Judicial Council "Lacks Jurisdiction" on Decision of Law submitted by Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi
Statement from Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi Regarding Judicial Council Ruling
Those of you who attended Western Pennsylvania’s 2022 Annual Conference will recall that I made a Decision of Law regarding Petition 73 which I then referred to the Judicial Council.
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 meet to consider whether actions of the various church bodies adhere to the constitution and follow the rules outlined in the Book of Discipline.
The Judicial Council has ruled that they do not have jurisdiction to determine whether or not my ruling was consistent with The Book of Discipline. See full text of ruling
for more information.
This ruling can be best understood in the context of past rulings, more recently JDC 1448 which came down in August of 2022. In this ruling relating to the withdrawal of the Bulgaria Annual Conference of the UMC, the Judicial Council released this opinion:
The Judicial Council lacks jurisdiction. The Judicial Council's jurisdiction is limited to those provisions contained in ¶ 2609 and ¶ 2610 of the 2016 Book of Discipline and may only rule pursuant to those paragraphs. Here, there was no question of law properly and duly submitted to the presiding Bishop upon which he could issue a ruling of law, nor was there a request for a declaratory decision that was adopted by the Annual Conference. As such, the submission is not properly before us.
Despite their ruling that they lack jurisdiction, the Judicial Council provided advisory information about the decision. One concurring opinion stated, “… we are deeply troubled by the actions of said annual conference, which, in our view, are nothing short of a blatant circumvention of Church law…”
This practice of providing advisory information is not uncommon. The Judicial Council has many times done so when they feel some error was made in a decision that has an impact on the church. No such advisory information was provided in their decision regarding my ruling and they simply stated the reasons for their lack of jurisdiction.
This understanding underscores the fact that their determination of lack of jurisdiction has no bearing on whether or not my ruling was appropriate, and the appropriateness of my decision is further affirmed by the other decisions the Judicial Council made on rulings from 2022 annual conferences.
As Bishop Steiner Ball and I are sharing in our episcopal duties, I consulted with her before making my ruling in Western Pennsylvania and she consulted with me before making her ruling in Susquehanna. Therefore, I would also call your attention to the JC ruling 1458
issued on a very similar matter in the Susquehanna Annual Conference. The Judicial Council ruled on that matter because a member of the Susquehanna Annual Conference asked for a Question of Law.
A clergy member submitted a number of questions, the first being, “Is it proper that the motion was ruled out of order based on paragraph 2553.4?”. The affirmed response was as follows:
This question is improperly submitted. This question is about whether or not it was proper for a motion made on the floor of the Conference to be called out of order.
Parliamentary questions are matters of order in the annual conference session and are not matters for a request for a decision of law. “The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to review a parliamentary ruling of a presiding bishop that is rendered during an annual conference session. See Decisions 898, 941, 943, 953, 1117.” (Judicial Council Decision 1131)
In the case of Western Pennsylvania, the member asked for a Point of Order, which was out of order because the question being asked was a question of law, not parliamentary procedure. The Point of Order request did not allow for the Judicial Council to rule on the matter. The Judicial Council has repeatedly stated that it does not rule on Points of Order because they are parliamentary in nature and do not pertain to church law.
At the heart of the WPA and the SUS rulings is the question of how the Disaffiliation Paragraph, ¶2553, is impacted by ¶2512 which states that the Annual Conference Board of Trustees are amenable to the Annual Conference.
In question in the WPA legislation, the SUS legislation and similar legislation submitted across the country is whether or not the annual conference can dictate to the Board of Trustees terms for the Disaffiliation Agreements. The Judicial Council consistently ruled on all similar questions raised across the country that the annual conference cannot supersede the General Conference. The Judicial Conference affirmed Bishop Steiner Ball’s ruling and that the General Conference has given the Board of Trustees the authority to develop Disaffiliation Agreements within the parameters of ¶2553. The annual conference cannot dictate the terms of those agreements to the Board of Trustees. Further, the Judicial Council affirmed Bishop Steiner Ball’s ruling that if the annual conference does not agree with the Disaffiliation Agreements the option would be to vote “no” to those agreements.
“The Board of Trustees fulfills its responsibility to be amenable to the annual conference and fulfills the disciplinary responsibility and authority for setting the terms and conditions of a ‘Disaffiliation Agreement’…The actions of the annual conference are further restricted to ratifying a disaffiliation by a vote up or down by members of the annual conference but does not include the right to amend the disaffiliation agreement.” (Response to question 4 of JCD 1428, with reference to JCD 1420)
Our Conference Board of Trustees has worked with significant integrity and grace, in consultation with me and the cabinet, to develop our disaffiliation process. They have worked in good faith with each disaffiliating church to finalize the Disaffiliation Agreements. While the General Conference has said that ultimately the Annual Conference has the authority to approve or not approve those agreements, it would be my hope that the annual conference affirms the work of the Conference Board of Trustees and each disaffiliating local church.
I want to affirm the Judicial Council and their difficult work in sorting out the disaffiliation process and express my appreciation for their ruling. I also want to affirm the faith of the members of the Annual Conference in my leadership. Because of my membership and ordination vows as well as the vows taken at my consecration as bishop, I am committed to “be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church and do all in my power to strengthen its ministries.” I will hold all members of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference to this covenant.
-Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi