Judicial Council rules on two BWC issues
BY MELISSA LAUBER
The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, meeting Oct. 24-27 in Illinois, ruled against two rulings of law presented by the Baltimore-Washington Conference and Bishop John Schol.
Decision 1228, concerns the Policy on Sexual Misconduct, which was adopted by members of the conference at their annual session in May 2012. Decision 1216 relates to the conference policy and protocol on appointment making.
The Rev. Laura Schultz, pastor of Howard Chapel-Ridgeville in Mt. Airy, objected to the words “sexual” before relationship, in the passage that reads, “Any church staff person (clergy or lay) who desires to have a dating, romantic, or sexual relationship with any other staff member, parishioner or ministry participant, shall consult the senior pastor, or lead pastor and the Staff-Parish Relations committee chair. If the person is the lead pastor, he or she shall consult with his or her district superintendent.”
During the course of the debate on the plenary floor, it was determined that the policy refers only to a relationship between people who are not legally married to each other, the council reported in its statement of facts.
Schulz requested a ruling of law from Bishop Schol, who upheld the policy as it was adopted by the annual conference.
The Judicial Council overturned this ruling based on para. 161 of the Book of Discipline, which states that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.” A violation of this standard is a chargeable offense for clergy members, the council said, and “does not commit to enforcing the Discipline’s position that a sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage is misconduct.”
The Judicial Council also suggested that “consensual relationships between staff people, congregational leaders and ministry participants are never appropriate because of imbalance of power,” and suggested the conference consult with the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women for further insights on this policy.
The conference’s Policy on Sexual Misconduct was developed by the Discipleship Council. The portions of the policy which were not questioned are expected to remain in effect and the portion deemed “null and void” by the Judicial Council, will be rewritten to comply with the ruling, reported the Rev. David Cooney, assistant to the bishop.
Decision 1216 of the Judicial Council concerned the appointment of a specific Elder in full connection who claimed she was “intimidated and coerced” into making a request for a voluntary leave of absence. The council agreed with her, and ruled that she, “as a clergy person in good standing,” is “entitled to receive [one year of] equitable compensation as required for clergy members in full connection, insurance, housing, pension and other benefits according to annual conference policy and procedures.”