The Judicial Council is the denomination’s highest judicial body or "court" and is made up of nine members, both laity and clergy. The members are elected by the General Conference and normally meet twice a year to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline. Learn more about the Judicial Council.
Multiple briefs from around the denomination are on the Judicial Council's docket for Fall 2022, including briefs out of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. See full Fall 2022 docket.
The first brief before the Judicial Council is Docket 1022-01, regarding "Request for a Declaratory Decision from the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference Concerning the Meaning, Application, and Effect of ¶¶16.3, 33, 502.3, and 511.5 as They Relate to the Clergy and Lay Delegates to the Postponed General Conference to be held in 2024." Read brief.
The second is Docket 1022-13, regarding "Report of a Bishop’s Ruling, Made During the Regular Session of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, Finding that a Proposed Petition Concerning Disaffiliation was in Violation of the Discipline." Read brief.
The summary of Bishop Moore-Koikoi's decision of law submission is that, "Petition 73 violates ¶2512.4, ¶2553.4, including a, b, d, and f, and Judicial Council Rulings 1420 and 1421 as it negates the power and authority given to the Conference Board of Trustees by the Book of Discipline and General Conference in 2019; prescribes terms and conditions that are inconsistent with the minimal terms and conditions mandated by ¶2553; and it negates the Conference Board of Trustees ability to fulfills its ¶2512.4 obligation."
The brief and explanations can be found below. The Judicial Council has a process which allows feedback from other parties, so other viewpoints will be heard in response to this brief. The council has not yet met, so rulings will be forthcoming.
June 30, 2022
Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi
Decision of Law
Petition 73 For Disaffiliation Agreement Pursuant to ¶2553
Statement of Facts
Prior to the 2022 session of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi met with writers of Petition 73 about each of the pieces of legislation that were submitted for consideration by the annual conference for which there were conflicts with church law and/or annual conference rules. Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi shared with each of the writers the specific conflicts with church law and/or conference rules. Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi encouraged each writer to work in legislative sections of annual conference to amend the legislation so that it would not be in conflict with church law and/or annual conference rule.
On the afternoon of June 2, 2022, as part of her instructions for legislation sections Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi shared with the annual conference the conflicts to church law and conference rules with Petition 73 and all other legislation for which there were conflicts.
Petition 73 passed in legislative section as amended by a vote of 93-9-3 which was sufficient for it to be placed on the consent calendar. However, per annual conference rules, it was lifted from the consent calendar. On the morning of June 5, 2022 the leader of Legislative Section 7 moved the adoption of Petition 73 as amended. At that time in a Decision of Law, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi ruled that Petition 73 as amended was in violation of church law.
As part of the ruling Bishop Moore-Koikoi announced that she would be referring her ruling to the Judicial Council. This was done in accordance with ¶2609.6.
Following her ruling, which included her announcement that she would be referring her ruling to Judicial Council, Rev. Nathanael Fugate, one of the writers of the petition, rose and asked for a point of “Parliamentary Inquiry” in order to “appeal to the body” the ruling of the chair. Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi shared that this was not a parliamentary ruling, it would not be appropriate to appeal to the body. Further, she stated that church law takes precedence over parliamentary procedure. Therefore, it would be referred to the Judicial Council.
Although the veracity of the information provided in the “Whereas” statements in Petition 73 was the basis for some of the conflict with annual conference law, it was not part of this ruling and it was not shared in the Decision of Law on the morning of June 5, 2022. An analysis of the veracity of the information provided in the “Whereas” statements in Petition 73 is included as Appendix A for informational purposes only.
Digest: “In exercising its rights, an Annual Conference cannot take an action which negates General Conference legislation,” JCD 823. Annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objections to those provisions,” JCD 886. “No Annual Conference may adopt any rule or policy that is in conflict with the Discipline.” JCD 1105. Petition 73 negates General Conference legislation, negates provisions of the Discipline, and is in conflict with the Discipline, therefore it cannot be enacted by the Annual Conference.
While ¶ 2553.4(a) gives authority to annual conferences to develop additional standard terms, those standard terms must be in addition to, rather than a substitute for the process or terms outlined in ¶2553. Further, the additions must be consistent with ¶2553 and all other Church law. Finally, ¶2553 does not give authority to the annual conference to modify the process following a local church decision to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. Petition 73 seeks to substitute some of the standard terms and conditions provided for in ¶2553 and modify the process for developing the standard terms and conditions delineated in ¶2553.
