Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 348
October 07 1971
In Re: The Ruling of Bishop W. Maynard Sparks and the Request of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Responsibility of the Commission on World Service and Finance and the Annual Conference under Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline.
Digest of Case
The action of the 1970 General Conference in amending Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline made substantive changes in the law of the Church. It specifically took away from the Annual Conference and its Commission on World Service and Finance any power to review or reduce World Service apportionments from the Council on World Service and Finance. The amendments can be held to affect only the last two years of the quadrennium.
Statement of Facts
The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference had received an annual apportionment of $238,536 from the Council on World Service and Finance for the four years of this quadrennium. In 1969 and 1970 the Commission on World Service and Finance recommended and the Annual Conference accepted annual World Service apportionments of $220,000, an annual reduction of $18,536, a total decrease over the two years of $37,072. The total annual apportioned amount of $238,536 was included in each of the 1971 and 1972 budgets of the Annual Conference. At the session of the Annual Conference on June 12, 1971, a motion was made to amend the report of the Commission on World Service and Finance by increasing the World Service amount in the conference budget to an amount which would assure full acceptance of the total amount apportioned the Annual Conference for the quadrennium. The motion was defeated. The chair was then asked for a ruling on whether or not this action by the Commission on World Service and Finance and the Annual Conference was in agreement with the Discipline. Bishop Sparks ruled that it was . . . "that Pacific Northwest Conference has fully complied with the intention and text of the Book of Discipline as it now reads. The total distribution of apportionments made by the Council on World Service and Finance to Pacific Northwest Conference is mandatory during 1971 and 1972. Such a mandate, however, does not become retro-active to include the fiscal years of 1969 and 1970 when, during each of these two years at the beginning of the quadrennium, an amount smaller than the annual apportionment was distributed." Bishop Sparks' report indicates that the Annual Conference then appealed from his ruling to the Judicial Council. Apparently the Annual Conference took further action and requested of the Judicial Council a declaratory decision. Fred A. Rarden, secretary of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, sent to the Judicial Council a copy of this request which had three parts as follows: "1. Does a Conference Commission on World Service and Finance have the disciplinary power under Para. 902 to recommend to the Annual Conference an apportionment to the charges of a total amount for the quadrennium for World Service less than the total quadrennial apportionment for World Service voted by the General Conference and transmitted through the Council on World Service and Finance and the Treasurer of the General Church? * * * "2. Does the Annual Conference concerned have the disciplinary power to then accept the recommendation of its Commission on World Service and Finance? * * * "3. Do the amendments to Para. 902 adopted in 1970 substantively change the intent of Para. 902 regarding the duty to apportion 'without reduction for the quadrennium,' or does the amendment simply clarify an already existing duty of each Annual Conference?" JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraphs 1711 and 1715. ANALYSIS Since the Bishop's ruling and the request for a declaratory decision deal with the same matter and involve answers to the same questions they can both be covered in one decision. The basic issue here concerns the amendment to Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline which was adopted by the 1970 General Conference. It is recognized that it now denies to the Annual Conference any power to reduce world service apportionments from the Council on World Service and Finance. But what does the amendment imply concerning such powers of an Annual Conference prior to 1970? Paragraph 902 as amended by the 1970 General Conference, with no deletions and with additions underlined, now reads: "The commission, on receiving from the treasurer of the Council on World Service and Finance a statement of the amount apportioned that Annual Conference for world service, shall combine the total world service apportionment without reduction for the quadrennium and the approved conference benevolence budget (Par. 900) in one total sum to be known as world service and conference benevolences. The total world service apportionment as received from the Central Treasury and conference benevolence budget thus established shall include a statement of the percentage for world service and the percentage for conference benevolences and shall be distributed as received annually among the districts or charges by the method determined by the conference (Par. 903) and by such divisions and ratios as the conference may approve. A like distribution shall be made of Jurisdictional Conference apportionments and any other apportionments that have been properly made to the Annual Conference. The distribution of all apportionments mentioned in this paragraph shall be subject to the approval of the Annual Conference." The question is asked whether or not the 1970 