Overview of Legislation Adopted By the Special General Conference

By Keith Boyette

March 12, 2019


In the aftermath of the 2019 special General Conference, there has been a great deal of misinformation communicated concerning what legislation was adopted and its current status.


United Methodist bishops hold hands in prayer during a day of prayer for the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS


Teachings on Definition of Marriage, Ordination Standards and Sexual Ethics Upheld


First, by its rejection of the One Church Plan by a vote of 436 (53 percent) to 386 (47 percent) during the Legislative Committee on Monday, February 25 (DCA at p. 459), and by a vote of 449 (55 percent) to 374 (45 percent) during the final session of the General Conference on Tuesday, February 26 (DCA at p. 493), the UM Church’s teachings on the definition of marriage, ordination standards, and sexual ethics remain as currently stated in the 2016 Book of Discipline. This action of the special General Conference is not under review by the Judicial Council, the denomination’s Supreme Court.


Traditional Plan Adopted as Amended


On Tuesday, February 26, the special General Conference adopted petitions 90032 – 90040 and 90042 – 90047 of the Traditional Plan by a vote of 438 (53 percent) to 384 (47 percent). (DCA at p. 515). A motion was then adopted by a vote of 405 to 395 requesting a “declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality, meaning, application, and effect of the Traditional Plan as amended, pursuant to ¶ 2609.1 of The Book of Discipline” (DCA at pp. 519, 523). The Judicial Council will issue a declaratory decision during its April 2019 session (April 23-26 in Evanston, Illinois).


The Judicial Council had previously ruled on the constitutionality of these petitions on two prior occasions. First, in Decision 1366, the Judicial Council reviewed the constitutionality of these petitions at the request of the Council of Bishops. Second, in Decision 1377, the Judicial Council reviewed the constitutionality of these petitions at the request of the Legislative Committee of the special General Conference.


Pursuant to ¶ 508 of the Discipline, those portions of the Amended Traditional Plan declared constitutional by the Judicial Council will be effective on January 1, 2020.

Importantly, certain of the Traditional Plan petitions adopted by the special General Conference have already been declared constitutional by the Judicial Council in Decisions 1366 and 1377, and will go into effect on January 1, 2020:


90032 (expanding the definition of self-avowed, practicing homosexual)


90036 (prohibiting bishops from consecrating as a bishop a person who is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual, or from commissioning or ordaining a person the Board of Ordained Ministry has determined is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual or fails to carry out the disciplinary mandated examination)


90042 (establishing minimum penalties for performing a homosexual or same-sex wedding ceremony)


90043 (prohibiting the Board of Ordained Ministry from approving or recommending any person for candidacy, licensing, or ordination who does not meet qualifications for ministry based on full examination and thorough inquiry, and requires the bishop to rule any unqualified candidate out of order and not eligible to be acted upon by the clergy session)


90045 (requires a just resolution to state all identified harms and how they shall be addressed)


90046 (requires the complainant to be a party to the just resolution process and that every effort be made to have the complainant agree to any resolution before it takes effect)


90047 (grants the church right of appeal based on egregious errors of church law or administration)


Additionally, the special General Conference adopted an amended petition 90037 (requiring that persons nominated to boards of ordained ministry certify he or she will uphold, enforce and maintain the Discipline in its entirety, including but not limited to all qualifications for ordination) addressing constitutional issues identified in Decisions 1366 and 1377. This amended petition should be held constitutional in April 2019 and go into effect on January 1, 2020.


The special General Conference adopted several petitions that had previously been held unconstitutional in Decisions 1366 and 1377. Amendments were ready to be offered to address the constitutional defects, but parliamentary maneuvering by those who opposed the Traditional Plan prevented presentation of those amendments. Thus, the following petitions, adopted by the special General Conference, are likely to be held unconstitutional by the Judicial Council:


90033 (provides process by which the Council of Bishops places a bishop in the retired relationship with or without their consent – no right of appeal provided)


90034 (provides process by which the Council of Bishops places a bishop in an involuntary leave status – no right of appeal provided)


90035 (provided a process for accountability for bishops through the Council of Bishops; constitutional issue – no right of appeal provided)


90038 (requires Board of Ordained Ministry to conduct an examination to ascertain whether an individual is a practicing homosexual and certify that the examination has occurred; prohibits recommendation of an individual to clergy session if it is determined that the individual is a practicing homosexual)


90039 and 90040 (requires annual conference to certify that the bishop nominates only persons to Board of Ordained Ministry who upholds, enforces, and maintains the Discipline related to ordination and marriage of practicing homosexuals, and imposes consequences for failing to do so)


Petitions 90041 (ADCA at p. 186) and 90048 (ADCA at p. 195) were not adopted by the special General Conference (DCA at p. 387).


Exit Ramp for Local Churches


On Tuesday, February 26, the special General Conference also adopted by a vote of 420 (52 percent) to 390 (48 percent) (DCA at p. 523) legislation providing an exit ramp for local churches. The legislation was “effective as of the close of the 2019 General Conference.”


As adopted, a new ¶ 2553 was added to the Book of Discipline as follows: