No Jurisdiction on parliamentary matters
A group of people in South Carolina Annual Conference sought to bring a petition with two parts, one that would ask the General Conference for the option of South Carolina disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church and the other, to set up a committee to study disaffiliation. The bishop ruled them out of order.
As the Council pointed out, no one challenged the bishop’s ruling. The proper action would have been to seek a ruling of the house to overturn the bishop’s decision. Had they done that and had the plenary session supported the “movants,” then the two-part petition would have been before the conference and the “request for rulings of law” might have come under the jurisdiction of the Council.
As it was, the petition was never formally before the conference. The Council makes rulings only on something that actually has an effect on something before the conference.
I apologize if that sounds like gobble-de-gook. For example, that someone is petitioning the General Conference for a way to split off from the denomination in itself is a powerful body blow to the conference. It’s like asking for a divorce. But to even get a court to consider taking such an action, there are steps that need to be taken to protect everyone from confusion and to preserve the rights of everyone involved. Such steps also protect the “movants” and those in the main body from their own possibly misguided feelings.
The emotional impact of the petition is not the same as following parliamentary processes to be sure the petition is properly before the voting body. The movants need to learn Robert’s Rules of Order.
One more thing: There is no such thing as a “request for a ruling of law.” I confess to not knowing where that phrase comes from. When it is used in the context of a United Methodist conference, it is hard to tell if it is something the bishop should answer or the conference has to vote to forward to the Judicial Council.
The bishop can answer “questions of law.” The bishop’s answer has the force of law in that annual conference, pending review by the Judicial Council. The Council reviews those answers and may support, modify, or reverse the bishop’s rulings. The extent the ruling is supported then becomes law for the whole denomination.
The Judicial Council answers “requests for declaratory decisions.” While the request is usually in the form of a question, the bishop does not get to make any kind of ruling about the substances of the request. The bishop may turn in a brief expressing his/her opinion but it carries no weight of law. The Council’s ruling may or may not agree with the bishop’s brief but it is up to the Council to rule, with or without the support of the bishop.
I think bishops need to start making sure the movants know the difference when they present their “requests for rulings of law” and pick one or the other.
In most cases, the legal concern is well known before conference. But it is so tempting to be drama queens. Bishops too!
I hope that bishops and movants meet before conference to sort out these technicalities so that the best way to handle the question can be worked out together. If that had happened in this case, there would have been a better chance for the jurisdiction to be properly handled and the Council would have been able to rule.