Can Individual United Methodists Petition 2016 General Conference? Part 3

(Although dated 2014-03-06, this draft was finally published on 2014-03-13.)

This is the final post in a series. Earlier posts are here and here.

Arguing that individual United Methodists can’t petition the 2016 General Conference isn’t going to be a popular argument. I realize this. I also realize that I am bringing something unusual: a principled argument.

The General Conference is supposed to define what is in the Discipline. ¶ 507 in the Discipline covers who may petition General Conference. The 2012 General Conference passed Calendar Item 477. Can individual United Methodists petition the 2016 General Conference? We might each regret the lack of clarity in the General Conference’s answer to this question. Allowing a small group to answer this question (a) after the General Conference has adjourned and (b) without any public review of their legal reasoning undermines the very principles of deliberative democracy that the General Conference is supposed to represent.

I admit that I am cynical concerning the value of individual petitions. Some of this cynicism arises from the realization of how deeply broken the Discipline is and in many places. I doubt any individual can even begin to heal it. Working together, maybe there’s a chance. A small group ignoring basic parliamentary law certainly will not be able to heal it, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

There is a legitimate question here. I would not be bothered if the Judicial Council would say that individual United Methodists can petition. There could be a rationale I’m missing. That’s fine. That’s why individuals aren’t entrusted to make major legal determinations. At the same time, I would not be happy with the Judicial Council saying they have no jurisdiction. That might have the same result, but it would have an extremely different meaning.

So, how could this issue appear before the Judicial Council? With mixed emotions, I answer: thanks to the Council of Bishops.

Decision 1210 (May 2012) basically reiterated that the Council of Bishops has an obligation to provide oversight to the entire Church (see ¶ 47). This is one small way the Council of Bishops could do so. I’m reluctant to propose draft language for Judicial Council petitions, mostly because I’m not in a position to argue for or vote on any final petition. (In other words: I don’t care about getting credit if a body uses my language “as is” and it works. I care very much about “getting the blame” if my language does not work and no one puts any of their own thought into it. I’ve been around United Methodism long enough to be a realist about this sort of thing.)

Here’s a first draft:

The Council of Bishops is making a request pursuant to ¶ 2609.4 under the 2012 Discipline. This concerns an action of a body created by the General Conference, the Committee on Correlation and Editorial Revision. Did this Committee correctly process 2012 General Conference Calendar Item 477 according to VIII.A(2) and X.B of the Plan of Organization and Rules of Order for the 2012 General Conference? Specifically, was ¶ 507 in the 2008 Discipline amended?

Decision 1159 (October 2010) suggests strongly that this type of question has to come from the Council of Bishops. (Coming from General Conference would be too late.) I also note in passing that X.B requires that “If the matter should go to the Judicial Council, the appealing party shall give notice thereof to the Committee.”

I don’t mind being “the bad guy” on this issue. In the larger picture, I believe that principled arguments deserve open discussion.