Judicial Council Decisions

Decision No. 1181

In Re: IN RE: Request for a Declaratory Decision as to the Meaning, Effect, and Application of the Amended Division Two, Section VI, ¶ 35, Article IV of the 2008 Discipline

DIGEST OF CASE

The persons who are eligible to be elected as clergy delegates to the General Conference, the jurisdictional conference, or the central conference by the annual conference or the provisional annual conference are the full clergy members of the annual or provisional conference. Eligibility to be elected is conferred by full conference membership without regard to ordination or to years of service.
The persons who are eligible to cast ballots as electors in choosing the clergy delegates to the General Conference, the jurisdictional conference, or the central conference, are (a) the persons who are eligible for election, (b) the associate members, (c) the provisional members who have been judged by the annual conference to have completed the educational requirements and have been elected to provisional membership, and (d) the local pastors who have met two criteria: they have, by either of two options as determined by the annual conference, completed the constitutionally specified level of education; and they have been appointed by the bishop and served for two consecutive years, immediately preceding the election, during which time no withdrawal of the appointed status has occurred.
Any enabling legislation in 2008 Discipline that does not conform to ¶ 35 is unconstitutional.

Jurisdiction

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of 2008 Discipline.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

An amendment to ¶ 35 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church was adopted upon a two-thirds majority vote of the 2008 General Conference and was ratified by a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members of the several annual conferences present and voting. Division Two, Section VI, Article IV now reads as follows:
The clergy delegates to the General Conference and to the jurisdictional or central conference shall be elected from the clergy members in full connection and shall be elected by the clergy members of the annual conference or provisional annual conference who are deacons and elders in full connection, associate members, and those provisional members who have completed all of their educational requirements and local pastors who have completed course of study or an M. Div. degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election.

The 2008 General Conference, after adopting the proposed amendment to the Constitution, also adopted a motion to amend four paragraphs in the Discipline. These paragraphs serve as enabling legislation on the matter addressed in ¶ 35. According to the Minutes of the General Conference (Daily Christian Advocate [DCA], page 2664, May 3, 2008) a motion was made, seconded, and approved without alteration. It states:
I would move that paragraph 316.6. paragraph 318.5 and paragraph 327.2 and 602.1 reflect all the changes we made in paragraph 35 of the constitution. That they be completely consistent.

On November 4, 2010, the Council of Bishops voted to request that the Judicial Council render a declaratory decision regarding the meaning, application, and effect of ¶ 35 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church as amended. In its action, the Council of Bishops requested that the Judicial Council answer the following questions:
1. How is the phrase “two consecutive years under appointment” to be interpreted? For example, is this a 24-month requirement or a requirement for two conference years as commonly applied?
2. To whom does the requirement of “two consecutive years under appointment” refer? For example, does this apply to provisional [member]s as well as both full-time and part-time local pastors?
3. By what date do educational requirements have to be met?

The Judicial Council convened in a special session on February 12, 2011, in Irving, Texas. The President approved the request of the Council of Bishops for an oral hearing. Bishop Larry Goodpaster, President of the Council of Bishops, appeared for the oral hearing.

Jurisdiction


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2008 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale


The Constitution of The United Methodist Church now distinguishes those persons who may be elected as clergy delegates to the General Conference and to the jurisdictional or central conference from those who are eligible to vote for the election of clergy delegates to those bodies. It also clearly, narrowly, and exclusively identifies the categories of persons who may be elected as clergy delegates and those who are eligible to participate as electors in choosing the clergy delegates from annual conferences.

In its first provision, the Constitution now declares that the clergy delegates shall be elected “from the clergy members in full connection.” This is now the sole constitutional criterion for election. It does not require ordination, nor does it require that one must have been a clergy member in full connection for some specified time prior to election. Hence, a person who has been elected to full clergy membership by an annual conference is, by virtue of that election, immediately eligible for election as a clergy delegate without having to await formal ordination or without having to fulfill any specified term of service following election to full membership.

In its next provision, the Constitution now declares that the electors of clergy delegates are a larger constituency of persons than those who are eligible for election. Notably, it does not provide a constitutional definition of the word “clergy,” but rather it names the categories of persons who have the right to vote in the election process. In so doing, the Constitution now supersedes and supplants Judicial Council Decision 875, which was based on language in an earlier construction of the Constitution. However, there are no changes in the Constitution that affect the matters addressed in Judicial Council Decisions 308, 473, 531, and 534; they remain intact. The eligible electors are now listed as follows: “deacons and elders in full connection, associate members, and those provisional members who have completed all of their educational requirements and local pastors who have completed course of study or an M. Div. degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election.”

The questions posed by the Council of Bishops apply to some of the categories of those who are eligible to vote on the election of clergy delegates. Not at issue in the request for a declaratory decision are “the meaning, application, and effect” of the reference to “deacons and elders in full connection” or to “associate members.” The points at issue, in the questions from the Council of Bishops, are raised by the qualifying phrases in the Constitution that are attached to “provisional members” and to “local pastors.”

It is important to address those matters in the order in which they appear in ¶ 35 of the Constitution.

