Plan to Change United Methodism's Stance on Homosexuality Upheld by Church Court

Delegates meet at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
Delegates meet at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. | (Photo: Facebook/United Methodist General Conference)

The United Methodist Church's highest court has ruled that a plan that would change the mainline denomination's official position against homosexuality is largely constitutional.

The UMC will hold a special session of General Conference next February with the intention of ending the internal debate over the Church's stance on LGBT issues.

The United Methodist Judicial Council reviewed the constitutionality of the three main plans proposed to end the debate and issued a ruling last Friday.

Regarding the "One Church Plan," which would allow local bodies within the Church to determine their position on homosexuality, the Judicial Council concluded that most of the petitions in the plan were constitutional.

In Decision 1366, the Judicial Council stated that the General Conference has "the authority to adopt a uniform, standardized, or a non-uniform, differentiated theological statement."

"Our Constitution commands not that all church policies enacted by the General Conference be uniform but that all uniform church policies be enacted by the General Conference," read Decision 1366.

"The legislative branch of the Church is constitutionally free to set the standards for entrance into the ministry wherever and whenever it sees fit."

The decision noted that a few petitions of the Plan had sentences that violated the church's constitution. For example, Petition 8's sentence reassigning clergy who cannot agree with their congregation's stance on gay marriage was declared in violation of ¶ 54, which states that it is bishops who appoint ministers to charges.

In the same ruling, the Judicial Council upheld the Traditional Plan, which upholds the UMC's current stance on LGBT issues and adds stricter enforcement, but also labeled many of its petitions unconstitutional.

For example, the Judicial Council found Petitions 2, 3 and 4 of the Traditional Plan unconstitutional, arguing that they "deny a bishop's right to fair and due process" and thus violate ¶20 and ¶58.

"No process can be fair and equitable if the body bringing the complaint is also empowered to determine its merits," stated Decision 1366 regarding the Traditional Plan.

"The Council of Bishops was not designed to function as an inquisitional court responsible for enforcing doctrinal purity among its members."

The Judicial Council declined to rule on the third major proposal, called the Connectional Conference Plan, which includes changes to the constitution, as the Judicial Council explained that it does not have the authority to analyze proposed constitutional amendments.

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