Church court asked to set scope of petitions

The briefs are in and the oral argument is set for a high-stakes meeting of the denomination’s Judicial Council next week in Evanston, Illinois.

At issue is what legislation may be considered during the Feb. 23-26, 2019, special session of the General Conference, called to deal with longstanding, schism-threatening tensions over The United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality.

Briefs submitted by the Council of Bishops and a group of United Methodist chancellors argue that only petitions consistent with the bishops’ own report to the special General Conference would be in order, given the rationale or “call” for the special meeting.

But others, including Texas Conference Bishop Scott Jones, have written briefs holding that a broader approach is required under church law.

Both sides acknowledge that under church law the special General Conference can, by a two-thirds vote, expand the agenda.

The Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, is to meet at the Evanston’s Hilton Orrington on May 22-25, with a 90-minute oral hearing set to begin at 9 a.m., on May 22. The hearing will be livestreamed.

Bishops Bruce R. Ough is the immediate past president of the Council of Bishops, and he is expected to speak at the hearing.

Jones plans to speak for his own position, making this an unusual occasion, at the least, of bishops arguing differently before the Judicial Council. Jones’ sister-in-law, Deanell Reece Tacha, is on the Judicial Council, but she told United Methodist News Service that she is recusing herself from this case.

The Judicial Council has granted not only Jones but others submitting friend of the court briefs the chance to speak briefly.

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