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Decision No. 172

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May 04 1960
In Re: Request of the Central Conference of South- ern Asia Commission on Structure of Method- ism Overseas for a Joint Statement of the General Conference and the Judicial Council Clarifying the Power of Cen- tral Conferences to Make Such Changes and Adaptations in the Discipline as the Peculiar Con- ditions in the Fields Con- cerned May Require

Digest of Case

1. A request for an explanation, or for a statement of the implications or effect of decisions of the Judicial Council does not constitute a request for a declaratory decision under the provisions of Paragraph 914 of the Discipline. 2. The powers and duties of the General Conference and the Judicial Council are totally different and separate and apart and cannot be jointly exercised.

Statement of Facts

The following resolution was received from The Central Conference of Southern Asia Commission on Structure of Methodism Overseas: "The serious implications of the Judicial Council's interpretation of Paragraph 562 of General Conference Discipline, 1956 RESOLVED that this Commission request the General Conference to help us understand the implications of the Judicial Council's ruling concerning the meaning of Paragraph 562. In short when the Judicial Council was asked to give a decision regarding whether full clergy rights of women are to be allowed by Central Conferences, the Judicial Council gave its interpretation and has done so by interpreting the meaning of Paragraph 562 in a way which carries very serious implications for the work of the Church in Central Conference areas. Thus far the Central Conferences have been functioning on the basis of powers conferred under this paragraph. Indeed, the Central Conferences have adapted almost all sections of the Discipline other than those specifically reserved by this paragraph namely, the Constitution and General Rules of The Methodist Church. To cite but two examples, the Disciplinary provision relating to Supply Pastors has been made inoperative as Local Preachers take these places; and the retiring age of Bishops has been lowered. When the Judicial Council rendered its decision, it was based at least partly on 'the feeling' that the General Conference in 1948 had not intended to give this privilege to the Central Conferences. If the Central Conferences do not have powers to make such changes and adaptations as are mentioned in Paragraph 562, they are left in a very ambiguous state as to what their powers are. This applies not merely to the question of full clergy rights to women but to the other areas mentioned in Paragraph 562 namely, 'the local church, ministry, special advices, worship and temporal economy.' If the Central Conferences are not able to adapt the Discipline in the areas listed it will seriously hamper the development of the Church in their several countries. Specifically, at the point of full clergy rights for women, it is felt that this should not be forced upon a Central Conference when conditions do not warrant it. It seems wisest to leave that decision to the Central Conferences concerned. It is certainly not the intention of this Commission to run counter to anything in the Constitution or the General Rules; however, we must point out that in neither of these is anything stated about full clergy rights of women. Indeed, it might not be amiss to refer to the Articles of Religion to seek if some latitude was not envisaged in them in the expression of our common faith under differing conditions. For Article XXII does grant that 'it is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same, or exactly alike; for they have been always different, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word.' Also, 'Every particular church may ordain, change, or abolish rites and ceremonies, so that all things may be done to edification.' Granted that this permission to change concerns the outward form of a given rite, but it specifically grants the rather sweeping right to even abolish a given rite. The question might well be asked, was not the operation of Church under 562 prior to this ruling more in keeping with the spirit of Article XXII than the rigidity envisaged in the Declaratory Decision? We would like to simply be permitted to hold in abeyance this legislation regarding full clergy rights of women as permissive at this stage and let it be brought into operation in the Central Conference areas when it is deemed appropriate by the Central Conferences. Far more serious than this specific item of full clergy rights for women is the implication of the Judicial Council's decision that Paragraph 562 was revised by the General Conference in 1943 in such a manner as to not accurately express the will of the General Conference. If this is so and if the powers conferred under Paragraph 562 are deemed invalid the Central Conferences are placed in a most ambiguous state of legislative inability. This Commission would call attention to the fact that there were several dissenting voices on this Judicial Council Decision. While this Commission certainly does not wish to hold the Judicial Council in anything but proper respect, it would appeal to the Judicial Council and the General Conference to clarify exactly what powers are now conferred upon the Central Conferences to make such changes and adaptations as the peculiar conditions of the fields concerned require regarding 'the local church, ministry, special advices, worship and temporal economy within their territories.' INSTRUCTION: - This resolution to be sent to the General Conference, theJudicial Council, and the General Conference Commission on Structure of Methodism Overseas." JURISDICTION We have jurisdiction under Paragraph 914, subdivision 7, 1956 Discipline. ANALYSIS The resolution of the Commission appears to be a request directed jointly to the General Conference and to the Judicial Council for an explanation of the Judicial Council's decisions relating to the power of Central Conferences under Paragraph 562 of the Discipline. The request of the Commission is to "clarify what powers are now conferred upon the Central Conferences" to make such changes and adaptations as may be required by the peculiar conditions of the fields concerned. It appears that this request is presented because of the Judicial Council's decisions made during the past Quadrennium on this subject, and that while it may involve questions of statutory construction, the main purpose is to require an explanation of the Council's prior decisions and to request a statement of the implications and effect thereof. In each of these Decisions (Judicial Council's Decisions Number 142, 147 and Number 155) the reasons supporting the conclusions are fully stated. Since such requests as are here made do not ask for a ruling as to the meaning, application or effect of an act or of legislation of the General Conference, they do not fall within the provisions of Paragraph 914 of the Discipline providing for declaratory decisions. It is important to note that in the concluding paragraph of the resolution, it is stated that the Commission "would appeal to the Judicial Council and the General Conference" to clarify powers conferred upon Central Conferences to make necessary changes and adaptations. There is no provision in the constitution or law of the Church which provides for or permits such joint action on the part of the legislative and judicial bodies of the Church. The powers and duties of the General Conference and the Judicial Council are totally different and separate and apart and cannot be jointly exercised. It is our opinion that there is no proper request for a judicial decision before the Judicial Council.

Decision

It is the decision of the Judicial Council that: A request for an explanation, or for a statement of the implications and effect of decisions of the Judicial Council does not constitute a request for a declaratory decision under the provisions of Paragraph 914 of the Discipline; The powers and duties of the General Conference and the Judicial Council are totally different and separate and cannot be jointly exercised and; Therefore the resolution of The Central Conference of Southern Asia Commission on Structure of Methodism Overseas does not properly present a request for a judicial decision.

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