Confusion over Request for Decision
Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference was the site for two attempts to clarify whether a resolution to be a “One Church” conference was aspirational or contrary to the Discipline. First, a verbal question of law not presented in writing was apparently resolved by the bishop. Then another pastor presented a written “appeal to the Judicial Council” on the legality of the resolution that the bishop had called “aspirational” earlier in the conference in response to the question verbally raised.
The bishop took the written appeal to be under ¶ 2609.7 (question of law voted upon) and called for a vote. She did not send in her ruling other than what was reported by the minutes of the conference and assumed the motion was referring the question of law to the Judicial Council.
The biggest difference between a question of law (¶ 2609) and a request for a Judicial Council ruling ¶ 2610) is who answers the question. (Emphasis added.)
Here is another case where the bishop should have called a five minute (or longer) break to get the questioner together with someone who could make sure the differences in the two processes were understood and the choice made before proceeding. Then the bishop and secretary and questioner should have made sure how to properly report the matter to the Council.
Annual Conferences are especially hectic for the bishop and even experienced bishops can get confused about keeping these processes sorted out.
Would the Council be wise in setting up training for conference parliamentarians, secretaries, or even bishops on the details of the handling of law questions? This case would be a wonderful example to use as a teaching aid!
The Council could have simplified everything by taking jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 and the minutes’ report of the bishop’s response to be adequate, given the confusing nature of getting rulings. But, “going by the book” is the way this Council rolls and it has had too many times where the mishandling of questions has fouled up the cases..
BTW, the legal effect of the Council taking no jurisdiction is that the bishop’s advice to the conference that the resolution was aspirational is as much law as the conference is going to get. It does not protect anyone from culpability if they violate the Discipline as revised in 2019.