Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 350
April 14 1972
In Re: Status of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia with Respect to Union with Other Churches in the Church of North India.
Digest of Case
The Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia (M.C.S.A.), pursuant to authority granted by the General Conference of 1968, "commended" to its constituent Annual Conferences a Plan of Union with other churches in a new church to be known as the Church of North India. The Annual Conferences approved the Plan. A subsequent extra session of the Central Conference took another vote on the Plan of Union and rejected it; whereupon M.C.S.A. withdrew from further participation in the Plan of Union and the Church of North India was formed without the involvement of M.C.S.A. In the light of surrounding circumstances, the original "commendation" of the Plan of Union by the Central Conference was a vote of approval and it was beyond the authority of the subsequent extra session of the Central Conference to reconsider the matter. The appeals which challenge the legality of the subsequent rejection of Union by the Central Conference are not moot. The authorization given M.C.S.A. by the 1968 General Conference is still effective. All necessary approvals for Union have been voted by M.C.S.A. The Church of North India has invited a resumption of negotiations within the framework of Plan Four. The issue of church union is returned to the Central Conference of the Church of Southern Asia for such implementing action as it may deem appropriate.
Statement of Facts
We have consolidated for decision appeals by (1) The Madhya Pradesh Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Asia (M.C.S.A.) and (2) a minority of more than twenty percent of the voting members of the Central Conference of that Church. Both appeals question the legality of an action taken by an extra session of that Central Conference in voting disapproval of union with other churches into the Church of North India after the Plan of Union had previously been "commended" by an earlier session of the Central Conference and approved by the constituent Annual Conferences. The authority of the minority members of the Central Conference to appeal was sustained in our decision No. 338. The facts are not in dispute. The Methodist Church in Southern Asia has been an active leader in negotiating for church union for more than forty years. A third Plan of Union was submitted to the Annual Conferences early in the 1960's but they failed to approve it by the requisite two-thirds vote. In January, 1965, the Central Conference voted to continue union negotiations and, in due course, a fourth Plan of Union was agreed upon by the negotiators. Thereupon, at a meeting held February 1011, 1967, the Executive Board of M.C.S.A., acting at the request of the Commission on Church Union of M.C.S.A., approved a petition to the General Conference of 1968 for authority to consummate such union. That petition, omitting preambles, was as follows: "BE IT HEREBY RESOLVED THAT THE GENERAL CONFERENCE OF 1968 BE PETITIONED FOR AN ENABLING ACT TO AUTHORIZE THE METHODIST CHURCH IN SOUTHERN ASIA TO CONSUMMATE CHURCH UNION AS PROVIDED FOR IN THE PLAN OF CHURCH UNION IN NORTH INDIA AND PAKISTAN (Fourth Edition, 1965, published by the Christian Literature Society, Park Town, Madras, India) WHEN THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS HAVE BEEN MET: "(1) A 2/3 affirmative vote by 1968-69 Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia for the said Plan, followed by- (2) A 2/3 affirmative vote of the members present and voting of the several Annual Conferences of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia, and (3) Such other requirements as established by the General Conference concerning consummation of Church Union between a part of the Methodist Church and another church or churches, in order to provide for continued co-operation between the Methodist Church and the new church in such matters as reciprocal recognition of ministers and members, finances, personnel and so forth, similar to that provided in Para 2011 of the 1956 General Conference Discipline." (Italics added.) The 1968 General Conference gave the requested authorization by approving a recommendation of COSMOS as follows: "b. COSMOS recommends that the Annual Conferences in India be authorized to consummate church union in the Plan of Union for North India (Fourth Edition) provided a 2/3 affirmative vote in the Central and Annual Conferences is secured and those steps in Par. 607 (1964 Discipline) which are suggested by COSMOS be used in the union procedures." This recommendation was clarified by a suggestion made by Bishop R. D. Joshi and accepted by the General Conference (D.C.A., p. 239) : "R. D. Joshi (North India): Mr. Chairman, I feel there is a significant omission, perhaps by oversight, in this motion. Our request from India was for a conditional enabling act, that is, the request for an enabling act to go into the Plan of Union according to the Plan of Union in North India provided we secure the necessary two-thirds aggregate majority from the Annual and Central Conferences. I move that this omission be corrected. "Bishop Raines: We will be happy to accept this, Mr. Chairman. It was left out by..... "Bishop Corson:..... Those who will adopt with this correction will lift their hand. (Show of hands) And those opposed. And it is adopted." The Central Conference acted upon this authorization at its regular session held in Bangalore on December 30, 1968, through January 5, 1969. It adopted, by a vote of 122 to 5, a series of resolutions, the here relevant portions of which are: "1. Resolved that the Central Conference commend the IV Edition of the Plan of Church Union in North India to the eleven Annual Conferences of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia for their 'Yes' or 'No' vote. (Italics added.) "2. Resolved that in case the Plan is accepted by the two-thirds majority of the members of the Annual Conferences present and voting, the Bishops, with the concurrence of the Executive Board, shall call a special Session of the Central Conference, in order to do the business