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Decision No. 147

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February 07 1958
In Re: The Right of a Central Conference to Amend Paragraph 207 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church Relating to the Qualifications for Membership on the Official Board of the Local Church

Digest of Case

A central conference cannot adopt legislation which would have the effect of changing, modifying or altering Paragraph 207 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church relating to the qualification for membership on the Official Board of the local church.

Statement of Facts

The 1956 session of the Latin American Central Conference of the Methodist Church held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, November llth-18th, 1956, adopted a resolution to modify the last paragraph of Paragraph 207 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church (1952 Edition) by rewriting said last paragraph, which reads as follows: "All lay members of the board shall be members of the local Methodist church; and in nominating and electing persons to such membership the utmost care shall be taken that only morally disciplined persons shall be so nominated with special reference to total abstinence from alcoholic beverages." So that said paragraph would read as follows: "All lay members of the board shall be members of the local Methodist church; and in nominating and electing persons to such membership, the utmost care shall be taken to search for such members of good testimony within the congregation as shall have given evidence of their fidelity to the church and of responsibility in the accomplishment of their duties." This proposed change was approved by a majority vote of said Conference. Following this action the constitutionality of the proposed modification was challenged and a motion was made to appeal to the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church for a decision thereupon. This motion was duly seconded and was supported by more than one-fifth of the members of the Conference. JURISDICTION The question here presented is properly before the Judicial Council in accordance with the procedure set forth in Paragraph 905 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church (1952 and 1956 Editions). ANALYSIS The question presented by this appeal is this: Does a Central Conferencehave the right to modify or change the qualifications for membership on the Official Board of the local church when such qualifications have been established by legislation enacted by the General Conference of The Methodist Church? Division Two, Section I, Article IV of the Constitution of The Methodist Church (Paragraph 8 of the Discipline of The Methodist Church, 1956 Edition) provides: "The General Conference shall have full legislative powers over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of said power shall have authority as follows:. . . . . . . . . . . . . "14. To enact such other legislation as may be necessary subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the church." (Emphasis added) The board terms of the above quoted section of the Constitution of The Methodist Church clearly indicate that the General Conference of The Methodist Church is the legislative body of the church. There is no other legislative body in the church. Division Two, Section V of the Constitution of The Methodist Church (Paragraphs 6 through 19 of the Discipline) provides for the organization and administration of Central Conferences for the work of The Methodist Church outside of the United States of America. Article IV of said Section V (Paragraph 19 of the Discipline) spells out the powers and duties conferred on the Central Conferences by the Constitution, and sub-paragraph 5 of the said Article IV grants Central Conferences the power "to make such rules and regulations for the administration of the work within their boundaries as the conditions in the respective areas may require, subject to the powers that have been or shall be vested in the General Conference." (Emphasis added) This appeal raises the question as to whether the action taken by the Latin American Central Conference on which this appeal arises was an effort to "make a rule or regulation for the administration of the work within its boundaries," or whether it was an attempt to legislate - not only to legislate, but to legislate in direct opposition to legislation already enacted by the General Conference as contained in Paragraph 207 of the Discipline. It is our opinion and we so hold that the attempt of the Latin American Central Conference to alter and amend Paragraph 207 of the Discipline insofar as it related to the churches within its boundaries was an effort or attempt to enact legislation and was not an attempt on its part to make a rule or regulation for the administration of the work within its boundaries. This a Central Conference cannot do, especially in those cases in which the General Conference has already adopted a policy by specific General Conference legislation. To hold otherwise would be to vest in the Central Conferences the power to accept or reject at will the legislation of the General Conference of The Methodist Church or to concede that the General Conference of The Methodist Church can delegate its legislative powers. The General Conference cannot delegate its legislative powers or transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it has been vested under the Constitution of The Methodist Church. This principle is well established in the civil law. Undoubtedly, legislation must often be adapted to complex conditions involving a host of details with which the legislative body cannot deal directly. The Constitution of our church recognizes the necessity for flexibility and practicality concerning the operation of the Central Conference of the church. Division Two, Section V, Article IV, Paragraph 5 quoted above provides the Constitutional framework within which rules and regulations may be adopted by the Central Conferences for the administration within their boundaries of the broad policy enactments of the General Conference. The General Conference itself has implemented this Constitutional grant of flexibility and practicality to the Central Conferences by the adoption of Paragraphs 562-582 of the Discipline (1956 Edition), but by none of these provisions does the General Conference transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it is vested. It has granted to the Central Conferences the right to make rules and regulations for the administering of the work within their boundaries as conditions require, but always within the framework of the legislative policy as fixed by the General Conference. As in example, by Paragraph 562 of the Discipline the General Conference has extended to the Central Conferences the power to make such changes and adaptations as the peculiar conditions on the fields concerned require regarding the local church, ministry, special advices, worship and temporal economy within its territory, providing that no action shall be taken which is contrary to the Constitution and the General Rules of The Methodist Church. The above quoted language was not intended to grant any blanket legislative authority to the Central Conferences. The General Conference could not have done so without violating the Constitution. This Constitutional principle was apparently recognized by the General Conference for in the paragraphs immediately following Paragraph 562 of the Discipline it spelled out with particularity the administrative areas in which the Central Conferences may make these permitted "changes and adaptations." It is significant that nowhere does the General Conference abdicate its legislative functions nor attempt to transfer those functions to the Central Conferences. Paragraph 207 of the Discipline is a legislative enactment by the General Conference of The Methodist Church and establishes the policy of the church concerning qualifications for membership on the Official Board of the local church. This legislation establishes the position of the church on the subject therein referred to unless and until modified or amended by the General Conference itself. The action of the Latin American Central Conference from which this appeal was taken was an effort to amend or modify the legislation so adopted by the General Conference and is therefore void.

