MIND Judicial Council case
MIND’s resolution to the 2010 annual conference titled “Ministry to the marginalized: welcoming LGBT people into NYAC,” signed by 58 individuals, co-sponsored by MFSA and passed by the legislative section with an 85% margin, was ruled out of order on the conference floor by Bishop Park before the conference had a chance to vote on it. The ruling was challenged by MIND, and the case went to the Judicial Council, the UMC’s highest judicial body. The Judicial Council declined to intervene on the grounds that the matter was purely a parliamentary one.
(MIND re-introduced the resolution -- which commits the conference to communicating its longstanding position in support of LGBT people to LGBT people -- at the 2011 annual conference, where it passed. As part of our effort that year, we prepared a background piece titled "Why the annual conference can and should pass the Ministry to the Marginalized resolution.")
The material on this page relates to the 2010 version and subsequent Judicial Council process.
The resolution was written in consultation with counsel from RMN and MFSA to ensure that it did not violate the Book of Discipline. It called on the conference to take out advertisements in LGBT publications that express the conference’s “heartfelt regret for the harm inflicted on LGBT people through the UMC’s homophobia and discrimination, and…share in these advertisements that NYAC has long been opposed to UMC policy on homosexuality and welcome and invite LGBT people to worship in NYAC churches.” The ads were to be paid for by voluntary contributions (because the Discipline prohibits the use of conference funds to “promote homosexuality”).
When the resolution was ruled out of order on the conference floor in June, supporters offered two amendments in an effort to change the bishop’s ruling, but he still ruled that it was in violation of the Discipline. MIND Chair Dorothee Benz formally challenged the ruling, and in accordance with the procedures spelled out in the Discipline, a written request for a ruling of law from the bishop was filed that evening, June 11 (signed by Benz and MFSA Chair Kevin Nelson). This required the bishop to explain in writing why he ruled the resolution out of order, which he did on July 8. His ruling was automatically forwarded to the Judicial Council, which reviews all episcopal rulings of law. Briefs on the case were due August 27, and MIND and MFSA filed a joint brief on August 24. The bishop declined to file a brief.
In challenging the bishop’s ruling on the floor, Benz emphasized that all the resolution sought to do is to tell other people what our conference has already resolved and stated it believes. How can it be “out of order” to tell the very people affect by our pronouncements what they are? If we can pass resolutions saying we oppose discrimination, but we cannot tell those being discriminated against, what is the point?
Bishop Park’s ruling of law did not address the resolution’s supposed violation of the Discipline. Instead, Bishop Park said in part:
I ruled the resolution out of order because the resolution requires an advertisement in a public newspaper, which includes a phrase, “NYAC (New York Annual Conference) has long been opposed to UMC (United Methodist Church) policy on homosexuality.” This phrase as a public statement does not accurately define the standing of the New York Annual Conference as it relates to The United Methodist Church policy on homosexuality.
In our Judicial Council brief, MIND and MFSA pointed out that Bishop Park's ruling neither addressed the written request for a ruling of law nor made any specific references to the Discipline. We also argued that his ruling at annual conference was improper because he made it before the body had a chance to vote, infringing the conference's right to act on a matter properly before it. In addition, our brief reviewed Judicial Council precendents and made the case that the resolution is not in violation of the Discipline. It fell within the scope of what the Judicial Council has ruled is an acceptable expression of dissent by an annual conference. "We cannot be silent about the work and Word of God among us, and annual conferences have the right and responsibility to advertise their principled dissent," the brief said.
On November 2, the Judicial Council issued its ruling, which was a disappointing refusal to intervene on the grounds that the Council has no jurisduction over parliamentary matters. The ruling seemed to give bishops the right to misuse and abuse parliamentary process to achieve substantive ends such as defeating our resolution, but it is not the last chapter in our struggle to get the message to LGBT people that NYAC opposes the UMC’s anti-gay prejudice. There is nothing prohibiting us from re-introducing the resolution at the 2011 annual conference, and since Bishop Park’s stated objection is easily addressed in a minor language change, we expect that it will not be unduly blocked this time around.