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May 5, 2000         GC-018

Delegates request Judicial Council ruling on church law

CLEVELAND (UMNS) -- By a margin of 10 votes, United Methodist General Conference delegates approved a resolution on May 4 requesting the denomination’s high court to rule on the effectiveness of church law.

Brought by Joe Whittemore on behalf of the North Georgia delegation, the resolution asks the United Methodist Judicial Council “for a declaratory decision on the effect of how the covenant relationship between the annual conference and its clergy relates to the Book of Discipline.”

The resolution, passed by a vote of 459 to 449, also requests decisions “as to whether there are any circumstances where the annual conference has the right to negate or ignore the Book of Discipline” and the constitutionality of actions taken that violate church law.

The concern, according to Whittemore, is over the covenant partnership shared by United Methodists. “We need to know how to interpret what defines our agreement with others to be in ministry together,” he said.

While he pointed out that the resolution “is not directed at others,” a February decision by an investigative committee of the California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference to not certify charges against 68 pastors participating in a same-sex union service has provoked strong criticism in some segments of the denomination.

A formal complaint has been filed against Bishop Melvin Talbert for his handling of the case and his comments that the covenant of the annual conference has precedence over a narrow focus of law in the Book of Discipline.

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--Linda Bloom

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