The organization of the UMC is similar to the organization of the U.S. government with three basic branches that have separation of powers. Our legislative branch is the General Conference which passes legislation and the only body that can officially speak for the UMC. Our “executive branch” could be described as our Council of Bishops. This is probably where our system is MOST different from the U.S. government. Bishops have a role in enforcing the church’s rules as well as making initial rulings of law. Also, they do not have any kind of veto power over legislation. The third branch is our Judicial Council which is similar to the U.S. Government’s Supreme Court. The Judicial Council reviews the rulings that Bishops make, and also rules on the constitutionality of legislation (our church has a constitution like most organizations) in a case-law fashion.
The Judicial Council will provide a declaratory ruling of legislation if asked by the General Conference to do so (some other groups can also request this). The Council of Bishops requested and received rulings about the three plans a few months ago. They ruled on the Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan. The Traditional Plan had many things in it which were ruled unconstitutional; the One Church Plan had fewer constitutional problems. Only a few amendments passed that would have “fixed” the constitutional problems, so it is not a surprise that the Judicial Council just released their ruling that most of the Traditional Plan is still not constitutional.
Right now Dr. Tom Berlin is presenting the minority report from yesterday’s legislative session. He is proposing that the Traditional Plan be substituted by the Once Church Plan. I’ll update after the vote on the minority report.