necessary for a smooth transition into the Church of North India. * * * "5. The Special Session of the Central Conference shall transact the following business: "(a) Authorize the four bishops at the time of Union to be taken as Diocesan Bishops in the Church of North India. "(b) Elect 12 nominees for Diocesan Bishops to be presented to the Central Electoral Body. These 12 nominees to be elected from the panel of 18 names presented by the Executive Board or from any others nominated from the floor. Election will be by secret ballot. "(c) Following the election of the Nominees for the Episcopacy the Nominating Committee of the Central Conference, together with the four Bishops, shall nominate a panel of names for members of the Central Electoral Body." The Plan of Union thereupon was submitted to the eleven Annual Conferences of the Church for a "yes" or "no" vote at their 1969 sessions, and approved by an aggregate vote of 662 to 298. This was twenty-two more than the required two-thirds majority. Thereupon, the Secretary and Constituted Attorney of the Executive Board of M.C.S.A. issued the following certificate: "On the basis of certificates duly signed by the presiding bishops and secretaries of the 11 Annual Conferences of the M.C.S.A. and in consultation with the College of Bishops, I hereby declare that the M.C.S.A. has achieved the required number 2/3 majority to unite with the Church of North India on the basis of the Fourth Plan (Revised Edition) of the Plan of Church Union in North India/Pakistan." The Executive Board, meeting in Hyderabad December 17, 1969, acting upon the approvals given by the Annual Conferences, passed a resolution which stated: "1. The Executive Board of M.C.S.A. hereby declares that the M.C.S.A. has voted in favor of joining church union according to the Fourth Edition of the 'Plan of Church Union in North India.' "The votes cast were as follows: "Total votes "Total votes for 662 "Total votes against 298 "The total affirmative votes was 22 in excess of the required 2/3 majority of 640. By this step the M.C.S.A. has made its irrevocable decision to enter into this union." Promptly thereafter, official notification of approval of the Plan of Union by M.C.S.A. was sent to the Interdenominational Negotiating Committee on Church Union which was then in session at Nagpur, and to other interested parties. The official resolution of the Executive Board and a detailed report was forwarded to the Secretary of COSMOS by the Secretary of the Executive Board. The Chairman of COSMOS responded with letters to all four bishops of M.C.S.A. for their guidance at the time of the 1970 extra session of the Central Conference, called specifically to arrange for transition into union. Bishop R. D. Joshi, who was one of the presiding bishops in the Central Conference and who had guided the authorizing resolution through the General Conference, writing under date of November 25, 1969, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Commission on Church Union and the Structure of Methodism in the M.C.S.A., advised the Secretary of the Council of Bishops, the General Secretary and the Treasurer of the Council on World Service and Finance, the President of the Board of Missions, the Chairman of COSMOS and the President of the Judicial Council that: "The Methodist Church in Southern Asia, under the Enabling Act given by the 1968 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, has voted by the required two-thirds majority to unite with six other denominations to form the new Church of North India." The unofficial understanding was to the same effect. United Methodist Information issued a special release on November 18, 1969, reporting: "In an historic decision . . . the 600,000-member Southern Asia (India) Central Conference has voted to go into church union . . . The Indian church press carried similar stories. The Executive Board met in Bombay in February 23 and 24, 1970 to work on plans for the forthcoming extra session of the Central Conference, which the regular session of that Conference had directed the bishops and the Executive Board to call for the purpose of working out "the business necessary for a smooth transition into the Church of North India." Up to this point in time, there had been no publicly voiced suggestion, formal or informal, that the action of the Central Conference in "commending" the Plan of Union to the Annual Conferences and their votes of approval, fell short in any way from complete compliance with the authorization given by General Conference to vote M.C.S.A. into the proposed Church of North India. However, at the Executive Board meeting of February 23-24, 1970, one or more members questioned whether the earlier action of the Central Conference in "commending" the Plan of Union to the constituent Annual Conferences had, in fact, amounted to an approval of the Plan by the Central Conference. It was thereupon decided by a majority vote to recommend in addition to the previously mandated agenda of the forthcoming extra session of the Central Conference a motion to accept the Plan of Union. That decision was implemented at a meeting of the Executive Board held the day before the opening of the extra session of the Central Conference at Delhi on August 6, 1970. A resolution, in the following terms, was agreed upon for submission to the Central Conference: "Whereas the General Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting in April 1968 in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A. granted an enabling act contained in its journal as follows: "'COSMOS recommends that the Annual Conference in India be authorized to consummate church union in the Plan of Union for North India (Fourth Edition) provided a 2/3 affirmative vote in the Central and Annual Conferences is secured and those steps in Para 607 (1964 Discipline) which are suggested by COSMOS be used in the union procedures.' (From Journal of the 1968 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, Volume II, page 1782 B-2-b). "The foregoing was clarified by the following: "R. D. Joshi (North India-OS) called attention to an omission that the words 'provided they secure the necessary two-thirds aggregate majority from the Annual and Central Conferences.' Bishop Raines accepted this, B was approved. (From 'Journal of the 1968 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, Vol. 1, page 434). "Be It Hereby Resolved: "THAT, the Extra Session of the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia, meeting at Delhi, India, August 6-9, 1970, pursuant to the foregoing, hereby votes to accept the Plan of Union in North India, Fourth Revised Edition 1965." The resolution made no reference to the earlier vote of commendation by the Central Conference or to the approving votes of the Annual Conferences, already received. The printed program of the extra session of the Central Conference had on its proposed agenda the following item: "August 6, 1970 (Thursday) "5.