Decision 1032, based on Paragraphs 214 and 225 of the denomination's law book, The Book of Discipline, said the paragraphs are "permissive, and do not mandate receipt into membership of all persons regardless of their willingness to affirm membership vows." The ruling meant that the pastor in charge of a local church has authority to determine a layperson's readiness for membership.Several Annual Conferences, including the Northern Illinois Conference, have sought a revisit of the decision. Today, the Council, in essence, said, "It isn't up to us."
A United Methodist pastor has the right to determine local church membership, even if the decision is based on whether the potential member is gay or lesbian.One would admire this example of judicial restraint and respect for the principle of stare decisis if, say, the Church were just as willing to toss out adulterers, divorced folks, thieves, and other such miscreants. Instead, we have the specter of local church membership being decided not by the Grace of God but the social predilections of clergy.
Annual (regional) conferences cannot limit that right or ask the church’s top court to set policy, the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled during its Oct. 27-30 meeting.
“The General Conference is the only body authorized and able to resolve the issue for the Church,” wrote Jon R. Gray in a concurring opinion on one of the October cases. The General Conference is the denomination’s top legislative body and meets every four years.
The denomination has set the question of the status of sexual minorities on the back burner far too long. With this decision not to decide the Judicial Council at least opens up the possibility of clarifying, once for all, that membership in a local congregation of the United Methodist Church is not at the behest of the too-often faulty judgments of appointed clergy, but solely the provenance of the grace of God.
General Conference is in two years. I think now is the time to submit petitions for consideration on this matter. Being the Body of Christ is far too serious a matter to leave to the ordained folks among us.