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Top court to look at rulings on gay-related statements

United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño addresses the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church during its July 2012 meeting in San Diego. Carcaño ruled during a June 2013 meeting of the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference that the Statement of Biblical Obedience passed in 2012 did not violate the legal authority of the denomination?s Book of Discipline. A UMNS file photo courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Conference Communications Team.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño addresses the United Methodist Western Jurisdictional Conference in July 2012 in San Diego. A UMNS file photo courtesy of the Pacific Northwest Conference Communications Team.

Rulings on recent actions by United Methodist annual (regional) conferences regarding church law on homosexuality issues will be considered by the denomination’s top court this fall.

Those decisions of law by bishops are among the 17 docket items on the United Methodist Judicial Council’s agenda when it meets Oct. 23-26 at the Sheraton City Center in Baltimore. No oral hearings are scheduled for this meeting.

During the 2013 annual conference season, most conferences in the Western Jurisdiction renewed their support of the “Statement of Gospel Obedience,” which claims the church is in error on the subject of homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.

A supporting resolution by the California-Pacific Annual Conference prompted a request for a bishop’s decision of law, resulting in an automatic review by Judicial Council.

The adopted resolution on “Biblical Obedience” supports the call from the Western Jurisdiction “to operate as if the statement in Para. 161F does not exist.” California-Pacific Conference leaders are encouraged “to consider this resolution as a guideline should any disciplinary actions result in living out this call to be an inclusive church.”

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño ruled July 15 that the resolution “does not violate the legal authority of the Book of Discipline in that it does not require any person, office or body within the church to violate the Book of Discipline.”

A New York Conference resolution, upheld by Bishop Martin McLee, commends both named and unnamed clergy, laity and congregations “whose bold actions and courageous statements help to provide for the pastoral needs of same-sex couples within The United Methodist Church.”

Judicial Council also will review action regarding a bishop’s decision on the Western Jurisdiction statement during the 2012 conference, when a question was ruled “moot” because of a typographical error.

At its April 2013 meeting, the council, which previously has said such an error in a question does “not necessarily negate the legitimacy of the questions,” remanded the question of law back to the bishop.

Ruling on clergy question

In another sexuality case, Bishop James E. Dorff’s ruling in June that a question about the decision by the board of ordained ministry of the Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference to drop a clergy candidate from the ordination process was “as presented, moot and hypothetical” also will be reviewed by the top court.

The candidate, Mary Ann Kaiser, is a lesbian. The youth director and justice associate at University United Methodist Church in Austin, she had received the backing of her district committee for ordination.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from “being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” But Kaiser and her supporters say due process was not followed when her certification as a candidate was reversed.

A docket item from the North Carolina Annual Conference concerns the question of whether the conference’s financial contribution to the state’s council of churches violates church law about supporting the advocacy of homosexuality. Stan Kimer, an openly gay lay leader in the Metropolitan Community Churches, is the council’s immediate past president.

In other business, three docket items focus on lines of authority and connections between the Greater New Jersey Annual (regional) Conference and “A Future with Hope,” the program established to assist churches, communities and individuals with recovery from Superstorm Sandy.

Questions about reorganizational plans or changes of structure at the denomination’s annual (regional) conference level are raised in docket items related to the North Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina conferences.

Two docket items relate to the office of bishop in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Philippines.

See the full October 2013 docket.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe and contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.