Judicial Council Decisions

Decision No. 1198

In Re: REQUEST FOR A BISHOP’S DECISION OF LAW IN THE NORTH TEXAS ANNUAL CONFERENCE REGARDING THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF THE AMENDED STANDING RULES RELATED TO THE STRUCTURE OF THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE

DIGEST OF CASE

The bishop’s decision of law is reversed. Under ¶ 604, an annual conference for its own government may adopt rules and regulations not in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. All boards, commissions and committees mandated by the Discipline shall be maintained, clearly identified, and defined. The connectional relationships shall be clear and obvious. Any equivalent structures must be defined by name, function, connection, and membership. The cause is remanded to the North Texas Annual Conference for further revision and completion of its intended plan. Nomination and election of the members of the boards and committees of the operating agencies must be completed. We retain jurisdiction and instruct that the revised plan of structure be submitted to the Secretary of the Judicial Council no later than 30 days following the close of 2012 regular session of the North Texas Annual Conference.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

During the 2010 regular session of the North Texas Annual Conference, the conference session adopted Amendments to the Standing Rules of the North Texas Annual Conference relating to the structure of the Annual Conference and specific agencies. During the 2011 session, a member submitted a request in writing for a bishop’s decision of law that asked the presiding bishop to rule on the constitutionality of the amendments to the standing rules. The text of the request is as follows:
Request is hereby made that Bishop Bledsoe rule on the constitutionality of the Amendments to the Standing Rules of the North Texas Conference, Section I. (B) 1, STRUCTURE OF THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE, SPECIFIC AGENCIES, Mission of the Annual Conference. (North Texas Conference Journal 2010 – Pg. 281)
WHEREAS, it is noted that the 2008 Book of Discipline mandates various annual conference boards and committees to carry out the intentional ministry actions of the General Conference as set forth in the following paragraphs, including but not limited to the following: ¶ 629 Church and Society; ¶ 632 Ethnicity in the Local Church; ¶ 633 Global Ministry; ¶ 642 Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns; among others.
Ruling of the Bishop:
I rule that the amendments to the Standing Rules of the North Texas Conference, Section I. (B) 1, STRUCTURE OF THE ANNUAL CONFERENCE, SPECIFIC AGENCIES, Mission of the Annual Conference (North Texas Conference Journal 2010 – Page 281) (Attachment A-1 hereto) are consistent with the Constitution and the 2008 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
Rationale
Paragraphs 629, 632, 633, and 642 of the 2008 Book of Discipline all provide that another structure that provides for the functions of the relevant ministry and maintenance of the relevant connectional relationships may be utilized by the Annual Conference instead of the named bodies. Page 282 of the 2010 Annual Conference Journal (Attachment A-2 hereto) provides:
“d. Center for Missional Outreach
“The Center for Missional Outreach will address the priorities of ministry with the poor and improving global health.
“It will also provide for the functions and maintain the connectional relationships required by BOD ¶ 632.1 (Ethnic Local Church Concerns), ¶ 642 (Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns), . . . . ¶ 629.1 (Board of Church and Society), ¶ 633.1 (Board of Global Ministries), and ¶ 633.5 (Committee on Parish Community Development).”
There may be an issue here of accountability or performance, but I believe the cited Standing Rules are constitutional and legally valid.


An oral hearing was held on October 27, 2011, in San Diego, California. William T. Herrscher, Esq., filed a brief and appeared for petitioner. The Annual Conference did not file a brief, but appeared by Bishop Earl Bledsoe, Dr. John Fiedler, and John W. Croft, Esq., Chancellor of the North Texas Annual Conference.

JURISDICTION


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.

