For a few years now I’ve been trying to get a handle on the status of the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church. The introduction of the Principles says they are not law, but the Judicial Council has ruled in the past that an Annual Conference could not pass a resolution that voided them.
In a ruling Saturday, though, the Judicial Council — with a strong dissent — agreed with a United Methodist bishop that it was not a violation of the Book of Discipline to treat a section of the Social Principles as if they do not exist. The opinion of the council makes that valid point that United Methodists at all levels of the church do, in fact, act as if parts of the Social Principles do not exist.
There are many facets of the Social Principles that individual United Methodists and their various organizations choose to ignore, and there is no unanimity among United Methodists about the merits of the denomination’s Social Principles on health care, gun control, and other matters. But to ignore those statements in the Social Principles, while doing so might theologically imperil or weaken the church, is not an illegal action under Church law.
As I understand it, the Book of Discipline is being reviewed by a committee charged with making recommendations for revisions that will make the book more relevant to a global church. Perhaps one of those recommendations should be to move the Social Principles into the Book of Resolutions. The Social Principles appear to be neither doctrine nor law of the UMC. Maybe it is time to move them out of our book of doctrine and law.