The Judicial Council has ruled that ¶ 507 of The Book of Discipline 2016 presumptively allows any United Methodist group or person to submit a legislative petition for consideration at the called special session of General Conference scheduled for February 2019, but that those “petitions must not be inconsistent with the purpose stated in the call,” which “is limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward” (Judicial Council Decision 1360, Analysis and Rationale; Digest).
The rule barring consideration of petitions that are inconsistent with the recommendations made by the Commission on a Way Forward is grounded in the denomination’s Constitution, which provides that “the purpose of [a] special session shall be stated in the call, and only such business shall be transacted as is in harmony with the purpose stated in such call unless the General Conference by a two-thirds vote shall determine that other business may be transacted” (Discipline ¶ 14, emphasis added).
The Judicial Council’s decision provides helpful guidance on how this “in harmony” standard should be applied in determining whether any given petition satisfies the Constitutional restriction imposed by ¶ 14.
- Council stated that the relevant General Conference “committees, officers and presiders” must “determine, in the first instance… whether any such petition is ‘in harmony’” with the stated purpose of the called special session (JCD 1360, Digest).
- Next, determining whether any given petition is “in harmony” with the purpose of the call requires comparison of (1) “the business proposed to be transacted in such petition,” with (2) “any business which may be proposed in the Bishops’ Report” based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward (, Analysis and Rationale).
In addition, the Judicial Council’s decision provides helpful context by recognizing that the General Conference’s vote in 2016 to implement the Way Forward process was based on its expectation that a special session would ultimately be called to focus on a concrete legislative remedy recommended by the Commission on a Way Forward (ibid., n. 6), as opposed to continuing the pattern of overwhelming the General Conference with a deluge of “legislative petitions proposing scores of distinct ‘solutions’ to the quadrennial debate over human sexuality issues” (ibid., Statement of Facts).
In short, even as the Judicial Council held that the filing of other legislative petitions is not foreclosed, the “in harmony” requirement means that such petitions “must not be inconsistent” with the forthcoming legislation based on the recommendations made by the Commission on a Way Forward (ibid., Analysis and Rationale).
For these reasons, Uniting Methodists concur with Bishop Ken Carter, President of the Council of Bishops, that the Judicial Council’s decision helps “to avoid a scenario where there are many hundreds or even thousands of petitions that come before the delegations, with only three days to process them” (“Bishop Ken Carter responds to Judicial Council decision,” May 25, 2018).
We plead for a genuinely open and informed review of the underlying theological and ecclesial affirmations that impact current disagreements about what we teach about human sexuality and implications for church practices. And we yearn for discerning, creative, and prudent work that supports unity through Jesus Christ expressed in the mission of transforming the world so that all may know God through Jesus, learn to love God, and serve God and neighbor.
Let’s work together to foster an open and orderly environment at the 2019 General Conference, setting aside distracting turmoil so we can focus our hearts and minds on the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.