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United Methodist Judicial Council Upholds Traditional Plan

United Methodist Judicial Council Upholds Traditional Plan

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, meeting from April 23-26 in Evanston, Illinois, has decided that much of the so-called Traditional Plan, which the General Conference adopted at its most recent meeting in February, is constitutional.

The United Methodist Church’s top court has found that while some provisions of the newly adopted Traditional Plan remain unconstitutional, the rest of the plan is valid as church law.

That was the Judicial Council’s ruling on a requested review of the Traditional Plan, which was approved during a special denomination-wide legislative session in February to strengthen enforcement of bans on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and same-sex weddings.

In a separate ruling, legislation to provide an exit strategy for local churches wishing to leave the denomination meets three minimum requirements and thus is constitutional “when taken together with the consent of the annual conference” as specifically outlined in the Book of Discipline, the court said.

The decision itself is a lengthy and technical one. It finds unconstitutional the parts of the Traditional Plan which require annual conferences to submit certifications that none of their elected leaders are “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” and which would also require respondents to disciplinary complaints to promise not to repeat their actions. At the same time, the decision upholds the ban on both the ordination of LGBTQIA individuals as elders or bishops and the ban on UMC clergy performing same-sex weddings.

Petition 90036 prohibits bishops from consecrating bishops who are self-avowed homosexuals, even those elected by a jurisdictional or central conference. It also prohibits bishops from commissioning or ordaining those determined to be self-avowed homosexuals, even if recommended and approved by the clergy session or board of ordained ministry.

Petition 90042 sets mandatory penalties for pastors convicted by a trial court of performing same-sex wedding ceremonies or conducting ceremonies to celebrate homosexual unions. Those penalties are a year’s suspension without pay for the first offense and termination of conference membership and church credentials for a second offense.

Petition 90043 prohibits the recommendation or approval of any person who does not meet the ordination qualifications found in Paragraph 304.1-3 [of the Book of Discipline, the UMC’s equivalent to the Episcopal Constitution and Canons]. That section includes the language that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be certified as candidates for ministry, ordained or appointed.

Included in the Judicial Council’s decision is the groundwork for a mechanism which can be used by parishes wishing to disaffiliate from the UMC.

… [the Judicial Council] has now determined that any General Conference legislation permitting such an exit must meet three minimum requirements:

  • Approval of the disaffiliation resolution by a two-thirds majority of the professing members of the local church present and voting at the church conference.
  • Establishment of the terms and conditions, including the effective date, of the agreement between the annual conference and the exiting local church by the conference board of trustees in accordance with applicable church law and civil laws.
  • Ratification of the disaffiliation agreement by a simple majority of the members of the annual conference present and voting

The Traditional Plan is set to take effect in North America on January 1, 2020. Other provinces will have 12 months after the next General Conference meets in May of 2020 to implement the plan.


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Joseph Flanagan

Neuhaus’ Law states “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

I suspect that traditionalist Methodists have been worried about this phenomenon.

And, they would merely have to look at Episcopal Diocese of Albany, NY and Bishop William H. Love to see Neuhaus’ Law in action.

John Hobart

I think they are wise to provide a mechanism for parishes that cannot accept this decision in good faith to disaffiliate. Hopefully they will avoid some of the embarrassing rancor from property disputes such as those that have plagued PECUSA.

Thomas Rightmyer

Professor Goeffrey Wainwright at Duke was an eminent ecumenical scholar. He once said that one of the principles of the Anglican Methodist Dialogue was not to ask of the other party to the dialogue a greater internal consistency than was found in the asking party. I would hate to add another point to the Lambeth Quadrilateral. I am told that interest in the Episcopal United Methodist agreement for full communion and shared ministry has lessened since the UMC vote. I hope the Episcopal Church will support the proposal and that it will also pass the UMC 2020 General Conference.

Steve Price

“Refugees” from the Methodist Church are beginning to show up in Episcopal parishes.I hope our churches will be welcoming without being condescending towards UMC.Their struggle with these issues is not over yet.But full communion between the two denominations must be off the table for our 2021 General Convention.

Eric Bonetti

“Open hearts, open minds, open doors?” Pffffttttt.

Gregory Orloff

In all fairness, the Methodist church just down the street from our Episcopal church — with those six words emblazoned prominently on its front lawn sign — unfurled Pride flags on either side of it in the weeks following their denomination’s recent convention. Not all Methodists agree with its decision and are doing their best to keep hearts, minds, and doors open.

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