Bishop Bryan shares a word about this month's Judicial Council decision

4/6/2017

To the South Georgia Conference:

The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or “court” of The United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference.

At the end of April the Judicial Council will consider a request for a declaratory decision regarding the validity of the election of a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. Specifically, the petition addresses action by the Western Jurisdiction in electing Rev. Karen Oliveto, reported to be an openly gay clergy member, as a bishop.

At this point no one knows how the Judicial Council will rule, but I see at least three possible outcomes:

  • First, the Judicial Council could rule that this election is invalid because it conflicts with The Book of Discipline of The UMC. In that case the Western Jurisdiction would have to hold another election.
  • A second possibility would be for the Judicial Council to rule that the election is valid because the person in question was a clergyperson in good standing in her own jurisdiction at the time of her election. However, the Judicial Council could then send the case back to the Western Jurisdiction or to her annual conference to be reviewed against the current language in The Book of Discipline. This happened twice last fall and resulted in overturning actions that were contrary to The Book of Discipline.
  • A third possibility might be for the Judicial Council to determine that more time for study is needed before arriving at a decision.

Again, we don't know how the Judicial Council will rule, but regardless of what they decide, we remain firm in our adherence to The Book of Discipline and in our commitment to making disciples of Jesus Christ. We see a bright future for The United Methodist Church and for our congregations in the South Georgia Conference.

Once the Judicial Council decision is announced there will be a flurry of news stories about the ruling. Some persons may be happy with the decision while others are likely to be unhappy. While I recognize the importance of this decision I want to remind us that it will in no way preclude the special session of General Conference that will be held in 2019. The purpose of that special session is to enable us as a denomination to make decisions that will allow us to move away from the impasse over sexuality issues and concentrate our resources on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Whatever decision comes from the Judicial Council later this month, please remember that it cannot change the current language in The Book of Discipline. I hope that this awareness will help us all stay focused in prayer for the Commission on a Way Forward as that group prepares recommendations for the 2019 General Conference special session.

Please pray for the members of the Judicial Council as they meet April 25-28 to fulfill their responsibility in hearing this case. And once their decision is announced let us all covenant to move toward the larger resolution that is coming when the special session of General Conference meets in 2019.

Alive Together in Christ,

Lawson Bryan

Who is the Judicial Council? How does the Judicial Council's decision's affect the current position of The United Methodist Book of Discipline? The Southeastern Jurisdiction's College of Bishops has put together a helpful Q & A  regarding the Judicial Council and its decisions. Click here to download it.