ANALYSIS & RATIONALE


Under ¶ 2609, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to pass upon and affirm, modify or reverse the decisions of law made by bishops in central, district, annual, or jurisdictional conferences on questions of law submitted to them in writing in the regular business of a session. Because the bishop rendered a decision of law, we are obliged to pass upon his decision of law. The excerpted minutes of the Annual Conference record supplied by the secretary establishes to our satisfaction that the request for a decision of law was received by the secretary of the Annual Conference during the regular business of a session.
Although the Annual Conference chose not to file a brief, we address the assertion raised for the first time in oral argument that the request for a bishop's decision of law was untimely and deprives the Judicial Council of jurisdiction. The parties agree, and the record supports, that the plan of structure was adopted by the Annual Conference during its 2010 session. The request for a bishop's decision of law was made during the 2011 session concerning the plan of structure and upon the belief that the plan of structure was incomplete and non-compliant. We address the bishop's decision of law as it comes to us.
The bishop’s decision of law was limited to the specific functions framed within the request that referenced paragraphs 629, 632, 633 and 642 of the Discipline. Because these were the only structures referenced in the request and in the bishop’s decision, we have not conducted a complete and thorough review of the amendments to the Standing Rules of the North Texas Annual Conference. Such a comprehensive review is not properly before us. In an attempt to comply with constitutional and disciplinary requirements, the Center for Missional Outreach was relabeled to include the Committee on Ethnic Local Church Concerns (¶ 632.1), the commission or committee on Christian unity and interreligious concerns (¶ 642), the committee on disability concerns (¶ 653), the board of church and society (¶ 629.1), the board of global ministries (¶ 633.1), and the committee on parish and community development (¶ 633.5). Such action fails to meet the requirements set forth in the Discipline as interpreted by previous Judicial Council decisions and denies the conference the representative participation and involvement of a body of people dedicated to the purposes and causes set forth in the Discipline for these bodies.
Under ¶ 604, an annual conference for its own government may adopt rules and regulations not in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. When an annual conference elects to combine various functions that are separately provided for in the Discipline, the annual conference must address how the new entity which will be responsible for these various functions will operate to ensure that the requirements of the Discipline are achieved. The annual conference must specifically enumerate the responsibilities of the new entity to ensure that all mandated provisions of the Discipline are clearly assigned. The connectional relationships and functions cannot be on paper only, but must be legitimate working connections and functions with appropriately adopted budgets finally approved by the annual conference. In addition, the number of members, the method of nomination and election, fixed terms and diversity of membership must be exactly as stated in the Discipline. See Decisions 835 and 928.
The plan of structure that would create a Center for Missional Outreach fails to delineate how the function, connection, and membership of the operating board or committee of the center will comply with the Discipline. All of the centers established must provide for function, connection, membership and method of election of each such center board or committee. Membership of the boards of the centers must be elected by the Annual Conference upon proper nomination. An annual conference may not delegate its authority to elect members of conference boards and agencies. At a minimum, the task of electing members of the boards or committees of the operating entities of each center must be completed and clearly delineated in the Standing Rules and plan of structure.
The 2011 Leadership Nominations for the Center for Missional Outreach presented to the Annual Conference are incomplete and not sufficiently specific. The Annual Conference must elect members to serve on its boards, agencies and commissions and may not delegate its authority for electing said members. The oral presentation suggests that the establishment of center boards is in progress. The electoral process should have taken place at the time of the adoption of the plan of structure. As presently situated, the plan of structure is incomplete and invalid.
We determine that the Amendments to the Standing Rules of the North Texas Annual Conference that have been provided do not comply with the Discipline. From the plan of structure in the record before us, we determine that the Annual Conference has failed to fully address how the proposed entities will be responsible for the various mandated functions specified in the Discipline. Additionally, the Annual Conference has failed to enumerate the specific responsibilities of the new entities so as to ensure that all mandated provisions of the Discipline have been clearly assigned. Establishment of an alternative plan of structure is permissible. However, this plan is incomplete and is, therefore, remanded for completion of the intended plan of structure.
Decision 835 is instructive to annual conferences who desire to utilize alternative structures in ordering their work. Although the following guidelines are not fully exhaustive, the Judicial Council strongly affirms said guidelines for proper facilitation of any change of structure by an annual conference in accordance with the 2008 Discipline.
1. All boards, commissions and committees mandated by the Discipline shall be maintained, clearly identified and defined and the connectional relationship shall be clear and obvious. Any equivalent structure must be defined by name, function, connection and membership. An annual conference cannot vote to approve, disapprove or modify the Discipline in development of a plan of structure. The mandated boards, commissions and committees cannot be removed or reinstated in restructuring but rather must exist.
2. The delegation of functions of the mandated boards, commissions and committees is improper.
3. The connectional relationships and functions cannot be on paper only but must be legitimate working relationships and functions with appropriately adopted budgets finally approved by the annual conference.
4. The prescribed number of members with method of nomination, election, fixed terms and diversity of membership must be exactly as stated in the 2008 Discipline. This disciplinary mandate is applicable to any equivalent for boards, commissions, and committees for which the “disciplinary name” has been changed.
5. The method of funding of each structure must be defined in the adopted plan including submission in the prescribed manner as contained in the 2008 Discipline to the conference council on finance and administration and for final action by the annual conference.
6. Connectional relationships must encompass the local church, district, the Annual Conference and General Conference where mandated by the 2008 Discipline.
7. Conferences are urged to give careful attention to the requirements of the 2008 Discipline as interpreted by previous decisions of the Judicial Council.


The bishop’s decision of law is reversed, and the Amendments to the Standing Rules of the North Texas Annual Conference relating to structure are hereby remanded for further revision. Nomination and election of the members of the operating boards for the specific agencies must be accomplished and all mandated functions must be clearly delineated. We remand the cause to the North Texas Annual Conference for further revision and completion of its plan of structure. On remand, the Annual Conference should take the opportunity to conduct a comprehensive and thorough review of its rules of structure in order to comply with the Discipline and previous decisions of the Judicial Council.

DECISION

The bishop’s decision of law is reversed. Under ¶ 604, an annual conference for its own government may adopt rules and regulations not in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. All boards, commissions and committees mandated by the Discipline shall be maintained, clearly identified, and defined. The connectional relationships shall be clear and obvious. Any equivalent structures must be defined by name, function, connection, and membership. The cause is remanded to the North Texas Annual Conference for further revision and completion of its intended plan. Nomination and election of the members of the boards and committees of the operating agencies must be completed. We retain jurisdiction and instruct that the revised plan of structure be submitted to the Secretary of the Judicial Council no later than 30 days following the close of 2012 regular session of the North Texas Annual Conference.

CONCURRING OPINION


I concur with the majority decision. This concurring opinion is offered in the interest of transparency. Each member of the Judicial Council should observe high standards of conduct to honor the integrity and the impartiality of the judicial process. Judicial Council members should avoid any and all impropriety and conduct all judicial and extra judicial activities so that they do not cast doubt on the member’s ability to act fairly and impartially.
I am a clergy member of the North Texas Annual Conference and, at the request of the bishop, I agreed to serve as a member of the Strategic Planning Team that worked to develop a new approach to the organization of the annual conference for fulfilling its mission more effectively. When the Strategic Planning Team began voting on a plan document, I announced to the group that I would abstain from any and all votes on the adoption of the plan. Similarly, when the plan was presented to the session of the annual conference for discussion, I announced to the plenary that I would abstain from any and all votes by the annual conference on the adoption of the plan.
After due consideration, having abstained from voting and having thereby chosen not to participate in any voting on recommending or approving the plan, I decided not to recuse from the matter that came to the Judicial Council.

William B. Lawrence

Friday, October 28, 2011.


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