Judicial Council declines COB request to rule on Protocol legislation

UMC File photo

Members of the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.


WASHINGTON, D. C. -  The highest court in The United Methodist Church has exercised its discretion to decline a request by bishops to decide whether the plan for separation on the part of some in the church, known as the Protocol, is constitutional. 

In its decision released April 16, the Judicial Council denied jurisdiction in the case, noting there was no indication that the
Protocol has been adopted by either the General Conference or the Council of Bishops (COB).

The COB does not adopt legislation, so the rationale of the Judicial Council raises questions about its decision not to exercise jurisdiction, since three annual conferences noted in the petition have submitted the Protocol as proposed legislation.

“It is, therefore, simply proposed legislation and stands in the same position for jurisdictional purposes as any other proposed legislation not duly adopted by either COB or the General Conference,” the Judicial Council said.

The COB properly submitted its petition as permitted under Paragraph 2609.2, which authorizes the Judicial Council to address the constitutionality of proposed legislation.

The Judicial Council said there was no urgency to rule on the Protocol since it was one of numerous legislative plans submitted to the General Conference for consideration, could be amended, substituted, or even rejected, thus, making it unlikely that it will be enacted in its current form.

Referring to its early decision # 1303, the court said taking an early action on the constitutionality of the Protocol could potentially place a constitutional seal of approval on one proposed legislative item.

“It would be improper for us to anticipate or engineer legislative outcomes. Until the General Conference has the opportunity to consider and act on all proposals, including the Protocol, we must avoid interfering with the legislative process through premature adjudication,” the court said.

The Judicial Council also questioned the authorship and history of the proposed legislation for the Protocol, formally known as the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.

The court said the Protocol was the work product of a select group of bishops, clergy, and lay persons who took it upon themselves to offer legislative solutions to the longstanding conflict over the role of LGBTQIA persons in the Church and “who met secretly in undisclosed locations over a period of time.”

“The public was unaware of its existence until that group completed its work and issued a press release. More important, the authors of the Protocol received no official backing of the General Church and are, therefore, fundamentally different from the Commission on the Way Forward [hereinafter COWF],” the court said.

The COWF was authorized by the 2016 General Conference and duly appointed by the COB for the purpose of the Special Session in 2019. Its composition, mission statement, meeting schedule, and venues were posted online ahead of time; its meetings and work progress were reported to the church and its operation was funded by the General Church.

After the COWF completed its work, the final report containing the three plans became the main focus of the 2019 special session of General Conference in St. Louis.

The decision had one dissent from J. Kabamba Kiboko.

In reaction, COB President Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said: “I am grateful to the Judicial Council and for their work in these unusual pandemic times.  The Council of Bishops takes note of these decisions and the implications for their future work”

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