First, there is the limiting phrase about “provisional members who have completed all of their educational requirements.” The only body authorized by the church to make a determination that “provisional members …have completed all of their educational requirements” for provisional membership is the annual conference, as stipulated in ¶ 324 of 2008 Discipline. An annual conference has the authority to determine when the educational requirements have been satisfied since an annual conference may elect to provisional membership an individual who has completed one-half of the educational requirements for full membership (¶¶ 324.4, 324.5, 324.6). While the General Conference enacts legislation that specifies what the educational requirements are, only the annual conference has the authority to decide whether and when those requirements have been “completed” for provisional membership. Only those whom the annual conference has elected as provisional members are eligible to vote in the election of clergy delegates. By the action of the annual conference, that determination is made and these “provisional members” immediately become eligible electors. As a practical matter, an annual conference may delay its first ballot for selecting clergy delegates until after answering the question “Who have ‘completed all of their educational requirements’ for provisional membership?” Then all who have done so, in the judgment of the annual conference, will immediately become eligible electors, when formally elected to provisional membership.

Second, there is the qualifying clause following the reference to “local pastors.” The clause has a compound predicate following the pronoun “who,” which clearly refers to “local pastors.” The first portion of the compound predicate names two educational options for achieving the status of eligible elector, and the second portion of the compound predicate specifies a term of service that must be achieved to cross the threshold of being an eligible elector. Both elements—that is, one of the educational options and the service requirement—must be satisfied in order to cross the threshold to be an eligible elector. The annual conference is the only body with the authority to determine whether those elements have been satisfied.

There is substantial guidance available to the annual conference both in the 2008 Discipline and in the structures of the church regarding the educational element. The University Senate lists the theological schools whose “M. Div. degree” (Master of Divinity) is approved for The United Methodist Church (¶ 318). The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which establishes the criteria to be followed in the Regional Course of Study Schools, determines who has completed the “course of study.”

However, there is no legislative clarity in 2008 Discipline or in the structures of the church to define what is meant by “two consecutive years under appointment.” The General Council on Finance and Administration and the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits rely on annual conferences to supply the information. Annual conferences determine the local pastors who are eligible for appointment (¶ 318). Appointments of local pastors are made by the bishop after a process of consultation which continues “until the bishop…makes and fixes the appointment” (¶ 433.8), and appointments “may be made at any time deemed advisable by the bishop and the cabinet” (¶ 434). The “local pastors” who are eligible electors under (¶ 35) may be appointed either full-time (¶ 318.1) or part-time (¶ 318.2). Whether the phrase “two consecutive years” means 730 consecutive days or some majority fraction thereof is unclear.

What can be inferred from the authority of the bishop to appoint persons and the authority of the annual conference to determine who is eligible for appointment is that any local pastor who has met the educational requirement and has been appointed, either full-time or part-time, for two consecutive years “immediately preceding the election” without being deprived of an appointment during those two consecutive years of appointment is eligible to vote on clergy delegates. Only the annual conference clergy session can determine the persons who are eligible to be appointed as local pastors, and only the bishop can fix the appointments of those local pastors.

To become an eligible elector, a local pastor (a) must have met the educational requirement and (b) must have satisfied the appointment requirement which mandates (i) that the person “be listed in the journal as eligible to be appointed as local pastors” (¶ 318), and (ii) that the person has “served” an appointment fixed by the bishop for two consecutive conference years as that term is commonly applied.

The Judicial Council cannot provide legislative language where the General Conference is silent or provide regulatory language for any of the agencies of the General Conference. The Judicial Council, further, cannot alter or add to the Articles of the Constitution.

The Judicial Council also cannot create uniformity where the Constitution and the Discipline of the Church create diversity. Under ¶ 31 of the Constitution, a central conference may craft its own Discipline, and some central conferences have created differing rules for conference membership. Phrases like “course of study” and “M. Div.” may have alternate meanings. Similarly, annual conferences in the central conferences and in the jurisdictional conferences can choose differing levels of educational achievement for election to provisional membership.
Our review of the floor debate at the 2008 General Conference leads to the conclusion that a more deliberate process by which the body could have seen and reviewed the full text of the proposed constitutional amendment prior to its adoption would have greatly assisted the General Conference in coming to clarity about its work. A more complete record would have been helpful both to the General Conference and to the Judicial Council.

It is also noted that the legislation presented at General Conference in Calendar Item 787 contained implementing legislation that changed ¶¶ 316.6, 318.5, 321.1, 327.2, and 602.1 to reflect the changes of the amendment to ¶ 35. Any such changes that are inconsistent with this decision are unconstitutional.

DECISION

The persons who are eligible to be elected as clergy delegates to the General Conference, the jurisdictional conference, or the central conference by the annual conference or the provisional annual conference are the full clergy members of the annual or provisional conference. Eligibility to be elected is conferred by full conference membership without regard to ordination or to years of service.
The persons who are eligible to cast ballots as electors in choosing the clergy delegates to the General Conference, the jurisdictional conference, or the central conference, are (a) the persons who are eligible for election, (b) the associate members, (c) the provisional members who have been judged by the annual conference to have completed the educational requirements and have been elected to provisional membership, and (d) the local pastors who have met two criteria: they have, by either of two options as determined by the annual conference, completed the constitutionally specified level of education; and they have been appointed by the bishop and served for two consecutive years, immediately preceding the election, during which time no withdrawal of the appointed status has occurred.

Any enabling legislation in 2008 Discipline that does not conform to ¶ 35 is unconstitutional.

Saturday, February 12, 2011.

Concur in Part and Dissent in Part


I concur in the majority’s interpretation of the amendment. However, I do not believe that the portion of the constitutionality of the enabling legislation is properly before us. To that extent, I respectfully dissent.

Jon R. Gray

February 12, 2011


I join in Jon Gray's dissent, and I further dissent from the majority's determination that “two consecutive years under appointment” cannot be clarified as twenty-four months.

Beth Capen

February 12, 2011


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