By Linda Bloom, UMNS
The United Methodist Judicial Council has confirmed it will meet May 22-25 to consider one or more petitions related to the special session of General Conference in February 2019.
General Conference 2019 will focus solely on one topic — the church’s position on homosexuality.
In an April 16 letter, Lui Tran, Judicial Council secretary, told Bishop Cynthia Harvey that the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ request for a special meeting of the denomination’s top court “has been granted.” Harvey is the secretary of the Council of Bishops.
The Judicial Council’s special session will take place at the Hilton Orrington Hotel in Evanston, Illinois.
A provisional docket for the May 22-25 session has been posted on the council’s website, along with a list of deadlines on the calendar. A final docket will be available online following the May 6 deadline for the submission of petitions.
The Judicial Council session follows the conclusion of the Council of Bishops’ April 29-May 4 meeting and the final meeting of the Commission on the Way Forward on May 14-17. The commission, appointed by the bishops, has been advising the bishops on possible ways through the denomination’s longtime impasse around how to minister with LGBTQ individuals.
In addition, Judicial Council has set a May 11 deadline for requests for an oral hearing. Opening briefs must be submitted by May 11 and reply briefs by May 15.
The Council of Bishops announced in an April 10 press release that it was asking the council for the special meeting to address its request for a declaratory decision about the submission of petitions related to the special General Conference.
The bishops want a ruling on whether other petitions — in addition to the report from the Council of Bishops — can be submitted prior to the convening of the special General Conference.
Judicial Council also is being asked by the bishops to address any other requests or petitions from the upcoming Council of Bishops meeting.
The Book of Discipline states that petitions to General Conference should be received by the petitions secretary or secretary of the General Conference no later than 230 days before the opening of General Conference. That deadline would be July 8 for the Feb. 23-26, 2019 special session of General Conference.
The Council of Bishops officially called for the special session on April 24, 2017, and limited its purpose “to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward.”
The bishops will use the commission’s report at their upcoming meeting to determine what proposals to submit to the special 2019 General Conference. At the final commission meeting, the group will consider resources for the wider church, including General Conference delegates.
At present, the denomination’s Book of Discipline says that while all people are of sacred worth, the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The book bans the ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and the blessing of same-gender unions.
The commission is focusing on two options that would alter the status quo.
Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.