Judicial Council Provides Direction for Special General Conference

By Keith Boyette

October 29, 2018

The Judicial Council has issued its decision in response to the request of the Council of Bishops for rulings on the constitutionality of each of the petitions filed by members of the Commission on a Way Forward with respect to the plans addressed in the Commission’s report. The Judicial Council noted, “The task of the Judicial Council is to pass upon the constitutionality of the legislative petitions without expressing an opinion as to their merits or expediency. It is up to the General Conference to determine the wisdom of each plan.”

The Wesleyan Covenant Association is grateful for the time invested by members of the Judicial Council as they serve The United Methodist Church in this critical season. Members of the Judicial Council had to review more than 700 pages of briefs and deal with complex issues presented by the various petitions. The whole purpose of this proceeding before the Judicial Council was to learn in advance of the special General Conference whether language in any of the petitions proposed to implement the plans raised constitutional issues.

With some minor exceptions, the Judicial Council held that the petitions filed to implement the One Church Plan would be constitutional if adopted. In doing so, the Judicial Council has defined connectionalism in a new way which will change The United Methodist Church. As now defined by the Judicial Council, connectionalism allows “room for diversity of theological perspectives and opinions.”

Our Book of Discipline declares that we are connected by “sharing a common tradition of faith   . . . [and] sharing a common ethos that characterizes our distinctive way of doing things.” In its decision, I believe the Judicial Council ignored the necessity of commonality. By removing any constitutional impediment to the One Church Plan, it appears to me the Judicial Council has accepted a new definition of connectionalism. In my view, should the special General Conference adopt the One Church Plan it will not lead to unity, but rather it will result in annual conferences and local churches holding opposing views on critical theological and ethical issues. Many United Methodists will not approve of such an outcome. Ultimately, if the One Church Plan is adopted, it will result in an acceleration in the decline of The United Methodist Church. The WCA remains resolute in its opposition to the One Church Plan.

In reviewing the petitions filed to implement the Traditional Plan, the Judicial Council identified constitutional issues with the language contained in eight of the petitions. The Judicial Council’s decision helpfully identified issues which must be addressed should the special General Conference adopt the Traditional Plan. Each of the points raised by the Judicial Council will be addressed legislatively through minor changes in the Traditional Plan without the necessity of constitutional amendments. The WCA continues to urge the adoption of the Traditional Plan.

The Judicial Council declined to make any rulings with respect to the Connectional Conference Plan since that plan concedes that constitutional amendments would have to be passed to enable it to be adopted. As the Judicial Council observed, it “lacks the authority to scrutinize proposed constitutional amendments.”

The WCA is continuing to prepare for every contingency to ensure that churches and pastors who align with the WCA have an option regardless of the decision of the special General Conference. We are committed to the adoption of the Traditional Plan and to the provision of a gracious exit path for churches and pastors who disagree with whatever decision is made by the special General Conference.

The WCA’s first Global Legislative Assembly (GLA) will be held on Friday, November 2, at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Ga. The GLA will consider a number of resolutions to advance the mission of the WCA as we prepare for the aftermath of the special General Conference in February 2019. We remain confident of the future God has ready for those who are committed to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition.

Keith Boyette is President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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