DISSENTERS ON THE BOARD OF ORDAINED MINISTRY?
At the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, members of the Board of Ordained Ministry included several pastors who were reported to be willing to do same sex marriages. Someone raised a question of law based on his reading of JCD 980 that those pastors unwilling to obey the Discipline on that matter should not be allowed to be on the Board.
The bishop offered the opinion that JCD 980 related to judicial processes and not to nomination processes, though he suggested that those in disagreement with the Discipline on same sex issues should consider not accepting nomination to groups where their opinion might not lead to following the group’s disciplinary responsibilities. He added that nominations cannot be arbitrarily limited.
Remember that the members of the Council giving JCD 980 strongly leaned against same sex issues. The current Council has to be ready with legal arguments fully weighted to give rulings that legitimately change those precedents,
This docket item was not such a case.
There were several problems with this case. There were no elections or other actions of the conference to which to tie the request for a ruling. That made the questions hypothetical.
Further, the Council points out, the question was based on reports of previously held opinions of people on the Board. This is as close to the Council considering a matter being based on hearsay as any decision of which I am aware. The Council rejected the questioner’s use of such a basis for his questions.
Finally, the Council said none of the people in question was under complaint for any action and could not be put under complaint for something they had not yet done. That made the request hypothetical as well.
The bishop also was chastised on two points: One, he should have recognized the questions as hypothetical and so ruled. Second, his response to the questions bore the weight of law for his conference and if upheld by the Council, it would be the law of the church, and not just an opinion.
Under stress of time and not being present at the annual conference session led the Council to again be short with a bishop caught in the dynamics of the annual conference (see JCD 1284 above). The tone of the questioner was “bold” (I’d say he was angry and even defiant) so the bishop, following the universal rule of lowering the “temperature” when there was a confrontation, chose to soften his response to be pastoral and parliamentary. And seeking to avoid the appearance of disrespecting the questioner, the bishop sought to provide a reasonable answer.
Previous Councils dismissed many questions as moot and hypothetical without explanation and refused jurisdiction. This Council noted the procedure for submitting a question of law had been followed, and when the bishop ruled, the conference was asked to vote the question and rulings to be reviewed by the Council.
My fussing about some concern or other with Council actions should be considered as relatively minor compared to the Council’s usual patience and clarifications in decisions like this one.