Top court meets in aftermath of GC2019

The United Methodist Church’s top court is poised to review actions taken in February during a contentious legislative session that still threatens to divide the denomination. The Judicial Council meets April 23-26 in Evanston, Illinois. No oral hearings are scheduled, and the court’s rulings will be posted on its website at some point after the session concludes. The April 2019 docket is short but significant. General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, in February passed the Traditional Plan, which strengthens enforcement of bans on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and same-sex weddings.

The Rev. Timothy Bruster, a delegate from the Central Texas Conference, later made a motion to request a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council on “the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect” of the Traditional Plan. The motion passed 405-395, exceeding the requirement that at least 20 percent of delegates approve sending a request to the council. Bruster also happens to be the first clergy alternate for Judicial Council, although he has recused himself from the spring meeting. The second docket item is a request from the United Methodist Council of Bishops for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect of Petition 90066, which was one of the proposed “exit plans” allowing local churches to leave the denomination. In his brief to the Judicial Council, Bruster argues “that the Traditional Plan as adopted by the General Conference should be treated as one plan and be ruled unconstitutional as a whole by the Judicial Council.” He cited Decision 1210 from General Conference 2012, when the court looked at the entirety of “Plan UMC” when ruling it unconstitutional. That legislation would have restructured the church agencies. Bruster also argues that language in the Book of Discipline singling out “the LGBTQ+ community” is contrary to the church’s constitution and violates the rule to “do no harm.” During the Feb. 23-26 special session of General Conference, the conference’s legislative committee submitted 17 petitions to Judicial Council for review.

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