(Photo: Kathleen Barry/ UMNS)
The United Methodist Church will consider whether various resolutions passed by regional bodies opposed to the denomination's stance against homosexuality are in violation of church rules.
The United Methodist Judicial Council will hold a hearing next month on the resolutions passed by conferences within the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC in the 2013 annual conference session.
Homosexuality is considered "incompatible with Christian teaching" and "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot be ordained, according to the UMC's Book of Discipline. The document further states that UMC clergy may not officiate same-sex unions and defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
While resolutions have passed denouncing it, the Book of Discipline's language on homosexuality has survived removal efforts, including most recently at the 2012 General Conference.
During the 2013 annual conferences, the majority of the regional bodies of the Western Jurisdiction affirmed their support for a document known as the "Statement of Gospel Obedience", which says the UMC is in error regarding its teaching on the subject of homosexuality. The Western Jurisdiction includes the western half of the continental United States, as well as Alaska and assorted Pacific islands.
The Rev. William B. Lawrence, clergy member of the UMC North Texas Conference, serves as president of the Judicial Council. In an interview with The Christian Post, Rev. Lawrence explained that rulings by the Council will be in regards to procedure rather than the nature of the hot-button issue.
"Matters that arrive at the Judicial Council and are placed on the docket are matters that come to us because of procedures required in the Book of Discipline and the Constitution," said Lawrence. "The topic is not the issue; it's whether procedures are followed."
Lawrence also explained to CP that the deliberations will be closed to the public, with the decisions posted on the Council's website within a few days of the meeting.
Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, Resident Bishop of The California-Pacific Annual Conference, which is part of the Western Jurisdiction, told CP that people "have the right to request a ruling of law on matters such as the resolutions on homosexuality."
"In this way we as United Methodists provide voice for all while also holding each other in covenant relationship," said Carcaño. "No one is seeking vindication [by the Judicial Council]. We are seeking to speak what we believe to be a biblically faithful word to the church and the world."
As the Judicial Council will soon rule on the resolutions, Carcaño told CP that she and her peers were in a state of prayer over the matter.
"We pray for the Judicial Council as it does it work. We pray for the church that we may be faithful to God above all," said Carcaño. "And we pray for those who have been excluded from the church and in its leadership because of the sexual orientation given to them when God created them."
For her part, in July, Bishop Carcaño ruled in favor of the resolution passed by the California-Pacific Annual Conference in support of the "Statement of Gospel Obedience."
John Lomperis, director of the United Methodist program at The Institute on Religion and Democracy, told CP that the Western Jurisdiction resolutions were "sadly predictable."
"The leadership of the Western Jurisdiction has long been in the stranglehold of a theologically radical, secularized, and generally harshly exclusivist faction," said Lomperis. "It is very, very important to remember that these resolutions do not speak for most United Methodists, and do not even speak for many United Methodists in the Western Jurisdiction."
Regarding the resolutions' success before the Judicial Council, Lomperis told CP that he believed that if the Judicial Council "rules faithfully according to our church law and its own precedents" then they will "invalidate the specific portions of these Western Jurisdiction resolutions that are in question in these cases."
"In numerous cases, the Judicial Council has, on the one hand, said it's perfectly fine for annual conferences to pass such resolutions if they are merely 'aspirational,' such as expressing hope that our denomination will one day change our position on sex outside of man-woman marriage," said Lomperis.
"But on the other hand, the Judicial Council has also made clear that such UMC regional bodies have no right to unilaterally 'negate, ignore or violate' portions of our governing Book of Discipline with which they may disagree, invite anyone else to do likewise, or 'articulate a new and different standard of church belief' to be used as an alternative to UMC denomination-wide policies."
The United Methodist Judicial Council will meet from Oct. 23-26 at the Sheraton City Center in Baltimore, Maryland. In total, it will consider 17 docket items on a myriad of topics.