(Photo: Kathleen Barry/ UMNS)
The highest court in the United Methodist Church has ruled that a Texas bishop must deliver a ruling on the eligibility of a lesbian candidate for ordination.
The United Methodist Judicial Council decided that Bishop James Dorff of the UMC Southwest Texas Conference must issue a ruling on whether the Conference's board of ordained ministry acted properly in the removal of Mary Ann Kaiser.
Dorff must respond within 60 days of being notified of the decision, the UMJC stated in its ruling of the case regarding the Southwest Texas Conference Saturday.
"The matter is remanded to the bishop for a decision on the questions presented. His submission is to be submitted to the Secretary of the Judicial Council within 60 days of this notification. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction," reads the decision in part.
"I have been notified by the Judicial Council of the reversal of my Decision of Law regarding the discontinuance of a Certified Candidate for ministry. The Council's decision and the reasons given will be thoroughly studied and reviewed," said Bishop Dorff, in a statement provided to The Christian Post by Thomas Monahan, director of Communications for the Southwest Texas Conference. "I will issue a ruling on the questions presented in the original request within the time frame given by the Judicial Council. I respect the decision of the Council and will prayerfully do my best to render a decision in keeping with the provisions of the Book of Discipline 2012."
Mary Ann Kaiser was certified as a candidate for deacon in the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference in 2008. Earlier this year, the Southwest Conference Board of Ordained Ministry refused to certify her candidacy due to her being in a same-sex relationship. In July, Dorff called a request regarding Mary Ann Kaiser "moot."
"My ruling is that the request, as presented, is moot and hypothetical. Therefore, the request is improper and no decision on the substance of the request will be given," said Dorff in a statement. "This ruling has been forwarded to the Judicial Council of the church for review. They will either affirm this decision or return it to me for further action."
The Southwest Texas case was one of many cases brought before the UMJC during its fall session pertaining to the mainline Protestant denomination's internal debate over homosexuality.
While the Book of Discipline declares homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars "non-celibate homosexuals" from ordination, many UMC clergy have demanded that such rules be changed.
The UMJC also ruled against a resolution passed by the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference that sought to limit the penalty for a bishop convicted of appointing or ordaining a practicing homosexual to a 24-hour suspension.
"The [Book of Discipline] grants to the trial court the exclusive power to set a penalty in a Church trial which results in a conviction and the full legislated range of options must be available to a trial court in its penalty phase," reads their decision. "The resolution adopted by the Western Jurisdictional Conference is null, void, and of no effect. The Bishop's decision of law is reversed."
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, told CP that the decision was based in UMJC precedent.
"This Judicial Council ruling repeated the Council's well-established principle that, on the one hand, regional bodies of the UMC may pass 'aspirational' resolutions expressing eventual hope for changes within the UMC within the guidelines of our established procedures for making changes," said Lomperis. "But on the other hand, regional UMC bodies may not pass any resolution that would 'negate, ignore or violate' any specific parts of our denomination-wide covenant."
As to the cases brought the UMJC regarding homosexuality overall, Lomperis told CP that the highest court reaffirmed rather than altered UMC church law.
"These cases make no change to the UMC's teaching and standards affirming biblical standards for sexual self-control," said Lomperis. "In fact, the one change made to church law in these sexuality-related cases is the Southwest Texas case's changing our church law in a way that will now make it easier to challenge liberal regional resolutions on sexual morality."