Updated: Jan 22, 2020
by Chet Harris
Last August the Commission on General Conference declared that the vote at the 2019 special called General Conference regarding disaffiliation was void because four ineligible voters used the credentials of delegates in their absence.
On October 30 the UMC Judicial Council met to address this issue. The Judicial Council questioned the two representatives from the Council of Bishops, Bishop Kenneth Carter and attorney William Waddell. William Waddell is the Council of Bishops legal advisor. William Plowden, member of the Judicial Council, asked a series of extremely probing questions directed to Bishop Carter and Mr. Waddell. The United Methodist News Service reported the following: (reported by Linda Blum)
“The question to the court about improper voting at the 2019 special session in St. Louis stems from the substitution of a minority report, by a two-vote margin or 402-400, for Petition 90066. That petition would allow local churches to leave the denomination.
That action added a new paragraph, 2553, on “Disaffiliation of Local Churches Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality” in the Book of Discipline, the church’s lawbook. The adopted legislation allows, with limitations, congregations to leave the denomination while keeping church property.
In its amended request, the Council of Bishops attached a letter from the Rev. Gary George, secretary of the Commission on General Conference, asking that the bishops refer the matter to the Judicial Council “to examine the potential legal impact of the commission’s finding on the disaffiliation petition vote.”
Plowden asked, more than once, why the court had not received a copy of the audit report and then said to Carter, “I’m assuming you were not sent this audit report with this letter.’”
Bishop Carter responded that the Council of Bishops read the report. Plowden is referring to the Council of Bishops decision to hire a civil attorney to work with an auditing firm tasked with investigating the alleged improper voting at General Conference 2019.
Final decision by the Judicial Council has not been made at this time, but we assume such will happen before they conclude their meeting.
Personal Commentary: It appears the Council of Bishops have overstepped their authority by making a declaratory statement that supersedes a decision of the General Conference. Merely stating the alleged incorrect voting procedure without supportive documentation is absent of accountability to the people they have been elected to serve. I am not an authority on our’ Discipline,’ but I cannot find in the pages of this volume of rules and regulations a reference to the Council of Bishops having the authority to overrule a decision by the General Conference. Their action virtually sent a message throughout our denomination that an exit plan or disaffiliation plan is not in place. I was taught in seminary and reminded by each of the Bishops presiding at the 43 annual conferences I attended that the General Conference decisions are binding for all churches and members of the United Methodist Church and only another General Conference has the authority to change a previous decision by a former General Conference.
Although the disaffiliation decision accepted by the 2019 General Conference is heavy with outlined procedures for a church to exit; it absolutely underscores a specific way that was decided by a majority of delegates at General Conference.
Disaffiliation of numerous churches from the UMC denomination is a profound concern for financial survival. The intent to disavow the vote at the 2019 General Council is a clear indication the Council of Bishops and institutional leaders are gravely concerned that an open door to exit would result in an abundance of churches walking away from the denomination.
Disaffiliation will remain a prime topic at the General Conference 2020.