There are plenty of critics of the Judicial Council’s high-profile decisions in 2012.
But nobody can accuse the council of blowing with the prevailing winds, since it overruled majority actions of both General Conference and the South Central Jurisdiction.
The Rev. William B. Lawrence led the Judicial Council through much of this tumultuous year, even as he continued his full-time work as dean of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.
For that dual role, he’s a Reporter notable UM newsmaker of the year.
The Judicial Council, including Dr. Lawrence, struck first on May 4, in the last hours of General Conference in Tampa, Fla. It unanimously declared unconstitutional the hard-won “Plan UMC” compromise for restructuring general church agencies.
Dr. Lawrence began a term as president of the Judicial Council right after General Conference. In October, the council overturned legislation to end guaranteed appointment for ordained elders, finding that this measure too violated the UMC’s constitution.
Thus the council had swept away what were arguably the two major legislative efforts of General Conference—both desperately sought by those who argue that the UMC must make major changes, given many years of membership declines in the United States.
In November, the council dealt the shake-up-the-church side another blow by overturning the involuntary retirement of Bishop Earl Bledsoe. The South Central Jurisdiction episcopacy committee had concluded he was too poor an administrator to continue, but Bishop Bledsoe appealed. The council ruled that the committee had violated fair process, and ordered Bishop Bledsoe reinstated and given an area to oversee.
Pushback to the council’s decisions has been considerable, including one pastor suggesting that the UMC withhold the Judicial Council’s operating funds.
But Dr. Lawrence said council members have a mission statement to follow, without fear or favor.
“We on the Judicial Council are entrusted with the responsibility of making sure that the church is living according to its own constitution and its own laws,” he said.
Most of Dr. Lawrence’s time goes to overseeing Perkins, with its 300-plus seminarians and 40 faculty members. He’s in his 10th year as dean there.
On his watch, Perkins has built the 20,000-square-foot Elizabeth Perkins Prothro Hall and renovated two other buildings (for a total cost of $14.3 million) and has diversified both faculty and student body.
Dr. Lawrence has found time to write books, including the recent Ordained Ministry in the United Methodist Church; and he’s often quoted in Dallas and national media on subjects related to religion.
Though he’s 66, he has no plans to fade away. His Judicial Council term continues, and he recently agreed to lead Perkins for another five years.