This week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church meets in Zürich. One of their cases is to consider arguments for and against the constitutionality of the various plans from the Commission On A Way Forward.
There’s a bit of hype and hyperbole so let’s get a few things clear.
They will not affirm a Plan
Of the three plans before them, the two from the Commission (1,2) and the one from a small group of bishops and clergy (3), the Judicial Council will not endorse a plan or say “this plan is better than the others.” That’s not the point.
The point is to avoid a situation that happened in 2012 where General Conference passed a plan (PlanUMC, which this blog was actively opposed to) which was then ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council on the last day of GC2012. Because it was a single piece of legislation, any elements that were unconstitutional nullified the whole effort. GC2012 then passed a variety of other reforms, but did not try to “fix” PlanUMC and it died a fiery death…for now.
So this effort is to avoid that and to have Judicial Council examine the legislation beforehand so any of their issues would be handled before GC2019.
They will weigh in on PARTS of the Plans
I predict there will be much social media kerfuffle if Judicial Council declares sections of any plan unconstitutional. I can already see the IRD saying “One Church Plan Unconstitutional” in a tweet, when that will not be the case.
What will happen is the JC will say that a section of a Plan is unconstitutional and needs to be reworked or stricken. There are multiple petitions for each plan, each handled separately, so an entire Plan won’t be nullified.
But there will be considerable concern if novel parts of the plane are stricken. If the One Church Plans’ allowance for annual conferences and local churches to choose their own level of inclusion, or if the Traditionalist Plan’s expulsion of churches to their own conferences–if those novel and essential parts are named, then those plans will need serious revisions before and at GC2019.
This is a new thing
As far as I know, the Judicial Council has not been asked to do this before: to weigh in and pre-evaluate the plans. In fact, they may choose to not do it and claim they don’t have jurisdiction over these questions because they are not in our polity yet. But I doubt they will take a pass because of the stakes involved in being wrong.
One Plan is already Constitutional
The Simple Plan is already Constitutional because it does not add anything new to the Discipline. It is simple in that it simply removes language from the Discipline. Removing particular phrases or lines does not add new constitutional questions. And the Simple Plan is undoubtedly being considered by GC2019 because it deals only with the paragraphs specifically charged to the Commission.
Therefore, we already have one plan which is Constitutional: the Simple Plan. Check it out here.
What happens next?
We await their decision which usually comes 2-21 days after the meeting. So come mid-November, we will have clarity for the next 3 months leading up to General Conference 2019 in St. Louis Missouri on February 23-26, 2019.
In the meantime, LGBTQ persons continue to be excluded form the life of the church, more and more people continue to ask why, and the Church continues to debate how much discrimination they can put into their polity and still call themselves a Christian denomination.
May we be in prayer for all involved.
No plans will be nullified or endorsed, and with all likelihood, only the rough edges will need to be amended or smoothed out in various proposals which will come in the coming months. I’m thankful for this process that makes sure we are not opining away in a vacuum but have a solid basis for debate in a few short months.
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