Decision 1264: Commentary

In my opinion, Decision 1264 (April 2014) is commendable as a statement of current law. I’m pleased that it contains no dissenting opinions that won’t stand the test of time. For examples of dissenting opinions that haven’t, see Memorandum 930 (April 2002) and Decision 985 (May 2004). I’m surprised to find that I am agreement with both concurring opinions. I’ll first comment on each concurring opinion, then address the controlling opinion and wander off into legislative history. I conclude that the General Conference doesn’t have a clear idea what it means by “promoting the acceptance of homosexuality.”

Content note: I cite disciplinary language.

Concurring opinion (Austin Mahle et al.)

When legal analysis starts quoting from the Social Principles, my first impulse is to get very very nervous. In this instance, my first impulse isn’t justified. Citing the Social Principles and the Book of Resolutions is warranted by ¶ 807.12(a). It’s also helpful that these citations do not appear in the controlling opinion.

Partisans will attempt to make this decision more controversial than it actually is. This concurring opinion does demonstrate that there is more to the Social Principles than nineteen words.

Concurring opinion (Joyner et al.)

I’m in agreement with this concurring opinion and am a little surprised that this isn’t part of the controlling opinion.

I also understood the petition from the GCFA as containing three requests. I initially understood the second question differently than this concurrence does, but I’m in substantial agreement. I initially read the second question as asking something like, “Once the GCFA has decided, isn’t that the end of it? (In other words, this isn’t subject to judicial review although the GCFA could revisit the question.)”

This concurring opinion does point out that a future General Conference might change relevant disciplinary provisions. As far as the First Amendment of the U. S. Constitution is concerned, the majority has a right to pass legislation. (This is a simple reality I was wrestling with in my earlier post.)

Today, that is a story for the future. Now I want to look at the current law.

Controlling opinion

The controlling opinion basically applies Decision 1253 (October 2013) to the instant case. There’s not much else I can add concerning the controlling opinion.

There are some who might be unpersuaded by the controlling opinion. Of those who are open to persuasion, what I will to do is examine some of the legislative history surrounding ¶ 806.9. I don’t know the official “law talkin’ name” for this approach, but this is inspired by the analysis in Decision 833 (August 1998).

Legislative history

A note concerning General Conference journals: up to 1984, the General Conference published an official journal in addition to the Daily Christian Advocate. Starting in 1988, the Daily Christian Advocate (DCA) itself became the official journal of the General Conference.

1972

Since I am quoting from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference Volume II (page 1057), I don’t have a disciplinary paragraph citation. Here’s the entire second paragraph from the Social Principles concerning Human Sexuality:

Although men and women are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sex between a man and a woman is only to be clearly affirmed in the marriage bond. Sex may become exploitive within as well as outside marriage. We reject all sexual expressions which damage or destroy the humanity God has given us as birthright, and we affirm only that sexual expression which enhances that same humanity, in the midst of diverse opinion as to what constitutes that enhancement. Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self. Further we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights insured, though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.

According to the Journal (Volume I), the above language was approved during the Morning Session on April 26, 1972 (pages 447-462). The General Conference adjourned two days later (pages 572-598). (I’ve read one online account that remembered “the language being inserted during the last hours of the last day.” This memory is not borne out by the historical record. On the other hand, I can’t remember where I read that online. So maybe my memory . . . never mind.)

So from page 453 of the Journal:

Governor Carter was accorded a standing ovation by the Conference. The Chair expressed gratitude on behalf of the Conference to him for his welcome and his remarks.

OK, that is worth noting, but actually, we turn to page 461 and find at the top:

Don J. Hand (Southwest Texas) moved to amend section IIC by adding the following language :”…, though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian doctrine.” Mr. Hand spoke in support of his amendment.

Further down the page we read, “Mr. Hand’s amendment was put to a vote and was adopted. Section II, ‘The Nurturing Community,’ as amended, was put to a vote and was adopted.”

Two things to note:

  • I don’t know how “doctrine” became “teaching”. Maybe Correlation and Editorial Revision changed it? In any case, the usage of “teaching” has since become well-established.
  • At its first mention of sexual orientation, the General Conference distinguished between “orientation” and “activity”.

1976

Journal of the 1976 General Conference Volume II page 1752 records the first appearance of the language now at ¶ 806.9:

842.12. The council shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any “gay caucus” or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures.

In Volume I of the Journal on page 570, the above language was adopted without discussion. Page 570 implies that the above language should say “promote the acceptance of the practice of homosexuality”. The above language does not actually contain these three additional words.

1988

A discussion in the 1988 General Conference suggests that “practice of homosexuality” is synonymous with “lifestyle of homosexuality”. This would be the discussion on 1988 DCA pages 457-458 of Calendar Item 120. One speaker against the rejected minority report stated that he was speaking “against the use of funds to promote that lifestyle” (page 457). Another speaker who also opposed the rejected minority report said (page 458), “At this particular time we’re talking now about tithes and offerings given by the members of our church. And we’re talking about a prohibition against the use of those tithes and offerings for the promotion or acceptance of homosexuality.”

(It’s not a coincidence that this post appeared last week.)

2000

To confuse the situation even more, the 2000 General Conference specifically considered adding the words “the practice of”. It did not. See 2000 DCA pages 2386-2387. (In opening the vote the presiding bishop incorrectly stated that the amendment would add the words “practice of” in place of “acceptance of.” This confuses the issue even more.)

2004

The 2004 General Conference Calendar Item 1040 added the first version of the language now at ¶ 613.19. The transcript of this discussion appears on 2004 DCA pages 2046-2047 (the second transcript for May 4). The vice-chair states on page 2046 that this language was to bring “the language into agreement across the church.” In other words, it is specifically meant to be consistent with the GCFA language. (The 2000 General Conference arguably declined to add the words “the practice of”.) The same delegate who in 1988 mentioned “tithes and offerings” (see above) now describes this prohibition as ““a good stewardship proposition. That as we go to our people in the churches and ask for offerings, tithes, gifts, they need to have the confidence that the money that they’re giving in their church offerings is not going to go into causes or to caucuses or groups that are promoting homosexual practice, contrary to the principles and standards of our church and our understanding of the Christian practice in this respect.”

I Give Up

At this point, I haven’t the faintest idea what the General Conference means by ‘promoting the acceptance of homosexuality’. In all fairness to me, why should I? I was three years old when this language was adopted. Now I’m 41. The General Conference hasn’t been forthcoming in providing any additional guidance concerning this language.

I also have a suspicion that those most attached to this language might also be the last to admit that it’s vague. When those who created this law have been so sloppy in describing it, I am forced to conclude that it is up to each individual to decide on their own whether a specific instance of funding is “promoting the acceptance of homosexuality”.

In my opinion, I just don’t see what the purpose of this prohibition is. Wouldn’t obvious examples of prohibited funding also constitute the chargeable offense of “sexual misconduct”? For instances that do not constitute “sexual misconduct”, effective legislation has to clearly demarcate such instances rather than sputter and fume with some vague hand-waving.

Such sputtering and fuming might make for an effective sermon. It doesn’t work in a book of law.

Advertisements