Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 136
October 25 1956
In Re: Privilege of Voting for Approved Supply Elders
Digest of Case
An Annual Conference may not extend voting privileges to full-time Approved Supply Pastors who are ordained Elders and who have served charges during the past year.
Statement of Facts
On September 4, 1956, the Judicial Council received the following communication from Robert H. Courtney, Secretary of the North-East Ohio Annual Conference of The Methodist Church: "To the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church: "The following is certified to be a true copy of the Journal of the North-East Ohio Conference of The Methodist Church: "Wednesday, June 20, 1956, the North-East Ohio Annual Conference meeting in Lakeside, Ohio, approved the following recommendation on motion of H. B. Williams, Secy. of the Cabinet: "'We recommend that under the General Conference legislation empowering an Annual Conference to permit full time Approved Supply Elders in charge of a church or churches to vote on all matters not affecting orders and Conference membership, we extend that privilege to the men covered by that legislation at this session of the North-East Ohio Annual Conference.' (Approved by a standing vote, aye 399, no 28) "Saturday, June 23, 1956, the North-East Ohio Annual Conference of The Methodist Church meeting at Lakeside, Ohio - "'Judicial Statement - on motion of Clarence H. LaRue, the North-East Ohio Conference requested a Declaratory Statement from the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church relative to the voting privilege for full time Approved Supply Elders in charge of a church or churches.' "Respectfully submitted, (signed) Robert H. Courtney Robert H. Courtney, Secretary The North-East Ohio Annual Conference The Methodist Church" JURISDICTION Under Paragraph 914 (8) of the 1952 Discipline, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to render a declaratory decision on the question thus submitted to it by the North-East Ohio Annual Conference. ANALYSIS On May 7, 1956, Calendar No. 133, Report No. 12, Committee on Ministry, Subject: Voting Privileges for Supply Men, was duly presented to and adopted bythe General Conference of The Methodist Church in session at Minneapolis, Minnesota, as follows: "An Annual Conference, may, by a three-fourths vote, at the opening of the annual session, grant to full-time approved supply pastors who are ordained elders and who have served charges during the past year, the privilege of voting at that session on all matters before the Conference, except those dealing with ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers, and the election of lay and ministerial delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences." Acting under the provisions of this legislation the North-East Ohio Annual Conference as above stated did on June 20, 1956, pass the above stated motion to permit full-time Approved Supply Elders in charge of a church or churches to vote on all matters not affecting orders and conference membership. Already the law of the Church under Paragraph 317 of the 1952 Discipline provides that "An approved supply pastor who is in charge of a pastoral appointment shall attend the sessions of the Annual Conference and shall have the privilege of speaking on any question, but without vote." Hence the only question herein involved concerns the right to vote. The right to vote is the ultimate privilege in any organization and in effect bestows membership. The Constitution of The Methodist Church (Section VII, Article I, Division Two of the Constitution, Paragraph 21 of the 1952 Discipline) reads as follows: "The Annual Conference shall be composed of all the traveling preachers in full connection with it, together with a lay member elected by each pastoral charge. The lay members shall be at least twenty-one (21) years of age and shall have been for the four years next preceding their election members of one of the constituent churches forming this union, or of The Methodist Church." Article II of said Section VII of the Constitution, Paragraph 22 of the 1952 Discipline, reads as follows: "The Annual Conference is the basic body in the church, and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of ministerial and lay delegates to the General and the Jurisdictional or Central Conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members, and on the ordination of ministers, and such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution, with the exception that the lay members may not vote on matters of ordination, character, and conference relations of ministers. It shall discharge such duties and exercise such powers as the General Conference under the Constitution may determine." Specified herein as reserved to the Annual Conference is, among other items, the right to vote on all constitutional amendments and such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution. To grant an annual right to vote to certain approved supply pastors would in effect extend to them temporary membership in the Annual Conference, making an Annual Conference membership of traveling preachers in full connection, lay members and certain approved supply pastors. This Judicial Council has already stated under Decision No. 129: "It is hardly conceivable that an Annual Conference could grant to a non-member the right to vote on these important matters. There is no provision in the Constitution or in the law of the Church for an associate member of an Annual Conference." Furthermore, said Decision No. 129 states: "Only members of the Annual Conference can vote on the matters enumerated in the Constitution. By implication, it would be unconstitutional for an Annual Conference to grant the right to vote on any matter to a person not a member of the Annual Conference."
