UMC top court to consider what petitions can be submitted to called General Conference

By Jessica Brodie

The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council will hold a special session in May to consider what petitions—other than the report by the Council of Bishops—can be submitted to the called special session of General Conference in 2019.

The special 2019 General Conference will only address issues surrounding the church divide over human sexuality. The regular General Conference, for the full business of the denomination, will remain as scheduled for May 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Judicial Council will meet May 22-25 in Evanston, Illinois, at the request of the Council of Bishops, who seek a ruling from the top court on the meaning, application and effect of Para. 14 in relation to Para. 507 of the 2016 Book of Discipline.

In her petition to the Judicial Council, Council of Bishops Secretary Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey asked, “The Council of Bishops respectfully requests a decision of law on the following question: If petitions are in harmony with the restricted purpose stated in the Council of Bishops’ call on April 24, 2017, as determined by a two-thirds vote of General Conference and if the petitions are postmarked or received by July 8, 2018, may organizations of The United Methodist Church, clergy members, and lay members submit petitions to the special General Conference session called for Feb. 23-26, 2019, that are not consistent with the ‘report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward’ as stated in the call?”

As Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, explained in a press release, “The intent is to resolve the question of whether additional petitions, beyond the report of the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops, can be submitted to the Special 2019 General Conference prior to the convening of the Special General Conference.”

In addition to approving the bishops’ request for a hearing, the Judicial Council has set a May 6 deadline for submission of matters for inclusion in their 2018 Special Session Docket, a May 11 deadline for requests for an oral hearing and for submission of opening briefs, and a May 15 deadline for submission of reply briefs.

These deadlines come after the COB meets in Chicago April 29-May 4 to receive a finalized report from their 32-member Commission on a Way Forward on how the UMC can navigate the future given vast differences of opinion in the denomination about human sexuality. The bishops will craft their report for the 2019 General Conference based on recommendations from the Commission on a Way Forward. The commission’s latest models offer two possible ways forward: the One Church Model and the Multi-Branch One Church Model.

  • One Church Model: According to the commission, this model gives churches the room they need to maximize the presence of United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. This model provides a generous unity that gives conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality without changing the connectional nature of the UMC.
  • Multi-Branch One Church Model: According to the commission, this model is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one COB, while also creating different branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice. The five United States jurisdictions would be replaced by three connectional conferences, each covering the whole country, based on theology and perspective on sexuality (progressive, contextual and traditional branches). Annual conferences would decide which connectional conference to affiliate with; only local churches who choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference would vote to join another conference.

United Methodists from around the world will vote on the bishops’ report at the 2019 General Conference. Sixteen South Carolina delegates (the same elected to serve at the 2016 General Conference) will represent this annual conference at the 2019 session.

Across the nation, and across South Carolina, people have had mixed reactions to the plans. The Advocate will announce the bishops’ official report based on these plans once that report is released (after the Council of Bishops’ April 29-May 4 meeting).

Prayers sought for S.C. delegation

Prayer is being lifted for South Carolina’s delegates to the 2019 Special Session of General Conference. These are the same delegates elected to serve South Carolina at General Conference 2016 in Portland, Oregon:


  • Barbara Ware
  • James Salley
  • Dr. Joseph Heyward
  • Herman Lightsey
  • Jackie Jenkins
  • Michael Cheatham
  • Martha Thompson
  • Dr. David Braddon
  • Alternates: Lollie Haselden and Emily Rogers Evans


  • Dr. Tim McClendon
  • Rev. Ken Nelson
  • Rev. Tim Rogers
  • Dr. Robin Dease
  • Rev. Tiffany Knowlin
  • Rev. Narcie Jeter
  • Rev. Mel Arant Jr.
  • Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray
  • Alternates: Rev. Telley Gadson and Rev. Michael Turner

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