“No one disputes the rights of United Methodists to petition General Conference and to advocate for changes to church teaching and law. However, progressives’ repeated attempts to circumvent its law only serve to ignite more legal maneuvering at General Conference and before the Judicial Council.”
In yet another bid to overturn The United Methodist Church’s sexual ethics, the Denmark and California-Pacific annual conferences are asking the Judicial Council to rule out of order a key provision in the Book of Discipline.
According to motions approved by the two regional bodies, the 1972 General Conference delegates violated the church’s constitution when it adopted into the church’s Social Principles the statement finding the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The annual conferences claim the word “teaching” is synonymous with the word “doctrine.” And since the church’s constitution does not allow the General Conference alone to modify or add to church doctrine, the conferences argue the “teaching” on the “practice of homosexuality” should be ruled out of order as a “doctrine” never accorded constitutional privilege.
This is clever, but exceedingly strained, and therefore it is doubtful the Judicial Council will find the argument persuasive.
The delegates at the 1972 General Conference were attempting to carefully and graciously address an issue that was just beginning to be discussed more openly in American society. They were not attempting to modify or add to the church’s constitution. Rather, they were simply trying to make explicit what the vast majority of United Methodists implicitly believed about the practice of homosexuality, and still do.
Furthermore, any number of issues addressed in the church’s Social Principles are essentially its “teachings.” However, this does not mean they lack authority or are null and void because they were never integrated into the church’s constitution.
And in fact, the Judicial Council, on numerous occasions, has been asked to render decisions that have directly or indirectly touched upon the section of the Social Principles having to do with the church’s sexual ethics, and specifically its statement on the practice of homosexuality.