The United Methodist Church’s top court has found that while some provisions of the newly adopted Traditional Plan remain unconstitutional, the rest of the plan is valid as church law.
That was the Judicial Council’s ruling on a requested review of the Traditional Plan, which was approved during a special denomination-wide legislative session in February to strengthen enforcement of bans on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and same-sex weddings.
In a separate ruling, legislation to provide an exit strategy for local churches wishing to leave the denomination meets three minimum requirements and thus is constitutional “when taken together with the consent of the annual conference” as specifically outlined in the Book of Discipline, the court said.
Both decisions came at the conclusion of the Judicial Council’s April 23-26 meeting.
In Decision 1378, the top court said it applied “a severability test” to determine if the unconstitutional provisions of the Traditional Plan could be severed from what remained.
“Unless it is evident that the General Conference would not have enacted those provisions that are within its legislative powers without those that are not, the invalid parts can be separated if what is left is not inextricably linked and can function independently,” the decision said.
The Judicial Council has now ruled three times on the Traditional Plan petitions it has found unconstitutional. Affirming previous rulings from October and February — Decision 1366 and Decision 1377 — the April decision following the adoption of the Traditional Plan still finds seven of its petitions to be unconstitutional, including four that were amended during General Conference 2019.
Decision 1378 also declares all seven petitions to be null and void.
Three amended petitions that were ruled unconstitutional — 90033, 90034 and 90035 — still would allow the Council of Bishops to place any bishop on involuntary leave “in the retired relationship with or without their consent” without a specific right to appeal. That “constitutional infirmity” cannot be solved by arguing that other parts of the denomination’s lawbook would give “an accused bishop the right to appeal the findings of the Council of Bishops,” the court said in Decision 1378.