acknowledge these deficiencies. The first “Resolved” portion of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” is within Church Law. The second “Resolved” section is null and void and of no effect. The third “Resolved” section is within Church Law to the extent that its definition of supporting someone “spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully” is understood not to ignore, negate, or violate Church Law.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

At the 2013 session of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, a “Marriage Equality Resolution” was adopted. The text of the resolution reads as follows:

WHEREAS, the recent SCOTUS ruling makes Marriage Equality legal in California, and,
WHEREAS, Our Annual Conference consist of part of California, and
WHEREAS, the continuing denial of full access to all the rights and privileges in the United Methodist Church is causing deep spiritual harm to our LGBT brothers and sisters and is a threat to us all; and
WHEREAS, our membership vows call us “to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”; and
WHEREAS, we are called to be obedient to the whole of church law which calls the church to be in ministry with all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons.

WHEREAS, the opening section of The Book of Discipline, which reminds us of serious flaws and shortcomings manifest in the larger history of Methodism. Shortcomings specifically listed include our previous accommodation of racial segregation by establishing a race-based Central Jurisdiction, and our extended denial of ordination rights and prominent leadership roles for women, and
WHEREAS, the “Social Principles” of The United Methodist Church (Part IV) strongly endorses the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with emphasis on respect for the inherent dignity of all persons. Explicitly cited are the full rights of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; and the rights of children, young people, the aging, women, men, immigrants, and persons with disabilities. The list concludes by declaring the full human rights of all persons without regard to their sexual orientations, a reference that suggests rational and experiential grounds for endorsing the rights of same-sex couples to marry, and
WHEREAS, It is in the context of these traditions that we must address current shortcomings in United Methodist polity, in particular, forty-one years of prejudicial language portraying the life practices of gay and lesbian persons as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” a standard that has excluded them from ordination, from marriage, and in some cases even from church membership (Judicial Council Ruling 1032). These exclusionary principles are prominent components of the “chargeable offenses” assigned to the “Judicial Administration” (chapter 7, par. 2702). Such unjust rules, combined with the prosecution of clergy who refuse to uphold them, are themselves incompatible with United Methodist visions of inclusiveness, which call of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors.”
WHEREAS, The Desert Southwest Annual Conference is part of the Larger Western Jurisdiction, which adopted the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” that states the denomination is in error in its stance on the practice of homosexuality and urged United Methodists to operate as if that position does not exist.
WHEREAS, at last years (sic) Annual Conference we resolved that the Desert Southwest Conference reaffirm its commitment to and work for the full civil and ecclesiastical rights and privileges of all persons including LGBT persons and that the Desert Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church work together to build a fully inclusive church. We commit to be in ministry with all people, regardless of their economic status, race, age, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, disability, or immigration status, therefore let it be
RESOLVED that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference make a public statement supporting and upholding Marriage Equality. Let it further be
RESOLVED that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference will support our clergy who take the bold and faithful stand to minister to all equally and include all in the life of the church, which includes but is not limited to, conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is civically legal to do so. Let it further be
RESOLVED, that the Desert Southwest Annual Conference and the United Methodist Churches of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, will support (spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully) clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

After the annual conference approved the resolution, a clergy member submitted a request for a decision of law. The specific request was submitted as follows:

I rise to seek a decision or ruling of law on the Marriage Equality Resolution. My question is Does this resolution comply with the requirements of our covenant, the Book of Discipline and the decision of our Judicial Council? The basis of my question is Decision 1220 made on October 27, 2012 by our Judicial Council.

In response to the request for a decision of law, Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata said that a vote had to be taken in order to determine if the annual conference wanted to have him make such a decision. The results of the vote showed that 26% of the conference favored having the Bishop make a decision of law, 63% opposed it, and 10% abstained. The Bishop announced that, because more than one-fifth of the conference voted to seek such a decision, he would make a ruling in thirty days from the date of the action.

Bishop Hoshibata delivered his decision of law in a timely manner. The text of his decision of law itself reads as follows:

The Resolution invites the members of the annual conference to participate in the ministry of the annual conference, and makes a case that this participation will strengthen the ministry of the annual conference. The Resolution upholds the right of an annual conference to make public statements that announce its support of, or opposition to, a proposition or idea and thereby publicly declare a point of view; and the Resolution calls upon each person in covenant with one another as disciples of Jesus Christ, to offer support through spiritual care, emotional nurture, and prayer, as that person undergoes the process of facing formal complaints or charges in the church’s response to formal complaints for such actions. The Resolution does not legally negate, ignore, or violate the Discipline and is in concert with the provisions of Judicial Council Decision 1220. The Resolution is not out of order.

The Bishop offered a brief in support of his decision. A clergy member of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference also submitted a brief.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶¶ 51 and 56.3 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church and under ¶ 2609.6 of 2012 Discipline, as interpreted by Judicial Council Decision 1244.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

Both the legislative history of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” and the text of the Bishop’s decision of law involve complex considerations.

The “Marriage Equality Resolution,” according to the documents filed in this matter with the Judicial Council, was presented to the annual conference in at least three different versions. For its work, the Judicial Council must rely solely on the minutes of the annual conference to discern what the conference actually adopted. The minutes for June 30, 2013, include the full text of the resolution that the annual conference approved, so that is the official record of the conference action. The minutes also show that the clergy member asked, “[D]oes this resolution comply with the requirements of our covenant, the Book of Discipline and the decision of our Judicial Council?”

The Bishop’s decision of law addresses the authority of an annual conference “to make public statements” and “to offer support through spiritual care, emotional nurture, and prayer” as discussed in the Resolution. But his decision of law ignores the specific reference in the “Marriage Equality Resolution” to a list of chargeable offenses in ¶ 2702 of the 2012 Discipline. Therefore, the Bishop’s decision of law ignores Church Law on a significant and relevant issue for the “Marriage Equality Resolution,” namely the fact that the legislation identifies one of the chargeable offenses as “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same sex wedding ceremonies.” (¶ 2702.1b)

Therefore, the Bishop’s decision of law fails to address an essential aspect of the Resolution that has an important relationship to Church Law. That makes it an important consideration for the Judicial Council, especially because the role of the Judicial Council in reviewing decisions of law is narrowly limited. As Decision 1220 states, “the Judicial Council is authorized only to pass upon the decisions of law made by bishops as matters of church law.”

Moreover, as Decision 1220 also makes clear, any decision of law by a bishop is a matter that requires careful attention from the Judicial Council. The bishop’s decision is “authoritative” in the specific case prior to its review by the Judicial Council and, after review by the Judicial Council, a bishop’s decision “shall become the law of the Church to the extent that it is affirmed by the council.” (See ¶ 2609.6) So a bishop, in a decision of law, can make Church Law. And the Judicial Council has a responsibility to examine whether, in so doing, a bishop’s decision of law may ignore, negate, or violate Church law. (See Decisions 96, 232, 544, 886, 1044, 1111.)

For this case, an important precedent was established in Judicial Council Decision 1111, which states, “An annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions.”

The text of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” adopted by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference includes three statements that are labeled “Resolved.”

In its first “Resolved” section, the Resolution urges the adoption of a statement that affirms and upholds marriage equality. This is a legitimate appeal as an aspiration in form and content.

In its second “Resolved” section, the Resolution declares that the conference and the churches of the annual conference

will support our clergy who take the bold and faithful stand to minister to all equally and include all in the life of the church, which includes but is not limited to, conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is civically legal to do so.

This portion of the Resolution does not define “support.” Yet it clearly expresses some intention and encouragement for ignoring Church Law, violating Church law, or both. The Discipline is clear (¶ 2702) that conducting such ceremonies, regardless of the statute that happens to be in place in a civil jurisdiction, is a violation of Church Law and a chargeable offense for clergy. Hence, this portion of the Resolution is a summons either to ignore or to violate Church Law. The Bishop’s decision of law does not address the issue of ignoring or violating the Law of the Church.

