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Court docket includes Bush library Neill Caldwell, Feb 4, 2009
UMNS FILE PHOTO BY PAUL “SPUD” HILTON
Bishop Beverly Shamana presides over the 2008 California-Nevada Annual Conference in Sacramento, Calif.
By Neill Caldwell United Methodist News Service
The United Methodist Church’s supreme court will address several high-profile issues when it meets April 22-25 in Denver, including the performance of same-gender marriage ceremonies and the proposed George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University.
Two items deal with resolutions passed by the 2008 California-Nevada and California-Pacific conferences in support of clergy who are willing to celebrate same-sex marriage or union ceremonies.
The United Methodist Church, while affirming all people as persons “of sacred worth,” considers the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Its Book of Discipline prohibits pastors from conducting such union ceremonies.
At its 2008 meeting, the California-Nevada Conference passed a resolution commending those retired clergy for their compassion. That was followed by a request to presiding Bishop Beverly Shamana for a ruling as to whether or not the resolution violated the Discipline. Bishop Shamana said in her response that the resolution “steps over a disciplinary line” and was “void and of no effect.”
Meeting the same week in June, the California-Pacific Conference approved three measures that support same-gender couples who want to marry. The resolution in question, which dealt with the California clergy response, stated that “while we recognize that we are governed by the Book of Discipline . . . we support those pastors who conscientiously respond to the needs of their parishes by celebrating same-gender marriages, and we envision compassion and understanding in any resulting disciplinary actions.”
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson ruled that the resolution was permissible, saying, “The resolution does not call for or encourage violation of the Discipline; it does provide for a response that is pastoral (compassionate) in nature.”
The council will review a decision of law from Bishop Robert Hayes at last summer’s South Central Jurisdictional Conference regarding use of property at Southern Methodist University in Dallas for a presidential library. Bishop Hayes ruled that a request for a decision about the school’s right to lease campus property to the Bush Foundation was “improper, moot and hypothetical.”
Bishop Hayes made his ruling after examining actions of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in favor of SMU’s lease agreement for the President George W. Bush Presidential Center. The jurisdiction owns the private school, and its bylaws require the church to approve any sale or lease of campus land. Jurisdictional conference delegates voted 158-118 on July 17 to affirm the lease for the Bush presidential library, museum and policy institute.
The question put to the bishop asked if the lease agreement violated the Book of Discipline, specifically Paragraph 2503.4, which requires all United Methodist property to be “kept, maintained . . . for the benefit of the United Methodist Church and subject to the usages and the Discipline of the United Methodist Church.”
Bishop Hayes said the request went beyond church law and involved secular, corporate and real estate law. The bishop also said the request was framed in a way that was “hypothetical and speculative.”
Critics of the plan to build a Bush center at SMU have questioned the appropriateness of linking the Bush presidency with the United Methodist school, saying that many policies of the Bush administration were contrary to United Methodist teaching. University officials have expressed their agreement with Bishop Hayes’ decision.
Mr. Caldwell is editor of the Virginia United Methodist Advocate.