At every General Conference, The United Methodist Church’s top court rules on questions of constitutionality that come from that body.
During the Feb. 23-26 special session, the stakes were a bit higher as General Conference delegates debated over the very unity of the denomination.
The first ruling of Judicial Council during GC2019 — requested by the United Methodist Council of Bishops — was to declare unconstitutional two petitions that were to come before conference delegates.
Petition 90052 was unconstitutional, the court said in Decision 1375 “because it infringes upon the right of the annual conference to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members,” as provided under Paragraph 33 of the constitution.
The second petition, Petition 90078, was unconstitutional because it would create a global episcopacy committee, the decision said. That petition was part of the Modified Traditional Plan.
On Feb. 25, General Conference asked the court for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of 17 petitions related to the Traditional Plan and two disaffiliation plans.
The next morning, Judicial Council issued Decision 1377, which deemed nine petitions unconstitutional and one other partially unconstitutional.
The nine petitions deal with subjects such as episcopal accountability and responsibilities, composition of boards of ordained ministry, the examination of candidates for ministry by the boards of ordained ministry and disaffiliation, or procedures for churches that want to leave.
The court’s work did not end on Feb. 26.
Just as the business portion of GC2019 was ending, delegates voted 405 to 395 to send the Judicial Council a last-minute request for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of the entirety of the Traditional Plan. The council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois.
In other business, members of Judicial Council elected the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko as its secretary, effective Feb. 28. Kiboko is a pastor in the West Ohio Conference and a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She will succeed the Rev. Luan-Vu “Lui” Tran, who has served as the council’s secretary since the new Judicial Council was elected by General Conference 2016. Tran, an elder in the California-Pacific Conference, had advised the council of his intent to resign as secretary because of local church and family obligations. Tran will remain on the court.
Bloom is the assistant news editor for United Methodist News Service and is based in New York.