Specifically, “Therefore be it resolved (A)” in Petition 73 prescribes that the date of disaffiliation “shall be set for December 30, 2023.” Paragraph 2553 prescribes that the effective date of disaffiliation is one of the terms and conditions of the Disaffiliation Agreement which “shall be established by the board of trustees of the applicable annual conference, with the advice of the cabinet, annual conference treasurer, the annual conference benefits officer, the director of connectional ministries, and the annual conference chancellor.”
Conclusion: The annual conference does not have the authority to negate the authority given to the Conference Board of Trustees in ¶2553. Further, the Conference Board of Trustees, not the annual conference, is given the authority to determine if the conditions of the Disaffiliation Agreement have been met, thus satisfying and effecting the agreement.
“Therefore be it resolved (E)” of Petition 73 as amended prescribes a substitute method for determining the pension withdrawal liability for a local church wishing to disaffiliate by stating “ The local church shall contribute $1 as the withdrawal liability… or the local church shall pay as the withdrawal liability… using the same method and manner that the annual conference calculated the withdrawal liability for the pro rate share of any aggregate unfunded pension obligations under ¶1504.23, ¶2548 and ¶2549 between February 2019 and June 1, 2022 whichever is greater.” Providing even a potential option for a local church pension withdrawal liability of $1 is inconsistent with ¶2553.4.d. In ¶2553 the General Conference made it clear that it intended for The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to determine the aggregate obligations of the annual conference using market factors. Only considering the aggregate unfunded pension liability for the time period of February 2019 to June 1, 2022 would not take into account “market factors” at the time of disaffiliation. The annual conference unfunded pension obligation is, in fact, updated quarterly by The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
Conclusion: Petition 73 prevents the Board of Trustees from utilizing the aggregate unfunded pension obligation of the local church at the time of its decision to disaffiliate. The annual conference does not have the authority to substitute or add terms and conditions of disaffiliation that are inconsistent with the standard terms of ¶2553.
“Therefore be it resolved (J)” of Petition 73 as amended prescribes a conditional substitute for one of the items identified as a minimum term and condition in ¶2553. Petition 73 prescribes that if the annual conference does not publish on its website “The amount for apportionment payment responsibilities for each local church and … the withdrawal liability for each local church… by August 15, 2022 or the amount for the local church shall be $1.” Paragraph 2553.4.b and d prescribe the method by which these amounts are to be determined. Paragraph 2553 does not provide a method or condition for an annual conference to add a conditional substitution or conditional alteration of the minimal terms and condition of the Disaffiliation Agreement. In addition, resolution (J) would prevent the Board of Trustees from ensuring on behalf of The General Council on Finance and Administration that ¶807.9 has been upheld as prescribed in ¶2553.4.a. It is clear from the actions of The General Conference that one of the purposes of ¶2553 is in the words of ¶807.9 “to take all necessary legal steps to safeguard and protect the interests and rights of the denomination.” This obligation is specifically given to the Conference Board of Trustees in ¶2512.4.
Conclusion: The annual conference does not have the power to negate the authority given to the Conference Board of Trustees by the Book of Discipline. The annual conference does not have the authority to, even conditionally, develop standard terms that are inconsistent with the standard form of ¶2553.
“Therefore be it resolved (L)” of Petition 73 as amended negates the authority given to the board of trustees by the General Conference in ¶2553. The petition states, “The conference trustees may not add any further terms or conditions except as required by state law and church law.” The Judicial Council in Rulings 1420 and 1421 concluded that when read together ¶2512.4 and ¶2553.4 “express the intent of General Conference to delegate to the Conference Board of Trustees the exclusive authority to establish terms and conditions of a local church’s departure from The United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council concluded that the Conference Board of Trustees, therefore, do have the right to add terms and conditions to the Disaffiliation Agreement provided those terms and conditions comply with state and local laws.
Conclusion: The annual conference does not have the power to negate authority that has been given to the Conference Board of Trustees in ¶2553 as interpreted by the Judicial Council. If the annual conference disagrees with the terms and conditions of the Disaffiliation Agreement its remedy would be not to affirm the Disaffiliation Agreement.
Summary: Petition 73 violates ¶2512.4, ¶2553.4, including a, b, d, and f, and Judicial Council Rulings 1420 and 1421 as it negates the power and authority given to the Conference Board of Trustees by the Book of Discipline and General Conference in 2019; prescribes terms and conditions that are inconsistent with the minimal terms and conditions mandated by ¶2553; and it negates the Conference Board of Trustees ability to fulfills its ¶2512.4 obligation.
See also: Appendix.