amendment to Paragraph 902 substantively changed the intent of the paragraph. Did the 1968 paragraph equally with the 1970 amended paragraph intend to take from Annual Conferences and their Commissions on World Service and Finance the power to review or change world service apportionments from the Council on World Service and Finance? The question is really more than a question of intent. Assuming that this was the intent of the 1968 Paragraph, are the words of the paragraph sufficiently unequivocal to put the intent into effect? It was stated on the floor of the 1970 General Conference that the proposed amendment to Paragraph 902 simply clarified what was already the intent of the paragraph as interpreted by the Church. This may have been true for a majority of the Annual Conferences. There were a considerable number of Annual Conferences, however, which in good faith assumed that this paragraph did not remove from them their right to review and change world service apportionments. This assumption is understandable in view of the history of world service apportionments and Annual Conference prerogatives in the Methodist tradition. For instance, in the 1936 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, after the general Church had sent to the Annual Conferences the asking for general benevolences, "The World Service Council in each Annual Conference shall canvass the world service obligation of the conference and, after recognizing the financial obligations suggested by the World Service Commission, shall recommend the amount to be fixed as the conference world service goal for the year." While this was 36 years and 2 church unions ago, it is clear evidence of a strong tradition in the Church which lifted the necessity of a full support for its world service program, yet recognized the rights of Annual Conferences to review world service askings in the light of local situations. It was only 8 years later, in 1944, when the paragraph appeared in the Discipline of The Methodist Church which was to remain through the quadrenniums to become Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline of The United Methodist Church, largely with its original wording. It may be true that there has been an increasing intent through the quadrenniums to move away from the right of an Annual Conference to review world service apportionments. There are Annual Conferences, however, which out of the background of their own history in the Church, have assumed that they still had such powers of review, and never by any specific legislation was the Annual Conference denied such powers until the amendment of 1970 to Paragraph 902. However clear the intent of Paragraph 902 before amendment may seem to be, given the historical background of Annual Conference power to review world service apportionments, it must be acknowledged that there was sufficient ambiguity in the language of the paragraph to allow an Annual Conference to assume that such powers still existed. Whatever may have been the intent of the 1968 Paragraph 902, the effect of the 1970 amendment which denied to an Annual Conference any power to revise world service apportionments from the Council on World Service and Finance was certainly substantive. While the amended Paragraph 902 now requires the Annual Conference to accept its total world service apportionment "without reduction for the quadrennium," the quadrennium was half over before the amendment was made. It cannot be held to be retroactive. It must therefore be assumed that in this quadrennium its mandatory effect is only upon the annual world service apportionment for 1971 and 1972.
It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the amendment to Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline by the General Conference of 1970 did make substantive changes in the legislation of the Church by taking away the powers of an Annual Conference and its Commission on World Service and Finance to review and change world service apportionments received from the Council on World Service and Finance. The amendment cannot be held to be retroactive to the beginning of the quadrennium. It affects the powers of an Annual Conference in relation to the annual world service apportionments only for the last two years of the quadrennium. The ruling of Bishop Sparks is hereby affirmed. October 8, 1971. Dissenting Opinion I must respectfully dissent. The majority, I feel, ignore the language of Paragraph 902 as it became a part of the law of the united church in 1968, disregard its legislative history and depart from the usual standards of interpretation which should govern a judicial body. While the amendments adopted by the 1970 General Conference reiterated and clarified the duty of an Annual Conference to pass on to its districts and charges the total quadrennial world service apportionment, it made no substantive change in Paragraph 902. That obligation of total distribution existed from the moment of unification in 1968, just as it existed for many years prior thereto in each of the constituent churches. Considering first the pre-1968 requirements of the former The Methodist Church it is clear that since 1944 the Discipline of that denomination contained a paragraph worded almost precisely the same as Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline. The new wording of the 1944 Discipline was at substantial variance from the requirement of the 1936 Discipline upon which the majority opinion places so much reliance. The new Paragraph 836 of the 1944 Discipline was introduced by the then Commission on World Service and Finance. It departed from the 1936 language