By Walter Fenton
October 24, 2018
The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, delivered an oral argument before The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council (essentially its “Supreme Court”) on Tuesday, October 23. The Council is meeting in Zurich, Switzerland this week to consider its fall docket of cases.
Earlier this year the Council of Bishops (COB) asked the Judicial Council to rule on the constitutionality of various plans coming before a special, called General Conference slated to meet in St. Louis, Missouri, February 23 – 26, 2019.
A majority of the COB has endorsed a proposal called the One Church Plan. It attempts to resolve the church’s long debate over its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and ordination standards by allowing pastors, local churches, and annual conferences to make their own decisions on the matters.
The plan calls for redefining marriage as between “two adults” instead of its current definition of “one man and one woman.” It would allow pastors to preside at same-sex services, and it would give annual conferences the right to ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” It would also allow local UM churches the right to open their sanctuaries for same-sex weddings. The plan also calls for respecting the consciences and decisions of pastors, annual conferences, and local churches that would decide to refrain from adopting such changes.
Like many pastors and laity in the UM Church, Boyette has maintained the church’s teachings on these matters are rooted in Scripture, 2,000 years of Christian consensus, and endorsed by the vast majority of United Methodists world-wide. Consequently, he has opposed any changes to the church’s teachings based on theological and ethical grounds.
However, in his argument before the Judicial Council, Boyette forcefully challenged the constitutionality of key provisions in the One Church Plan. Namely, that any attempt to allow annual conferences to adopt different standards for clergy would usurp the role of the General Conference to define those standards. The UM Church, by its constitution and polity, has determined to be a “connectional church.” Boyette argued that various provisions in the One Church Plan run afoul of the church’s constitution, and that taken together they would eventually “obliterate” the connection that binds it together.
“I was honored to have the opportunity to participate in the Judicial Council’s consideration of the constitutionality of the One Church Plan,” Boyette said. “If adopted, this plan would radically change both the teachings and the practice of the UM Church. The members of the Judicial Council were well-prepared for the hearing and asked questions that demonstrated they understood the importance of what was before them. I believe the arguments I advanced were well received. We can anticipate the Judicial Council’s decision being released shortly after their meeting concludes on October 26.”
The Council also heard arguments on two other plans to come before the special General Conference. Should any plan be ruled unconstitutional, in whole or in part, its chances for winning the support of General Conference delegates would be greatly diminished.
To watch a video recording of the oral arguments made before the Judicial Council click HERE.
Walter Fenton is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and vice-president for strategic engagement at the Wesleyan Covenant Association.