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March 14, 2012

Among the 100 petitions proposing changes in the complaint, administrative review and judicial process that are before the Judicial Administration Committee of General Conference, there are several that are directly in response to the outcome of the June, 2011 trial of the Rev. Amy DeLong in Wisconsin.

Proposed additional language to ¶2702 would add to the listing of chargeable offenses “refusing to answer direct, relevant questions…about one’s present or future commitment to abstaining from all sexual relations outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage.”

A proposed revision of ¶2704 would specify that an Assistant Church Counsel in a Church trial shall be an elder in full connection within the same jurisdictional conference.  A similar petition would narrow the selection to an elder within the respondent’s annual conference.

A mandatory penalty would be imposed in the case of a trial court conviction if ¶2711 is amended to include language stipulating minimum penalties for first and second offenses “where the conviction is for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions, or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.”  A first offense would result in 1 to 3 years suspension with a written re-commitment to the order and discipline of the UMC and agreement not to conduct any future ceremonies.  A second offense would result in termination of conference membership and/or revocation of credentials.  The petition was submitted by the Assistant Church Counsel for the DeLong trial.

The Church would be provided the right of appeal based on egregious errors of Church law or administration, first to the committee on appeals, then to the Judicial Council, if proposed changes in ¶2715 are adopted.  The Church could not appeal from findings of fact of the trial court. Currently the Church does not have any right of appeal.  The petition was submitted by the Church Counsel for the DeLong trial.

The Wisconsin Annual Conference was one of five annual conferences which submitted a proposed revision of ¶2702 which would delete language delineating as immorality “including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage (and) b)practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including, but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same sex wedding ceremonies.”

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry has submitted 22 petitions which would result in major revisions in the administrative review and judicial process.

Jerry Eckert, a retired clergy member of the Wisconsin Conference, has submitted 26 petitions primarily focused on protecting the rights of the accused when there are charges made which result in administrative review and judicial processes.

The conversation in the Judicial Administration as it sorts through all the proposed revisions, many of which propose exactly opposite changes in Disciplinary language, promises to be vigorous.

Steve Zekoff

One Comment
  1. Wesley White permalink

    Having been involved with the church’s trial of Rev. Amy DeLong, it appears to me that the proposed changes in the trial processes actually move toward an administrative action rather than a judicial one. The in-house nature of the proposed changes make any judgment about a particular action easier to hide and less fair.

    This is one more example of trying to apply a structural solution to a human situation. If we have personnel issues, we need to deal with those and not avoid the hard calls with an institutional overlay that uses religious language to cover injustice.

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