My view of the Council’s spring session focuses on three major themes, reconsideration of previous decisions, clarifying the relationship between an emergency relief agency and an annual conference, and sorting out rights of homosexuals.
First, a scanning of the last five commentaries shows that requests for reconsideration are not included in the docket for each Council session. Let me argue for the Council posting in part the issues which are being raised in those requests. If you check the docket (go to HYPERLINK "http://umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council" http://umc.org/who-we-are/judicial-council and click on VIEW DOCKETS in the middle of the page), you will see the complete request for a ruling. In one case where I requested reconsideration, the document went on for pages so I would certainly grant editorial rights to the Secretary of the Council. Since the Council is open to briefs from “friends of the court,” it would help those “friends” to know the grounds for reconsideration that is being asked, just in case insights from the “friends” would aid the Council.
Second, the emergency that led to the formation of “Hope for the Future, Inc.” in New Jersey is a reason and not an excuse for the hasty decisions made to get the program operational. However, just asking the conference and the corporation simply to watch their boundaries is not sufficient sanction against what the Council acknowledged as Disciplinary violations in setting up the corporation. While there are “friends of the court” who might be willing to examine the JCDs related to the Greater New Jersey situation and provide a careful listing of violations to avoid in future emergency situations, it would be more authoritative if some or all of the Council members could list them in a concurring opinion, as a Council member did on one issue in JCD 1256. Further, the Council might provide a church law framework for annual conferences to anticipate handling emergency decision-making following a catastrophe which prevents convening the conference. Beside the advantage of the legal framework and guidelines provided by the Council being authoritative, it would be independent of the bias of the Council of Bishops who may well set up their own framework and guideline lists which, under their current administrative culture, would accrue more power unto themselves. See my commentary on JCD 1257.
When the bishops come out with their version, there will be opportunities for them to be challenged at annual conference and thus bring them to the Council’s attention. But by the Council preemptively providing them, the bishops may decide to abide by them and save themselves and the Council future work.
The final area of concern in this batch of decisions relates to gay rights.
In the case of the candidate who was turned down (JCD 1263), even an “avowed practicing homosexual” has the right to a proper hearing. That self-avowal in and of itself is not immediately disqualifying. The candidate or respondent has the right to a hearing and appeal before his/her peers prior to action being taken.
In the case of same gender spouses’ rights to benefits, the Discipline provides for equal treatment at least with respect to practices of the surrounding community (JCD 1264).
The Council allows aspirational resolutions, something that only seems to be put forward by those concerned about humane and fair treatment of homosexuals. The Council strikes down resolutions that call for violation of the Discipline. – One wonders what the Council will do if a resolution calling for schism is passed by a conference.
The range of issues handled by the Council this term was smaller, something common in the spring session. But the Council is apparently settled into a consistent understanding of church law on those things and that helps all of us.
Now if only they will tweak a few rules and procedural matters . . . .