In its third “Resolved” section, the “Marriage Equality Resolution” states that the conference and the churches of the annual conference will support (spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully) clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

In this section, the annual conference does offer some definitions for the term “support.” But the text of the Resolution as adopted by the conference does not clearly state whether supporting someone “spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully” while that person faces charges for violating Church Law is to be understood as limiting the support to those specific forms. The Bishop’s decision of law rules that those forms of “support” do not violate or ignore Church Law. But his decision of law does not clarify whether the “support” is understood as exclusively limited to those actions, or whether those actions are illustrative of other possible “support” actions. Therefore, the Bishop’s decision of law opens the possibility that “support” could include other acts besides the three that are named in the Resolution. Some other acts could involve ignoring or violating or negating Church Law.

Judicial Council Decision 1111 is careful to say that an annual conference “may not negate, ignore, or violate” the provisions of the Discipline, no matter how vigorously or conscientiously the conference disagrees with the Church Law. If an annual conference action either negates or ignores or violates the Law of The United Methodist Church, it breaches the covenant that binds the Church together.

The Judicial Council has authority only to “pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse decisions of law made by bishops” in accordance with the Constitution and the Discipline (See ¶ 2609.6) In this case, the Bishop’s decision of law endorses an action by the annual conference that, at least in part, either ignores Church Law, or supports the violation of Church Law, or both. Such a decision of law could itself become Church Law unless the Judicial Council modifies it.

DECISION
The Bishop’s decision of law is modified. An annual conference may express an aspiration or a prophetic appeal for a change in Church Law. But an annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate the provisions of the Discipline. In its first “Resolved” section, the “Marriage Equality Resolution” by the Desert Southwest Annual Conference expresses an aspiration. In its second “Resolved” section, the action ignores Church Law and encourages a violation of Church Law. In its third “Resolved” section, the Resolution declares that the annual conference and its local churches will offer some limited forms of support for those who violate Church Law. The decision of law by the Bishop neglects to recognize the factors where the Resolution may ignore Church Law, negate Church law, or affirm a violation of Church Law.

The Bishop’s decision of law is modified to acknowledge these deficiencies. The first “Resolved” portion of the “Marriage Equality Resolution” is within Church Law. The second “Resolved” section is null and void and of no effect. The third “Resolved” section is within Church Law to the extent that its definition of supporting someone “spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully” is understood not to ignore, negate, or violate Church Law.

Ruben Reyes was absent.
Beth Capen was absent.
Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.
Randall Miller, third lay alternate, participated in this decision.

Friday, August 27, 2021.

 


Same-sex spouse benefits decision

Decision No. 1554

In Re: IN RE: A Request from the General Council on Finance and Administration for a Declaratory Decision Regarding the Meaning, Application and Effect of the Use of General Agency Funds to Subsidize the Benefits Premiums for General Agency Employees and their Same-Gender Spouses in Light of ¶ 806.9 SUBJECT TO FINAL EDITING AND REVISION

DIGEST OF CASE

The General Council on Finance and Administration has the authority to determine whether or not the use of general agency funds violates the prohibition against using church funds “to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” (¶ 806.9) By its action on October 21, 2013, in fulfillment of its mandate found in ¶ 807.12, the General Council on Finance and Administration determined that the use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gendered spouses enrolled in the General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program does not violate ¶ 806.9 of the2012 Discipline.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

On October 21, 2013, the Board of Directors of the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) adopted a change in its general agency benefits policy. The change stated that employees eligible to participate in the General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program (GAWBP) may now enroll same-gendered partners as “spouses” under GAWBP, provided their relationship is a marriage, civil union, or comprehensive domestic partnership recognized under the civil law of some state. The specific wording of the action taken from the minutes of the October 21, 2013, meeting follows:

The General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program’s definition of “spouse” shall include the following:
• Opposite-sex and same sex-spouses, recognized by a state as being legally married to the employee; and
• Civil partners, either through a civil union or a comprehensive domestic partnership, recognized by a state as being the legal partner of an employee.
At the same meeting, the Board of GCFA took a second action, requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on “whether general agency payments for the portions of the insurance premiums for same-sex spouses and civil partners of general agency employees violates the 2012 Book of Discipline”.