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that an Annual Conference cannot grant to full-time approved supply pastors who are ordained elders and who have served charges during the past year the privilege of voting on any matter, and that the legislation adopted by the 1956 General Conference permitting this privilege contravenes the Constitution of The Methodist Church. October 24, 1956 Concurring Opinion My colleagues have granted me the privilege of this concurring opinion which has as its purpose the setting forth of some of the arguments upon which the majority based its decision to take jurisdiction. Paragraph 43 of the Discipline, Division Four, Article II of the Constitution, defines the authority of the Judicial Council. Section 1 reads in part, "To determine the constitutionality of any act of the General Conference upon an appeal of the majority of the Council of Bishops, or one fifth of the members of the General Conference; . . ." Other sections of this Paragraph deal with other powers and duties of the Judicial Council and section 5 reads, "To have such other duties and powers as may be conferred upon it by the General Conference." In Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline the General Conference conferred other duties and powers, "When the General Conference shall have passed any act or legislation that appears to be subject to more than one interpretation, or when any paragraph or paragraphs seem to be of doubtful meaning or application, . . . (certain authorities in the Church affected thereby) . . . may petition the Judicial Council for a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application, and effect of such act, legislation, or paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline; and the Decision of the Judicial Council thereon shall be as binding and effectual as a decision on appeal under the law relating to appeals to the Judicial Council." Decision No. 37 of the Judicial Council on May 9, 1946, refused jurisdiction in the case of a request from an Annual Conference for a declaratory decision on the question of the constitutionality of an act of the General Conference. It refused to take jurisdiction on two grounds, first, that it had no authority to do so under Paragraph 43, section 1, of the Constitution and, second, that it had no authority to do so under General Conference legislation, stating that "Neither is there any authority in Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline for Declaratory Decisions in response to appeals from Annual Conferences." It was the judgment of the Judicial Council that the Annual Conference was not included in those authorities noted in Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline which would have the right to petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision. It would seem a logical inference that if in the judgment of the Judicial Council the Annual Conference had been included in those authorities noted in Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline, the Judicial Council could have taken jurisdiction in the matter then before it. The General Conference in 1952 opened the door which the Judicial Council had declared in its Decision No. 37 to be closed. It passed legislation amending Paragraph 914 by specifying those bodies within The Methodist Church which had the right to petition the Judicial Council for declaratory decisions and section 8 of Paragraph 914 of the 1952 Discipline included among such bodies, "Any Annual Conference on matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein." Certainly the Annual Conference has no authority to survey the acts and legislation of the General Conference with the purpose simply of raising constitutional questions. However, "on matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein" the General Conference in Paragraph 914 of the Discipline has granted the Annual Conference the right to petition the Judicial Council for relief concerning any act or legislation of the General Conference that appears to be subject to more than one interpretation, or concerning any paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline which seem to be of doubtful meaning or application, and has authorized the Judicial Council to take jurisdiction even though in the granting of such relief in the nature of a declaratory decision concerning the meaning, application and effect of such act or legislation, paragraph or paragraphs, the Judicial Council must deal with questions of constitutionality. When Paragraph 914 of the Discipline speaks of "any paragraph or paragraphs of the Discipline which seem to be of doubtful meaning or application" it does not distinguish between paragraphs of General Conference legislation and paragraphs of the constitution, nor does it exempt paragraphs of the constitution from consideration in the declaratory decisions permitted. Surely when a paragraph of General Conference legislation seems to be in conflict with a paragraph of the constitution the former "seems to be of doubtful meaning or application" and no declaratory decision can determine its "meaning, application, and effect' without interpreting it in terms of constitutional provisions, or, when the nature of the conflict requires it, dealing with the question of its constitutionality. Since 1952 the Judicial Council has taken jurisdiction in many petitions from Annual Conferences for declaratory decisions. Always, before taking jurisdiction, the Judicial Council carefully determines whether or not the petition is concerned with "matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein." This provides a severe limitation on the rights of Annual Conferences to petition the Judicial Council for declaratory decisions. If, in addition to this, the Judicial Council be also required, before taking jurisdiction, to determine whether or not any question of constitutionality is involved, then the Judicial Council becomes involved in intricate arguments concerning its authority to take jurisdiction and the Annual Conference is denied what seems to be the clear intent of the General Conference in Paragraph 914 of the Discipline , namely, the right of direct petition to the Judicial Council for relief concerning any provision of the Discipline which "appears to be subject to more than one interpretation" or which seems "to be of doubtful meaning or application" and which seriously affects "Annual Conferences or the work therein." Ralph M. Houston Dissenting Opinion The majority say they take jurisdiction of the question submitted by the North-East Ohio Annual Conference for a declaratory decision under Paragraph 914 (8). The basic question is clearly the constitutionality of the 1956 General Conference legislation pursuant to which the Annual Conference acted. Believing that we do not have jurisdiction to make such a determination for the reasons expressed in the Dissenting Opinion in Decision Number 134, I respectfully dissent from this decision for those same reasons. In view of the Concurring Opinion in this Decision I feel I must add to my previous reasons that the word "Discipline" alone as used in Paragraph 914 should not be construed as including the Constitution especially when the latter is separately entitled in the Discipline, has been adopted and is amended in such a different manner than General Conference legislation, and generally in the Church is thought of as separate. Further "matters relating to Annual Conferences or the work therein" isn't much of a limitation on our jurisdiction to consider petitions for declaratory decisions from Annual Conferences as most legislation enacted by the General Conference will affect Annual Conferences. Donald A. Odell concurs in this Dissent. Ivan Lee Holt, Jr. Lester A. Welliver concurs in the Dissent but not in the argument of the Dissenting Opinion.