JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64867/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA0In0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64867/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA0In0
EXERCISE IN MOOT AND HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS
Over the summer, as I was working on commentaries on JCDs from October of 2014 and April 2015, I found myself studying what makes questions moot and hypothetical. Those two terms are not defined anywhere and seemed to me to be used arbitrarily, especially to protect a bishop who may have allowed violations of fair process. Last year’s JCDs were a lot of help to me in clarifying how this Council sees what is moot and what is hypothetical.
I don’t know if it was glee or consternation that hit me when I read the intelligent questions asked by a lay person about one aspect of rules that had been passed by the California-Pacific Annual Conference. The sad part of his concern is that he was trying to get answers the wrong way. If the bishop, he, the conference chancellor, and anyone else with smarts about referring questions to the Judicial Council had had about fifteen minutes together, they might have resolved all of his issues without resorting to formal seeking of legal rulings.
Hey, Bishops, be ready to call a break, request a meeting as soon as possible, or some such thing to allow exploring the questions and the proper forms for formal legal questioning to see if there is a reasonable way to resolve the issues. The result might be clearing up everything. But if there is even one issue unresolved, that could then be put into proper form for presentation over which the Judicial Council could take jurisdiction.
Now about the questions and the bishop’s answers:
Upon analysis, the questions, while on a worthwhile subject, were mostly hypothetical in that they were intended to change the opinion of the bishop rather than appeal an action that could have been illegal. That is a very subtle matter and lawyers are about the only ones who can tell the difference. The bishop brought in a lawyer to go over the questions before responding, something the lay person would not ordinarily have thought to do. So the bishop then ruled the questions moot, with some elements being hypothetical. The Council affirmed the bishop’s decision though it finessed some of the questions as hypothetical.
I am in the process of trying to nail down the definition of “moot” and “hypothetical” so that lay and clergy, bishops and Council members can all get onto the same page.
Let me suggest what the lay person might have done with his concern about episcopal overreach in the new plan. It appears he realized after the new rule passed that the Discipline was at variance with the new plan on the issue of separation of powers. With the help of others to offer a second, he could have moved reconsideration of Rule Change 15-15. If the motion was seconded, the motion for reconsideration would be up for discussion, particularly the grounds for making the motion. Instead of asking the bishop to rule on the Disciplinary discrepancies, he could have asserted his interpretation of them as grounds for reconsidering Rule Change 15-15. If the motion to reconsider passed, then he could make a motion to amend the Rule Change to be in line with the Discipline and hope the conference agreed and voted to support his amendment. If the conference chose not to accept his motion to change the new rule, then he could have moved a request for a declaratory decision under ¶ 2610 on the constitutionality of Rule Change 15-15 in light of the Disciplinary passages he felt conflicted with the new rule and whether or not the other passages used to support the new rule were indeed constitutional.
If you understood that legal-babble of mine, we’re good. If not, contact me.
As the questions were asked, the Judicial Council was blocked from a substantive response of looking at the real issue of possible episcopal overreach by arcane rules that are not clearly defined nor widely understood.
If I succeed in helping define “moot and hypothetical” based on the Council’s own decisions, maybe we can minimize that impediment in the future.
Note: The concurring opinion does take the questions to have enough substance that it offers an answer which has some teaching value for consideration by the questioner. It may or may not resolve his concerns but it respects them despite the technical flaws in the wording and approach of his questions.