The minutes of the November 20-21, 2013, meeting of the GCFA reflect the Council approval of the recommendation of the Committee on Legal Responsibilities and Corporate Governance to submit the request for a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council.

Under ¶ 807.12 GCFA has responsibility for overseeing and providing the benefits packages for all the staff of the general agencies of The United Methodist Church. They have carried out this responsibility for several decades. In its current form, the benefits package is known as the General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program. It is a comprehensive benefit program including health, disability, life insurance, and other benefits. Paragraph 807.12 requires all general agencies to follow uniform policies and practices in the employment and remuneration of personnel. While general agency employees pay premiums for these benefits, in addition the general agencies contribute to these premiums. Thus, part of the funding for this expense is paid for with United Methodist apportioned funds.

The GCFA submission to the Judicial Council asks the Council “to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision on the meaning, application, and effect of the 2012 Discipline with respect to the use of general agency funds to subsidize the benefit premiums for general agency employees and their same-gender partners.”

Several amici curiae submitted briefs on the matter.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2012 Discipline.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

Upon consideration of the request by GCFA, the Judicial Council has chosen to respond only to ¶ 806.9 of the Discipline through its jurisdiction as prescribed in ¶ 2610.1 of the Discipline requesting a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application or effect of any portion of the Discipline.

The Judicial Council has previously addressed the use of United Methodist funds in the context of providing benefits to same-gender partners. In Decision 1030, the Judicial Council ruled that:

The annual conference council on finance and administration is charged, under ¶ 612.19 of the 2004 Discipline, with the responsibility of determining whether United Methodist funds are being used to supply domestic partner benefits under a conference health benefits plan, and, if so, whether such expenditure promotes the acceptance of homosexuality.

In Decision 1075, the Judicial Council stated that:

The Conference Council on Finance and Administration determined that no annual conference funds would be used to supply domestic partner benefits because the cost of the coverage would be paid by the lay employee. Having made the determination that no United Methodist funds would be used to provide domestic partner benefits, the Conference Council’s inquiry did not have to go any further. They had discharged their responsibility under the provision. The Conference’s Domestic Partners Benefit Plan does not violate ¶ 612.19.

In both of these decisions, the authority to make the decision about the use of funds rested with the Conference Council on Finance and Administration as indicated in ¶ 612.19 (2004 Discipline). In the instant case, the analogue to ¶ 612.19 of the 2004 Discipline is ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline. This paragraph states:

It [GCFA] shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. (¶ 161F) The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. It shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.

In applying this paragraph, the general agencies of the church are entities created by the General Conference and are not considered to be a gay caucus or group. Thus, the action taken by GCFA does not result in providing any funds to any gay caucus or group.

Further, as in the situation in Decision 1030, the authority for the implementation of ¶ 806.9 rests with the General Council on Finance and Administration. This decision-making authority is further supported in the precedent set by Memorandum 1081 and Decisions 1091 and 1253. Decision 1253 lifts up the clear precedent:

The Judicial Council has repeatedly recognized the responsibility of the annual conference council on finance and administration in applying Church law in this matter. As it now appears in ¶ 613.19, church law is clear. So are the previous decisions of the Judicial Council. Besides the aforementioned Memorandum 1081 and Decision 1091, there is another clear precedent—on a different question—in Decision 1030 regarding domestic partner benefits. Church law places in the hands of the conference council on finance and administration the task of determining a proper implementation of ¶ 613.19.

This request for a decision of law does not raise any new issues. It simply asks again the same question that has been asked—and answered—before.

Translating this precedent to the general church context means that the GCFA itself is charged with determining whether or not contributing to employee benefits constitutes “promoting the acceptance of homosexuality.”

As recorded in the minutes of the Board of GCFA on October 21, 2013, in compliance with ¶ 807.12(b), the Committee on Personnel, Policies and Practices recommended amending the GAWBP to offer an expanded definition of “spouse” to include:

Opposite-sex and same-sex spouses recognized by a state as being legally married to the employee; and Civil partners, either through a civil union or a comprehensive domestic partnership, recognized by a state as being the legal partner of an employee.

