Memorandum addresses conference’s withdrawal

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The Judicial Council also released another ruling on Aug. 23 dealing with the vote by the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference to move from The United Methodist Church to the Global Methodist Church.

The church court said in Memorandum 1448 that it lacked jurisdiction to rule on Bishop Patrick Streiff’s decision of law. Streiff had determined that the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference had no legal grounds to hold a vote on moving to the Global Methodist Church.

The church court said its hands were tied because the bishop did not receive a duly submitted question of law nor did the conference ask the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision. The conference’s vote to leave was unanimous.

However, in two concurrences and a dissent, Judicial Council members made clear their view that the conference was acting contrary to the denomination’s rules.

Four Judicial Council members signed a concurrence saying they were deeply troubled by the annual conference’s actions, which they called “nothing short of a blatant circumvention of Church law.”

The concurrence took issue with how the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference used the Judicial Council’s early ruling in Decision 1366.

In that decision, the church court was reviewing the constitutionality of proposed legislation going to the special 2019 General Conference. The decision said a proposal that set up a procedure for annual conferences to become self-governing was in line with the denomination’s constitution.

However, the particular proposal under review in Decision 1366 never became church law. It was part of a longer petition that died in committee at the 2019 General Conference.

In May this year, the Judicial Council ruled in Decision 1444 that only General Conference can set the process and conditions for an annual conference to leave The United Methodist Church.

Judicial Council members the Rev. Luan-Vu “Lui” Tran, Deanell Reece Tacha, the Rev. Øyvind Helliesen and N. Oswald Tweh signed the concurrence.

In a separate concurrence, Judicial Council member Beth Capen argued that the Book of Discipline’s process to allow annual conferences outside the U.S. to become autonomous is not the same as disaffiliation. There “is not now, nor has there ever been, a process of ‘disaffiliation’ of an annual conference from the denomination,” she wrote, “particularly given that the concept of disaffiliation is inconsistent with our polity of connectionalism.”

Judicial Council member W. Warren Plowden Jr. issued the dissent, arguing that the bishop had in fact received a duly submitted question of law when he received the written resolution for the conference’s withdrawal as an agenda item. Plowden said the matter is now moot because the Bulgaria-Romania Provisional Annual Conference has departed The United Methodist Church.

However, Plowden agreed with the concurrences that the conference violated church law when it voted to leave the denomination. He added that the bishop’s ruling of law anticipated the Judicial Council’s Decision 1444, released 32 days later.

“Decision 1366 cannot be construed as creating a self-executing right for an annual conference to separate because the Judicial Council has no legislative authority,” the Judicial Council said in Decision 1444.

“There is no basis in Church law for any annual conference to adopt stopgap policies, pass resolutions, take a vote, or act unilaterally for the purpose of removing itself from The United Methodist Church.”

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