of volunteerism and instead adopted the positive requirements that the Annual Conference Commission "upon receiving from the Treasurer of the General Commission on World Service and Finance a statement of the amount apportioned that Annual Conference shall combine the World Service apportionment and the approved Conference Benevolence Budget in one total sum.... The total World Service and Conference Benevolence Budget thus established shall be distributed annually among the districts or charges. . ." (Italics added.) Bishop Costen J. Harrell in explaining the new measure to the 1944 General Conference observed that the purpose was to "combine the World Service apportionment and the approved Benevolent budget in a total sum and pass them down to the Churches or districts." (Italics supplied.) See 1944 G. C. Daily Proceedings, p. 25. This mandated procedure on the Annual Conference level, as distinguished from the continued volunteerism at the local level leaving to the local church the right to accept or reject the World Service apportionment, was the policy of The Methodist Church when it came to union in 1968. The 1967 Discipline of the former The Evangelical United Brethren Church likewise positively imposed upon the Annual Conferences of that denomination the duty to pass on and distribute to the local churches the comparable apportionments of the general church. In Paragraphs 115, 1290 and 1318 of the 1967 Discipline it required the Annual Conference to accept such apportionments. The requirements of acceptance of the Christian Service Fund apportionments by the local churches left no discretion, even at that level, but was positive and unconditional. (See Paragraphs 63 and 850 of the 1967 Discipline of the former The Evangelical United Brethren Church.) Thus at the time of unification in 1968 it seems clear that the intention of the Uniting Conference in adopting Paragraph 902 of the Discipline was to carry forward the obligation of an Annual Conference to distribute to its districts and charges the total World Service apportionment for the quadrennium as received from the Central Treasury. It is understandable that Bishop W. Maynard Sparks in transmitting his ruling to the Judicial Council observed: "Historically, the former Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches apportioned to their Annual Conferences amounts for World Service Fund and Christian Service Fund, respectively, which were meant to be distributed in toto to districts and charges. In my mind there is no doubt that in each denomination such was the intent of its legislation." This being the state of the church law on the subject as carried into the 1968 Discipline in Paragraph 902 the Bishop's ruling should have been to the contrary of that which he rendered. The 1970 General Conference did not delete any words from Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline. Its amendments, proposed by the Council on World Service and Finance were expressly stated to be clarifications and reiterations and not substantive changes. See Report No. 1, D.C.A., p. 36. Bishop Paul Hardin in speaking for the Council at the 1970 General Conference said: "As we read the Discipline we do not interpret it that the Annual Conference has anything to do except to pass on to the local churches the total asking for that conference. The local churches have the right to accept it, refuse it, increase it, or reject it. . . ." (1970 D.C.A., p. 97) Other provisions of the 1968 Discipline, in close relation to the subject matter of Paragraph 902 provide interpretive aid. Paragraph 861 is of particular relevance, reading: "The World Service Fund is basic in the financial program of The United Methodist Church. World Service on apportionment (par. 870) represents the minimum needs of the general agencies of the Church. Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches and annual conferences is the first benevolent responsibility of the Church." See also Paragraphs 881 and 907 of the Discipline likewise mandating full distribution of specific fund apportionments determined by the Council on World Service and Finance. It is an accepted legal rule of statutory interpretation that statutes upon the same matter or general subject are to be construed together to determine legislative intent. The majority opinion herein substantially ignores these related paragraphs. The issue in the instant case is largely moot since the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference has heretofore established its budget and distributed its World Service apportionments to local churches for 1972, the final year of the current quadrennium. The difficulty of now distributing the amounts by which the quadrennial World Service was improperly reduced is recognized. Nevertheless it is important that decisions on the law of the church be grounded on established principles of interpretation and not be governed by the degree of acceptability at a given time. Bishop Sparks was correct in finding that Paragraph 902 of the 1968 Discipline intended in toto distribution of the World Service apportionment. He erred in failing to uphold that intendment and interpretation. Certainly the 1970 amendments of clarification and reiteration could not have operated to suspend the positive requirements of Paragraph 902 which existed before 1970. There being no substantive change worked by the 1970 amendments it is erroneous to invoke irrelevant arguments of impermissible retroactivity. SAMUEL W. WITWER Mr. Theodore Berry likewise dissents from the majority opinion for the reasons set forth in Mr. Witwer's dissenting opinion. THEODORE M. BERRY