In two separate rulings, The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council (its “Supreme Court”) has rejected the argument that the entire Traditional Plan (TP) adopted at the 2019 special General Conference is unconstitutional, and it has also ruled that a local church exit plan is constitutional.
The nine-member Judicial Council (JC) said the General Conference delegates were well aware when they approved the TP that the JC had ruled certain petitions that were a part of it were unconstitutional. (The JC made those rulings at its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, this past November.) Nevertheless, it maintained that those petitions in the plan that were deemed constitutional could still go effect despite the unconstitutionality of others.
Upon the passage of the TP at the special General Conference, the Rev. Timothy Bruster, a delegate from the Central Texas Annual Conference and a proponent of the One Church Plan, made a motion asking the JC if the entire TP should be deemed unconstitutional since it was passed as a whole plan. In other words, were the TP petitions so integrally related that if some were found to be unconstitutional then the whole plan must be so as well?
The JC responded, “The petitions held unconstitutional have no effect on the petitions declared constitutional. The constitutional petitions are not dependent on the unconstitutional petitions and can survive without the unconstitutional petitions.” The result of the JC ruling means those TP petitions deemed constitutional will go into effect January 1, 2020.
One week after the special General Conference, the Council of Bishops asked the JC to rule on the constitutionality of a plan the delegates adopted for allowing local churches to exit the denomination. The JC ruled the plan adopted did not conflict with the church’s constitutional provision allowing annual conferences to authorize the exit of a local church once certain conditions were met.
Traditionalists will welcome both rulings.
The TP is an attempt to restore good order to the church in annual conferences where bishops and church leaders have essentially colluded with defiant pastors to thwart the UM Church’s clear teachings regarding its sexual ethics, teaching on marriage, and its ordination standards. The plan continues the church’s long-standing welcome to all persons to participate in the ministries of the UM Church. It enhances accountability standards for clergy who defy the church’s Book of Discipline. And it strengthens provisions for holding church leaders accountable for following the church’s procedures when adjudicating complaints against those who have willfully defied its covenants.
Many traditionalists have so soured on church leaders who have either been unwilling or unable to maintain good order that they have looked for ways to leave the denomination with all their assets and properties. While the plan adopted by the General Conference does contain potential stumbling blocks to an exit, a pathway for some local churches has now been created and deemed constitutional.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association will provide more details regarding the Judicial Council Decisions in the coming days. It thanks the church’s judicial branch for honoring the will of its legislative branch, and it strongly encourages the Council of Bishops – its executive branch – to abide by the will of the church.