Decision

It is therefore the decision of the Judicial Council that the resolution adopted by the Latin American Central Conference from which this appeal was taken was and is unconstitutional and void. February 8, 1958 Dissenting Opinion The majority opinion is based on two assumptions: (1) that "The GeneralConference cannot delegate its legislative powers or transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it has been vested under the Constitution of The Methodist Church"; and (2) that in adopting Paragraphs 562-582 of the Discipline (1956 Edition) "it (the General Conference) has only granted to the Central Conferences the right to make rules and regulations for the administering of the work within their boundaries as conditions require" and that "by none of these provisions does the General Conference transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it is vested." With neither of these assumptions can I agree. Three constitutional powers vested in the General Conference give it complete authority to invest Central Conferences with powers to modify legislative enactments of the General Conference so long as these modifications are within the constitutional limits restricting General Conference legislation itself. Paragraph 8, Introductory Statement of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, gives the General Conference "full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional." Paragraph 8. Subsection 4, of that Constitution permits the General Conference "to provide for the organization, promotion, and administration of the work of the church outside the United States of America." And Paragraph 19, Introductory Statement, declares that "The Central Conferences shall have the following powers and duties and such others as may be conferred by the General Conference." Invested with "full legislative power," directed "to provide for the organization, promotion, and administration of the work of the church outside the United States of America," and invested with full authority to confer "powers and duties" upon Central Conferences, the General Conference of The Methodist Church can assuredly delegate its legislative powers to Central Conferences to the fullest extent of the constitutional limitations set upon the General Conference itself in legislating. This appears to have been admitted both by the proponents and the opponents of the two constitutional amendments adopted by the General Conference of The Methodist Episcopal Church in 1928 and approved by Annual Conferences of that denomination during the ensuing quadrennium. These were the first constitutional provisions for Central Conferences in Methodism. Paragraph 19, Introductory Statement of the Constitution of The Methodist Church derives directly from one of these and preserves most of its language. These amendments were freely and completely discussed over a period of days before their adoption by the General Conference, and the whole tenor of the discussion indicates that general thinking gave widest interpretation to the powers with which the General Conference would be invested in dealing with Central Conferences. The interpretation that "The General Conference of The Methodist Church can assuredly delegate its legislative functions to Central Conferences to the fullest extent of the constitutional limitations imposed upon the General Conference itself in legislating" has been not only supported by what seems to have been the thinking of those who originally adopted the Constitutional provisions now in question but also by this Judicial Council. In Decision 121, adopted on July 30, 1955, this Council, without dissent, adopted an opinion stating specifically that the General Conference did have constitutional power to authorize a Central Conference, if the Central Conference should see fit to do so, to modify Paragraph 313 of the 1952 Discipline, said paragraph being without question not merely a rule or regulation but specific General Conference legislation on a matter of great importance. The majority opinion, therefore, places a strait-jacket upon the General Conference in its dealing with Central Conferences which is not warranted by the provisions of the Constitution. Nor can I agree with the subsidiary assumption of the majority opinion that in adopting Paragraphs 562-582 "It (the General Conference) has only granted to the Central Conferences the right to make rules and regulations for the administering of the work within their boundaries" and that "by none of these provisions does the General Conference transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it is vested." Paragraphs 562-582 - especially Paragraphs 562, 563, 565, 574, and 575 - relate not simply to "rules and regulations" but by any definition to "essential legislative functions." The most cursory examination reveals that they range the gamut of most matters on which the General Conference legislates. The understanding of the Central Conferences for the last eighteen years, since union, has been that to them broad powers to change and alter legislation enacted by the General Conference has been conferred by these and like paragraphs in preceding quadrennial editions of the Discipline. Under such understanding, as an examination of the Discipline of the Latin American Central Conference, the Africa Central Conference, and the Southern Asia Central Conference reveals, literally scores of "changes and adaptations" of the General Conference legislation have been made across the years and now exist in these editions. These practices and changes, especially in regard to power to change Paragraph 313 of the 1952 Discipline, seemed to have received Judicial approval in Decision 121. And, furthermore, the very wording of these Paragraphs 562-582 would indicate that the General Conference was knowingly dealing with something more than mere "rules and regulations." Note in Paragraph 562 the limitations so carefully placed upon the power of Central Conferences to make "changes and adaptations." Certainly these limitations do more than protect the General Conference against minor adjustment of "rules and regulations" for the work of the Central Conferences. The change in Paragraph 207 made by the Latin American Central Conference was made under the provisions of Paragraph 652. The General Conference intended through this paragraph to invest in Central Conferences the power to make changes and adaptations in "legislative enactments" of the General Conference under the limitations and restrictions imposed in the paragraph itself. The General Conference was constitutionally empowered to invest such power in a Central Conference. The proposed change in the Latin American Central Conference of Paragraph 207 was within the restrictions imposed by Paragraph 562. Although I may not agree with the advisability of this change and regret its adoption, I must hold that it was legally and constitutionally enacted. Therefore, I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion.

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