Update and Commentary: ‘The Escape Room’ by Chet Harris

Updated: Jan 22

by Chet Harris

Once again, the same questions are being asked by The Council of Bishops, this will bring the tally to four. Bishop Carter’s words reveal the cogent concern of the Council of Bishops, “The matters before us are neither academic nor abstract, They are where we and the church live. This impacts persons who are called to ministry and persons who are served by them.” The salient question Bishop Carter posed was regarding how to implement the Traditional Plan. The five question require guidance from the Judicial Council.


It might be helpful to review the full content of the questions. I copied these from news sources reported by various UMC conferences news outlets. Reading the questions revealed the pathos being experienced by the Council of Bishops as the majority are obviously not in favor of the Traditional Plan.


The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops Five Questions Requesting a Ruling by the Judicial Council


Question 1: Does the expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” in Paragraph 304.3 (Petition 90032) apply to persons who have already been ordained under previous definitions of that term? If so, does the expanded definition constitute impermissible and unconstitutional ex post facto legislation held to be improper in Judicial Council Decision 219? If it does not apply to persons ordained before the effective date of the legislation, does the expanded definition violate the principle of legality by applying different standards to persons of the same class or status?


Question 2: Is the expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” in Paragraph 304.3 unconstitutional because the categories of “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union” do not allow for the presumption that a person is “practicing” to be rebutted as provided for in Judicial Council Decision 1341? If not, may a person be charged and found guilty of being a self-avowed practicing homosexual pursuant to Paragraph 2702.1b by simply proving that the person is “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union”?


Question 3: Is the phrase “or has failed to certify it carried out the disciplinarily mandated examination” in Paragraph 415.6 (Petition 90036) unconstitutional on the ground that the certification requirement in Petition 90038 was ruled unconstitutional in Decisions 1366 and 1377?


Question 4: If the binding civil law in an annual conference provides that no person, including persons serving as ordained clergy, can be suspended without pay (e.g., the employment law in a central conference) or the respondent is appointed to an extension ministry (in which the person is paid by an entity other than the church, such as a school or the military), can a person found guilty of a chargeable offense under Paragraphs 2702.1(b) or (d) be assessed a mandatory minimum penalty of one (1) year’s suspension “without pay” pursuant to Paragraph 2711.3 (Petition 90042)?


Question 5: If the answer to the foregoing question is “no,” does that part of Paragraph 2711.3 violate the principle of legality, rendering it unconstitutional for all persons because it cannot be applied equally to all persons found guilty of the same offense?


(I highly encourage everyone reading this article to follow Tom Lambrecht’s response to the Judicial Council’s ruling and take the time to read the daily news from the United Methodist News Service. You can reference Tom’s articles on the Good News and Wesley Covenant webpages.)


Keep in mind the Judicial Council as The United Methodist version of the Supreme Court. There are nine members and twelve alternates. They do not make the law. Our church law is made at General Conference. It is their responsibility to interpret our “Discipline” and determine how decisions made at General Conference change or add to the existing Constitution or rules and regulations as outlined in the “Discipline.” Accountability to the “Discipline” is also in their mandate.


Personal Commentary:


First, the current action by the Council of Bishops is The United Methodist rendition of a political filibuster. We are now marking four times the same questions have appeared before us. Lambrecht is on point when he asks what kind of message are the Bishops sending to the membership and the world?


Second, we are witnessing the clash of worldviews. The Bishops simply do not agree with the decisions of General Conference. They cannot countenance a denomination that has the tenants of Traditional/Evangelical/Conservative theology. They see the world through a different lens. They desire to defend a group of people with a rare and reckless passion. I do not agree with their motives, but I applaud their willingness to step into the fray with renewed energy. Historically, such a move will eventually gain recognition and acceptance as the new norm. They are practicing the principle of persistence. Literally, a crack in the system will open a fracture permitting their worldview to become the new norm of the day within the denomination.


Third, their request for clarification is a pale attempt to infer there are flaws in the Traditional Plan centered on the impossibility of implementing the decisions inherent in the Plan. They do not want to implement the decisions. Simple and to the point. They are asking for an escape clause. Reminds me of the popular escape rooms some people enjoy until they cannot figure out how to get out and become manic in their attempts. The Council of Bishops are almost out of time.


Fourth, after reading the questions, reading the news releases of the Judicial Council meeting, and researching the news responses to our denominational conflict, I must admit we have departed the debate on human sexuality within theological constructs and have morphed into a purely political machine.


The resulting reality of The Council of Bishops redundant questioning is a resounding call to separation. It is evident Traditionalist/Evangelicals/Conservative will never truly have a home in The United Methodist Church. Our worldview is unacceptable.

We all need to journey to our quiet place for prayer and repentance. Let us not become fodder for the evil one’s folly, rather let us become transformed by the renewing of our mind by the holiness of God.

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