“MARRIAGE EQUALITY RESOLUTION” VIOLATES CHURCH LAW
The Desert Southwest Annual Conference passed a resolution, in light of a Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in California. Because the conference includes part of California, same-gender marriages ought to be conducted in the churches and by the pastors of the annual conference. When the resolution was challenged, the bishop ruled that it was aspirational and therefore legal under church law. See the full text of the resolution in the body of the JCD.
The matter came before the Judicial Council. It disagreed in part (in large part!) with the bishop, acknowledging that the opening of the resolution was indeed aspirational, but that the resolution further called for not following church law in order to hold same-gender marriages. They quoted from JCD 1111:
“An annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions.”
This decision reflects the changing values occurring in the denomination but accentuates the difference between church law and the changes that are coming.
The church, which is allowed freedom under the separation of church and state, is not required to follow civil law. Church law may prevent gay marriage within its own denomination, including making it contrary to church law for its pastors to be conducting such ceremonies. When United Methodist pastors have violated that law, and it has become public, those pastors have faced sanctions by the church, mainly through church trials. As time has gone on, the guilt has been found but the punishments have varied from forcing pastors to withdraw to brief suspensions or community service (see JCD 1215).
So in practice, resolutions of the sort passed in Desert Southwest are in violation of church law and serve no direct function. Indirectly, they show the growing will of the coming generation to overturn church law and they aggravate those who feel current church law is legitimate. The Judicial Council is the arbiter of which side wins in this confrontation. They okay resolutions that aspire to changing church law but they do not allow calls for violating church law.
This pattern will be repeated until church law changes, unlikely at the 2016 General Conference.
When an argument cannot be settled but ends up in a circular pattern, that usually means that is not the real argument but is symptomatic of another problem. On the surface, that would appear to be how each side views the priority of Scripture (only) versus Experience, Reason (science), and Scripture. (Tradition is claimed by one side but that is a whole other argument.) Unfortunately, the Judicial Council cannot resolve that conflict, even if it wanted to. The resolution of that issue in the Church, similar to those related to things like slavery, women, tobacco and alcohol, divorce, and civil rights, will ultimately work itself out, but outside of the Council.