Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson has issued two Rulings of Law on questions submitted at the 2021 North Georgia Annual Conference. She has submitted the rulings to the United Methodist Judicial Council for review. See the rulings below:
As authorized in ¶51 of the United Methodist Constitution and as reiterated in ¶2609.6 of the 2016 Book of Discipline, the following question of law was submitted at the North Georgia Annual Conference session for a ruling:
Does a local church that identifies itself as Traditional in the current understanding of that word as it applies to whether or not a church supports the current language of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality, the marriage of same sex persons, and the ordination and appointment of LGBTQIA+ people have recourse to ¶2553 which provides a mechanism for the local church to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church?
More specifically, does the portion of ¶2553 that says the following:
¶ 2553. Disaffiliation of a Local Church Over Issues Related to Human Sexuality—
1. Basis-- Because of the current deep conflict within The United Methodist Church around issues of human sexuality, a local church shall have a limited right, under the provisions of this paragraph, to disaffiliate from the denomination for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues ... [Emphasis added]
provide Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church authority to invoke ¶2553 as providing a process for its disaffiliation since the leadership of the North Georgia Annual Conference has stated in its document entitled “Love is Making Room” the following:
We believe that harmful language about LGBTQ people and restrictions on marriage and ordination should be removed from the Book of Discipline.
The referenced document may be found at this location, accessed on 03Jun21: https://northga-email.brtapp.com/files/fileslibrary/bishop/welcoming+table+vision+guide.pdf
/s/ Elaine Friedrich
Elaine Friedrich, Lay Member
Mt. Bethel UMC
Ruling of Law by Bishop Haupert-Johnson
Paragraph 2553 of The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (hereafter “BOD”) provides as follows:
At least two-thirds (2/3) of the professing members present at a church conference of Local Church must vote to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church “for reasons of conscience regarding a change in the requirements and provisions of the Book of Discipline related to the practice of homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as resolved and adopted by the 2019 General Conference, or the actions or inactions of its annual conference related to these issues which follow.”
I find that no ruling of law is required because the North Georgia Annual Conference Board of Trustees has indicated that it will not question “the reasons of conscience” behind a church’s decision to disaffiliate. If the church sets forth this paragraph in the call for the called church conference, and the church conference is held fairly and in conformance with the BOD, and the motion contains the language of this paragraph and is duly voted upon, the Board of Trustees will not pursue any inquiry into the “reasons of conscience” behind the vote.
The following question was also submitted at the North Georgia Annual Conference Session for a ruling of law:
Joe Kilpatrick sent in the following request: “Bishop’s rule of law question. Will your ruling please include a ruling on whether an annual conference can amend the agreement about disaffiliation. Since the Annual Conference must approve the final act of disaffiliation, can the Annual Conference not therefore set some of the conditions in the agreement when they do not conflict with 2553.”
Ruling of Law by Bishop Haupert-Johnson
Paragraph 2553 of the BOD grants full authority to the Board of Trustees to establish the terms and conditions of the disaffiliation agreement: “the terms and conditions for that disaffiliation shall be established by the Board of Trustees of the applicable annual conference, with the advice of the cabinet, the annual conference treasurer, the annual conference benefits officer, the director of connectional ministries, and the annual conference chancellor." This paragraph places the terms of the agreement solely in the purview of the Board of Trustees. Such authority would include any modification of the agreement.
The role of the Annual Conference in disaffiliation is not mentioned in 2553. The Judicial Council in Decision 1379 added that role by reading paragraph 2553 in the context of other provisions of the BOD. The Judicial Council held that “Absent specific language to the contrary, this provision can reasonably be construed as requiring ratification (i.e. consent after) by simple majority of the members of an annual conference.” I, therefore, find that ratification or consent by an Annual Conference implies that the Annual Conference’s authority is limited to a simple yes or no vote approving or disapproving the disaffiliation agreement between the church and the Board of Trustees.