May 25, 2018
By Walter Fenton
Earlier today The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council (its “Supreme Court”) issued an 8-1 decision repudiating the Council of Bishops’ argument that only its preferred option for a way forward could be presented to the special General Conference scheduled for February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.
In a recent meeting the majority of the Council of Bishops (COB) recommended a “local option” approach to the church’s long debate over its sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards. The proposal calls on the General Conference delegates to liberalize the church’s sexual ethics and allow pastors and annual conferences to make decisions about presiding at same-sex weddings and whether to ordain openly gay clergy.
A minority of bishops and other groups argued that the UM Church’s constitution allowed any group, pastor, or lay member to present a petition to General Conference, even one called for a specific purpose, as long as the petition was in harmony with the purpose.
Earlier this week, during an oral hearing before the Judicial Council (JC), Bishop Bruce Ough, past president of the COB, claimed only the COB’s plan should formally come before the special General Conference.
The Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, argued otherwise. Boyette, a practicing attorney since 1978 and UM pastor for twenty-four years, was elected to the JC himself at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. He served on the council for eight years. He was joined in his argument by Bishop Scott Jones of the Texas Annual Conference, and John Lomperis, president of UM Action and General Conference lay delegate from Indiana.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association is grateful for the JC’s decision. It preserves the right of organizations and all members of The United Methodist Church to present petitions to the special General Conference. Permitting other petitions to be filed will allow them to be printed and translated well before the February 2019 General Conference. The 864 delegates and members of the UM Church will be able engage in a robust discussion of all the petitions prior to the special General Conference.
“The WCA has made clear since its inception that millions of United Methodists around the world could not continue in a church that adopted a ‘local option’ plan, so I’m grateful for the Judicial Council’s decision” said Boyette. “Thanks to its constitutionally grounded decision, I expect we’ll see at least two or three other proposals submitted by the July 8, 2018 deadline. And I am sure one of them will be one orthodox, evangelicals can rally around. There’s still a long way to go, but the JC’s decision is a step in the right direction.”
Rev. Walter Fenton is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference. He has an extension appointment to serve with the Wesleyan Covenant Association.