United Methodist Court Keeps Core of New LGBT Legislation

(UPDATED) The denomination’s legal review of the Traditional Plan could still set the UMC on a path to division over gay marriage and clergy.

Millions of United Methodists have been waiting and wondering where their denomination will ultimately land in a decades-long dispute over gay marriage and clergy—and if a major split over the issue is imminent or if the debate will continue at its general conference once again next year.

Though the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted in February to keep its traditional marriage stance, barring congregations or conferences from performing same-sex ceremonies or ordaining gay clergy, whether that policy took effect in 2020 (in the US) depended on approval from the church’s Judicial Council, which released its decision this afternoon.

The council—a nine-member panel that essentially functions as the UMC’s Supreme Court—was tasked with reviewing the recently adopted legislation to ensure that it didn’t violate the denomination’s constitution, which contains guidelines about church structures and processes.

The Judicial Council’s ruling today was, as expected, a mixture of approval and rejection of the various pieces of the “Traditional Plan” at stake.

The top court rejected legislation that would have:

  • added accountability for bishops who did not enforce the church’s rules;
  • required denominational leaders to certify that they would abide by the rules;
  • required a board of conduct “examination to ascertain whether an individual is a practicing homosexual.”

However, several of the petitions were ruled constitutional and will be enacted:

  • a more detailed definition on what it means to be a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual”;
  • added mandatory penalties for pastors who violate these rules;
  • and tightened policy around the commissioning of bishops and church trials.

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