Judicial Council sets February docket

When the United Methodist Judicial Council holds a special session in February, the agenda will include the first administrative appeal to come its way under authorization of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline.

What will not be on the docket is a request for a partial reconsideration of the top court’s unanimous ruling in October on two proposed plans for the future of The United Methodist Church from the Commission on a Way Forward.

The Judicial Council’s Feb. 19-22 special session in St. Louis occurs just before the special General Conference, which meets Feb. 23-26 at the America’s Center Convention Complex there to consider various plans to resolve the decades-old conflict over homosexuality. The council also will convene as needed during General Conference.

In October’s Decision 1366, the court found the One Church Plan to be largely constitutional but ruled that problems in the Traditional Plan petitions would need to be addressed before that plan could pass a constitutional test.

In a Dec. 7 email to the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht — who made the request for partial reconsideration — and other interested parties, the Rev. Luan-Vu “Lui” Tran, Judicial Council secretary, said the request “failed to reach the requisite majority vote” of council members and was denied.

A second request was ruled out of order. Only one reconsideration request can be filed per decision by an interested party, Tran explained.

The administrative appeal on the February docket comes from a former United Methodist clergy member in the Florida Conference.

The Rev. Erik Seise, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida, appealed to Judicial Council a ruling by the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. The committee upheld a conference decision that led to his involuntary leave of absence and discontinuance as a provisional member of the Florida Conference. The jurisdictional appeals committee found that the appeal was valid but that named conference bodies involved in the case made no errors in church law while reaching its decisions.

In Paragraph 2718.3 of the 2016 United Methodist Book of Discipline, the order of appeals “on questions of procedures in an administrative process” starts with the decision of the conference relations committee, continues through the conference administrative review committee and the central conference or jurisdictional appeals committee and ends with the Judicial Council.

Paragraph 2718.4 sets up the requirements for an appeal in such cases. But the appellate bodies can only rule on whether errors in church law were made that would “vitiate” or impair the legal validity of the recommendation and/or action of the administrative body.

Another docket item, regarding an appeal of a decision by the North Central Jurisdictional Conference on Appeals, is continued from the court’s October meeting. At that meeting, Judicial Council directed the Rev. Gregory Stover, counsel for the West Ohio Conference, to file a brief explaining how language in the Book of Discipline authorizes him to file the appeal.

In March 2018, the jurisdictional appeals committee found that a West Ohio Conference investigative committee made errors of church law in dismissing some of the charges against the Rev. David Meredith, a Cincinnati pastor who married a same-sex partner in 2016. The committee also asked the conference to hold off on any further judicial proceedings until after the denomination’s special General Conference in February.

Items on the February agenda that were deferred by the council in October include:

• A review of a decision of law by Baltimore-Washington Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, who ruled during the 2018 annual conference session that two individuals the Board of Ordained Ministry had approved were not eligible for ordination and commissioning because they are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

• A request by the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters about mistakes made during General Conference 2016 regarding the retirement of central conference bishops.

• A review of a decision of law by North Texas Bishop Michael McKee that a question on a tabled resolution related to the issue of human sexuality was out of order.

• Reviews of two separate decisions of law by Greater New Jersey Bishop John Schol. The first is about participation in a lawsuit filed against the New Jersey State Board of Education and Acting Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education. The second is about the scheduling of “church superconferences” at locations other than the involved local churches.

Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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