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. 'Vote on the Plan of Union of North India, Fourth Revised Edition."' The Conference Journal reports that-- "The program as printed was adopted by an overwhelming majority." The remainder of the agenda was the one directed by the earlier regular session of the Central Conference at the time it "commended" the plan to the Annual Conferences. In the debate on the agenda item added by the Executive Board calling for a vote on approval of the Plan of Union, the authority of the Central Conference to take such a vote was challenged on various grounds, each of which is included in the appeals before us; namely, (1) that the Executive Board had no authority to add to the Conference agenda an item not included in the direction of the previous Central Conference; (2) that the Plan of Union amounted to a constitutional amendment which could only be voted on in a regular session; and (3) that it was beyond the authority of the extra session of the Conference to take such a vote in view of the earlier vote at the regular session commending the Plan to the Annual Conferences. The objections were overruled and a vote taken on the above-quoted resolution to approve the Plan of Union. It was defeated by a vote of 106 to 48. Thereupon, the Conference adopted the following resolution: "Whereas the house voted in the morning session of August 7, 1970 not to accept the Plan of Church Union of North India, Fourth Revised Edition, 1965, "Be it hereby resolved. that, having studied the petitions still pending, all which concern the Plan of Church Union in North India be declared infructuous." Soon after the adjournment of the Central Conference, the Executive Board adopted the following resolution: ". . . The Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia places on record the decision of the Extra Session of the Central Conference meeting in Delhi from August 6th-7th, 1970, its vote against approving the Plan of Union of the Church of North India (Fourth Edition) by a vote of 48 for and 106 against. "With this action the Methodist Church in Southern Asia ceases negotiations which are being conducted by the seven churches looking forward to consummation of union in the Church of North India." Thereupon, all parties in interest were notified that M.C.S.A was dropping out of the Plan of Union. However, union was perfected by the other six participating churches and the Church of North India came into being at a formal service of union held November 29, 1970. Since union, the Church of North India has invited M.C.S.A. to renew negotiations on the basis of the Fourth Plan of Union, subject to such revisions as circumstances may require. Pursuant to our holding in Decision No. 338, we requested an advisory opinion of the Judicial Court of M.C.S.A. on the questions: "(1) whether the Central Conference meant to give approval of the Plan of Union by its commendation of that plan in submitting it to a vote of the Annual Conference, and (2) whether the Executive Board had the authority to broaden the agenda for the extra session by adding to the bishop's agenda a vote of approval or disapproval of the Plan of Union." The Judicial Court met twice to consider our request. Their competence to act upon our request was challenged at the outset by the argument of various individuals and groups in M.C.S.A. that six of the nine members of the Judicial Court were also members of the Executive Board, that the President of the Court was also the Secretary and Constituted Attorney for the Board and that all of the members of the Court had participated in the voting at the extra session of the Central Conference. In the face of these challenges, the Judicial Court of M.C.S.A. has advised us that it has decided that it ought not to express an opinion on the matters referred to it. Its decision reads: "In the last session of this Court it had unanimously affirmed its competence in this matter even though 6 of the 9 members of this Court are also members of the Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia. "It was considered by this court, at one stage, that those who are members of the Executive Board should withdraw from the Court during consideration of this matter. But it was found that their withdrawal would leave the Court without a quorum and thus incapacitate the Court for any action. It was recognized that members of the Court ought not to have a dual role involving membership also in the Executive Board of the Church. The administration and the Judicial branches should be separate in identity and membership. But the Court was constituted by the Central Conference in accord with disciplinary provisions and it was powerless to reconstitute itself for this particular consideration. "After consideration of materials in the briefs submitted to this Court, now in session, it was compelled to reconsider that position. A principle of jurisprudence says that not only should justice be done, but it must also appear that justice has been done. When doubts are expressed regarding the propriety of the Executive Board secretary being the President of the Court this Court considers that it ought not express any opinion in this particular matter. "Thus this Court feels that it would be in the best interest of this case for it to forward to the Judicial Council the briefs it has received without expressing any opinion thereon." While we regret our inability to obtain the help requested