Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Prayers for the Judicial Council

This week the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church gathers in San Francisco to hear and rule on cases brought before them. Comprised of nine members elected by the General Conference, the Judicial Council is the highest judicial authority or "court" within the denomination. As such, it is this body that determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences.

In the recent past, the rulings of the Judicial Council have been hotly contested...most notably its controversial 2005 decisions on the issue of membership (Decisions 1031 and 1032) that upheld the decision of a local elder to deny membership to a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual." Given that there is no legal basis for this decision in the current Book of Discipline, this issue has become the focal point of much legislation for the 2008 General Conference as both more liberal and more conservative factions within the Church attempt to shore up their position with concrete pieces of legislation that define the limits and boundaries of ecclesial membership.

This week's rulings are guaranteed to be no less controversial as the Council takes up cases related to the issues of inclusivity and sexuality. On the docket for this week are cases that consider the eligibility of transgender persons for ordained ministry, the use of funds for campus ministries that welcome and include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, the openness of the church to persons of all sexual orientations, and domestic partnership benefits for annual conference employees.

These are serious decisions that will in many ways define not just the limits of who is in and who is out of the Church, but perhaps more importantly, the limits of our denomination's ability to fully embody the Body of Christ. The question at the heart of all of these issues, is not whether or not one sexual orientation or gender identity is "sin," but rather whether or not excluding persons from Christ's community is sinful. Can we continue to proclaim to be the Church when we dis-member Christ's body?

If the ideologically driven decisions of the recent past are any indication of how the Council might rule on these controversial cases, we may be in for more draconian prohibitions and restrictions on ministry within the denomination. At stake this week is the ordination of transgender pastors, funding for campus ministries that welcome LGBT persons, just benefits for church employees, and our tradition of open membership. The Judicial Council and the Church needs your prayers. Will you pray with us?


John Meunier said...

I hope all Methodists will pray for the church to follow Christ's lead and listen for the promptings of the Spirit on these and other issues.

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...