Friday, November 2, 2012

Seminary grads do not make good lawyers

Church law is like civil law would be if lawyers went to seminary instead of law school.

I have tried to study the rulings of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church and I find some of them pretty arbitrary.It is hard to predict what the Judicial Council is going to decide about any specific case.

The result is that the whole United Methodist system increasingly seems to live in fear that we will do something that the Judicial Council will rule against or overturn.It is making us overly conservative and hesitant to do anything bold or brave.

I notice that we are not the only denomination with this problem. The top court of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has just ruled that a Presbyterian pastor who got married to a person of the same gender is not guilty of violating Presbyterian church law.

I celebrate with my Presbyterian friends this victory. However, the rationale for the decision makes me shutter. According to an article on the Louisville Courier-Journal website, here is the basis for the court's decision:
The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruled Oct. 28 that the Rev. Laurie McNeill didn’t violate any church law because she didn’t preside over a same-sex wedding but rather was one of those exchanging the vows, and because no Presbyterian clergy or churches were involved.
It is an imperfect world, but I believe it is now time that church leadership stop dealing with injustice through loopholes and gimmicks. People who hold executive, legislative, and judicial offices within our denominations need to say, We will no longer enforce unjust rules, instead of looking for loopholes and technically correct ways of doing the right thing.

(Frankly I've participated in trying to find loopholes myself in the past  so I am less judging others than challenging us all, myself included, to move on to a bolder, less anxious posture.)

This is what Bishop Melvin Talbert has done in calling for United Methodist clergy to practice marriage equality as an act of biblical obedience. May his tribe increase. 

If we stop enforcing unjust rules, anarchy will not erupt. We will still obey rules that make sense and are reasonable and just. And if somebody doesn't follow them, reasonable rules will be enforced. Because we refuse to enforce unjust rules does not mean that good rules can't be enforced.

It is time we all speak the truth like Bishop Talbot and stop squirming.

1 comment:

  1. As a lay observer, it's hard for me to understand the logic of seating the mix of clergy members and lay persons on the Judicial Council. There doesn't appear to be any requirement that the lay folk be lawyers or the clergy folk have any sort of legal training. Why bother having lay people if they aren't lawyers? The whole governance of the UMC seems screwy and out of balance. It's sad.