Case against Rev. Meyer referred to church trial

6/24/2016

The case against the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, who stated in a letter to her district superintendent earlier this year that she was in a committed homosexual relationship, has been referred to a church trial.

The decision was made June 21 by the Committee on Investigation, whose function is similar to that of a grand jury. It is comprised of Great Plains Conference clergy and laity, with duties outlined by The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline in paragraph 2706. The committee conducted a hearing June 21 at the conference office building in Topeka, Kansas, and announced its decision June 24.

Under the Book of Discipline, the denominations book of law and procedure, the Church does not allow self-avowed, practicing homosexuals to serve as ordained clergy.

The Committee on Investigation’s decision does not imply Rev. Meyer’s guilt or innocence, but rather means reasonable grounds exist to bring her to a church trial, the date for which is yet to be set but likely will take place later this summer at a to-be-determined location.

Read the June 24 letter Bishop Jones has sent to all clergy and lay members to annual conference.

Prior to the announcement of the committee’s decision, parties for the Church and for Rev. Meyer agreed to a face-to-face meeting at some point in August with a mediator from the Just Peace Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation, a United Methodist organization based in Washington, D.C., that states its mission is to prepare and assist leaders and faith communities to engage conflict in ways that strive for justice and reconciliation. That face-to-face meeting is expected to take place despite the committee’s referral of the case to a church trial.

“I am very sorry that we are moving toward the holding of a trial, and yet it appears to be a necessary next step following the preaching of Rev. Meyer’s sermon last January," Bishop Scott J. Jones said. "I still hold out hope that the just resolution process will reach an agreement that upholds the Book of Discipline. I ask that all parts of the Great Plains Conference keep Rev. Meyer and all parties in their prayers as I am doing.”

According to the Book of Discipline in Paragraph 2707, a church trial is considered to be “an expedient of last resort” in disputes within the denomination. A guilty verdict could result in the revocation of credentials for ordination, suspension or a lesser penalty.

The case against Meyer is one of several actions against clergy in the United States over issues associated with human sexuality. The General Conference, the Church’s top governing body that meets once every four years, convened May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon. The actions taken by more than 850 delegates from around the world included the adoption of a proposal by the Council of Bishops, the denomination’s executive branch, to set up a special commission to review every paragraph in the Discipline regarding human sexuality. The council could call a special General Conference prior to the scheduled 2020 gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota, likely to deal only with matters pertaining to human sexuality.

The General Conference’s decision contains some ambiguity. It expresses a desire by the Council of Bishops to “continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm … .” But it closes with the phrase “while we uphold the Discipline.”

During the Great Plains Annual Conference session June 1-4 in Topeka, Kansas, clergy and laity from across Kansas and Nebraska approved an “aspirational resolution” urging counsel for the Church and counsel for Rev. Meyer to agree to refer her case back to the resident bishop to seek what the Discipline calls a “just resolution.” In such a process, the bishop can seek the assistance of a third-party mediator. Such a process is allowed in the denomination under Book of Discipline Paragraph 2706.5c3. The resolution is non-binding, meaning representatives for both sides in the case are not required to do so. Throughout the process, both parties still could resolve the issue. A just resolution could be agreed upon at any time.

The case began Jan. 3, when Rev. Meyer preached a sermon at Edgerton United Methodist Church in which she said she was in a “committed relationship” with another woman characterized as a “covenant.” She sent a copy of the sermon to her district superintendent, the Rev. David Watson. On Jan. 5, Rev. Watson, filed a complaint against Rev. Meyer alleging that she is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.
 
The complaint process, outlined in the Book of Discipline, has included a time of discussion and inquiry that eventually led to the Committee on Investigation’s hearing June 21 in Topeka.

Despite the trial, Rev. Meyer will continue to serve the church in Edgerton, Kansas, throughout the remainder of the complaint process.

In his June 24 letter to all clergy and lay members of the annual conference, Bishop Jones said all people engaged in the process covet prayers.

“I hope to avoid a trial and still uphold my covenant vows,” Bishop Jones said. “Nevertheless, our church’s constitution guarantees Rev. Meyer the right to a trial, and we may end up having one. I believe that all of us will do the best we can to follow the General Conference’s admonition that we seek to live in grace with each other while we uphold the Discipline of our Church.”
 

Stories Related to the Rev. Meyer Case (in chronological order)

Jan. 15 – Bishop meets with Meyer as part of review process
April 4 – Bishop Jones refers complaint against Rev. Cynthia Meyer to counsel for the Church
May 17 – Great Plains delegates help take lead on debate
May 18 – Motion to accept bishops’ plan resurrected, passes
May 24 – Bishop Jones issues statement about General Conference, Rev. Cynthia Meyer case
June 4 – Great Plains Conference approves ‘aspirational resolution’ involving Meyer case
June 6 – Bishop issues letter regarding resolution on reconciliation
June 24 – Read the letter from Bishop Jones about the pending church trial
 
 Contact Todd Seifert, communications director for the Great Plains Conference, at tseifert@greatplainsumc.org.


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