Remanding a Moot and Hypothetical Question
Let me first insert an anecdote before commenting on this interesting decision,
When I was interviewed for ordination, I was really asked only one question. “Do you smoke?” That was way before sexual orientation was on anyone’s mind and while the Discipline was explicit about our witness being to not smoke or drink. My answer was “No” because I have always found the habit abhorrent and unhealthy. The answer was “No” by all of the candidates even though those who were Korean War veterans and rebels smoked. That was true in southern conferences as well, especially where tobacco was the main cash crop.
Here’s the kicker: No Board of Ordained Ministry advertised their decision to ignore the Discipline. After a very few years, the Discipline was changed and hardly anyone noticed.
Take that bit of history for what it’s worth.
Second, let me advertise a little. Last year I completed a study on “moot and hypothetical” and put it in a form of guidelines for bishops that I wish the Council adopted instead of JCD 799. Anyone interested in my handiwork may contact me.
I bring that up because it suggests that a questioner and the bishop should meet to discuss the question before it goes to the floor of the conference. The bishop should take a break if one comes up spontaneously as this one appears to have. The break should be for the purpose of going over the requirements and limitations related to the two kinds of questioning. Perhaps a parliamentarian should help them evaluate the situation and see if there is a best question and best way to ask it so that the Council is not caught in the kind of bind exemplified in this case.
It is hard to say exactly what questions might have been asked, if any. To speculate would be to argue this case. This commentary is badly timed since this case was remanded back to the bishop for reworking her answers.
But let me say a couple things more.
One, the Council is wise to overturn the bishop’s argument that a defeated motion is moot and hypothetical. Past Councils have overturned personnel cases when there were failures of fair process that led to conference decisions that were being challenged. A negative action of a conference is an action and may be questioned.
Two, I find it strange when the Discipline requires a two-thirds vote of an annual conference to forward a request for a declaratory decision (P 2609.5) but only one fifth or one-third vote of members of jurisdictional, central, or General Conferences. That sure makes it hard for annual conferences to challenge bishops to the Council if the bishop is authoritarian.