The GCFA Board as required by ¶ 807.12 approved this action. By taking this action, the GCFA claimed their authority granted by ¶ 806.9 to determine that the use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gender “spouses” enrolled in the GAWBP does not violate ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline.

DECISION

The General Council on Finance and Administration has the authority to determine whether or not the use of general agency funds violates the prohibition against using church funds “to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” (¶ 806.9) By its action on October 21, 2013, in fulfillment of its mandate found in ¶ 807.12, the General Council on Finance and Administration determined that the use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gendered spouses enrolled in the General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program does not violate ¶ 806.9 of the2012 Discipline.

Ruben Reyes was absent.
Beth Capen was absent.
Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.
Randall Miller, third lay alternate, participated in this decision.

Friday, August 27, 2021.

CONCURRING OPINION

We concur with the decision of the Judicial Council.
It is instructive to note that the Social Principles the Discipline articulate human rights and values that relate to providing equitable benefits to employees. In ¶ 162J the following is stated:

Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims when people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationship that involved shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law.

Further, in ¶ 162V, the Social Principles speak about the right to health care, saying in part:

Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life – indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility – public and private … Healthcare is a basic human right. Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility that government ignores at its peril.

By making these statements, the church acknowledges that it has a role in creating conditions that promote the health of agency staff. The applicability of the GAWBP benefits to legal partners/spouses is a critical component of creating a healthy working environment. Claiming health care as a basic human right encourages the Church to provide comprehensive benefits to all under its employ and by extension offering it to their legally recognized partners.

In Resolution 3201, “Health Care for All in the United States,” of the 2012 Book of Resolutions, it is stated in part:

1. Access for All. In a just society, all people are entitled to basic maintenance and health-care services. We reject as contrary to our understanding of the gospel, the notion of differing standards of health care for various segments of the population.

Taken together, these citings from the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions form the moral and ethical framework for the action taken by the GCFA in amending the GAWBP to redefine the understanding of “spouse”/ partner benefits. It is a matter of simple justice to protect basic rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation. (¶ 162J) This is not the same as “promoting the acceptance of homosexuality.”

Thus, in ¶ 807.12, it is acknowledged that these statements apply to general agency staff in the same way they do for any person. The amended policy follows the consistency required in ¶ 807.12(a): “(These policies and practices shall (emphasis added) be consistent with the Social Principles and the resolutions of The United Methodist Church.)”

Katherine Austin Mahle

Sandra Lutz

Angela Brown
CONCURRING OPINION

Although we agree with the decision related to the request of the General Council on Finance and Administration for a declaratory decision, we feel that the Judicial Council has failed to address fully the questions raised in the General Council on Finance and Administration documented request.

We understand that request to be:

Therefore, GCFA requests the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision that:
(1) The use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gender spouses enrolled in the GAWBP (General Agencies Welfare Benefits Program) does not violate ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline, or in the alternative, that GCFA’s determination that such premium subsidies do not violate ¶ 806.9 of the 2012 Discipline is dispositive of this issue, and
(2) The use of general agency funds to subsidize the premium costs for employees and their same-gender spouses enrolled in the GAWBP does not violate any other provision of the 2012 Discipline.

The Recording Secretary of the General Council on Finance and Administration certified that the Board of Directors “approved the foregoing request to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision.” The request is not in the form of a series of questions, but we understand that the statement represents the inquiry of the General Council on Finance and Administration.

There are three requests for Judicial Council deliberation: (1) Does the use of general agency funds for premiums for same-gender spouses of employees violate ¶ 806.9? (2) If the General Council on Finance and Administration determines that the policy does not violate ¶ 806.9, is that decision “dispositive of this issue?”? (3) Does the policy violate any other portions of the 2012 Discipline?

(1) The Judicial Council Decision 1264 indicates that the General Council on Finance and Administration has the authority to answer the first question. We agree. (2) Although this determination sets a precedent for future deliberations, it does not assure that the policy might not be questioned again or that disciplinary provisions might be changed. (3) The third question is overly broad and does not identify specific paragraphs of the Constitution or the Book of Discipline that might have been violated.

F. Belton Joyner, Jr.

Dennis Blackwell

N. Oswald Tweh, Jr.

 

 

 

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