of the Judicial Court, we understand and appreciate the sensitivity that led the Court to its decision. In the course of its deliberations, the Court received briefs and statements from eleven individuals or groups in M.C.S.A. and has helpfully forwarded these papers to us. These documents, on both sides of the issue, have been of great assistance, as have statements filed with us by the Executive Board and Bishop Joseph R. Lance, who presided at the extra session of the Central Conference. We also express our appreciation to Calvin C. Masters, a layman, who organized the original appeal and pursued it with several helpful briefs. JURISDICTION Jurisdiction is based on Paragraphs 1708 and 1710 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS The sole issue before us is the authority of the Central Conference to reject the Plan of Union at its extra session after having commended it to the Annual Conferences and after they had approved it. We have already decided in Decision No. 338 that, while the Plan of Union involved a constitutional change, it was not a constitutional amendment of the kind which can only be acted upon at a regular session of the Central Conference under the Constitution of M.C.S.A. The contention that the Executive Board did not have the power to enlarge the agenda of the extra session overlooks the fact that the Executive Board merely recommended it to the extra session of the Central Conference, which ratified the suggestion in adopting the recommended agenda. We likewise have no difficulty in sustaining the authority of the extra session of the Central Conference to adopt an agenda which exceeded the scope of the one directed by the earlier regular session of the Conference, so long as it took no action beyond its authority. With that limitation, each session of the Central Conference, be it regular or extra, has plenary power to adopt its own agenda. We reached a similar decision in Decision No. 227 with respect to the agenda of a special session of the General Conference. The Constitution of M.C.S.A. makes no distinction in the powers of a regular or extra session, save only in the matter of constitutional amendments which must originate in a regular session. That leaves for consideration the remaining challenge to the authority of the 1970 Session of the Central Conference to reject the Plan of Union, based on the contention that the Central Conference had already given its approval in the regular session and that it could not vote again after the Annual Conferences had acted. If the first vote was, in fact, a vote of approval, the challenge to the second vote must be sustained. The authorization given by the 1968 General Conference was that M.C.S.A. might vote itself into union on a two-thirds favorable vote by the Central Conference, followed by a similar supporting aggregate majority vote by the members of the Annual Conferences. The authority which M.C.S.A. requested of the General Conference spelled out with precision this sequence of voting. The approval of the request given by General Conference comes to the same thing. In describing the voting, it names the Central Conference and then the Annual Conferences. This is also the order of voting on constitutional amendments in The United Methodist Church. If the order of voting were reversed, there would be two adverse consequences. The Annual Conferences would be voting without the guidance of a Central Conference recommendation which would speak for the entire Church; and eleven Annual Conferences might have voted in futility if a Central Conference could, at a later date, nullify their action by a single vote of its own. The only explanation offered in justification of the second vote by the Central Conference is that a majority of the Executive Board came to the conclusion that the first vote had not been meant as a vote of approval. In support of this position, the argument is advanced that when the first vote was taken the Conference leadership was unaware that the approval of the Central Conference was required by terms of the General Conference authorization. While we recognize that this point of view is sincerely held by some individuals, we cannot agree with it. The evidence to the contrary, both direct and circumstantial, seems quite convincing. None of the bishops has taken this position, nor has the Executive Board where the recommendation for the second vote originated. It simply tells us that the acceptance of the first vote, and Annual Conference ratification as the completion of the ratification process, was a mistake. The procedures for ratification originated in the Executive Board of M.C.S.A. which submitted its wishes in the matter to the General Conference. That request (quoted in the Statement of Facts) started with the requirement that the Central Conference must first vote approval and only then submit the matter to the Annual Conferences. A bishop of M.C.S.A. played an active role in perfecting the authorizing resolution on the floor of General Conference. He was present at the regular session of the Central Conference. No one in a position of authority tells us he did not know such a vote was needed. We conclude, therefore, on the basis of these several rather persuasive circumstances that those in charge of the regular session of the Central Conference knew what was required, and that the commending resolution was approved as a compliance with that requirement. We find it an adequate expression of approval. The normal meaning of the word "commend" is to recommend, to recommend as worthy of favorable attention or to mention with approbation or approval. We have studied standard dictionaries and they support this conclusion. Tested another way, if someone had brought before us a challenge to an entry of M.C.S.A. into the Church of North India on the basis of the first vote of commendation by the Central Conference, followed by the approval of the Annual Conferences, we are certain we would have held that the Central Conference had expressed its approval with sufficient clarity. Even if the meaning of the word "commend" were ambivalent, which we do not find it to be, the circumstantial evidence of what was intended is quite persuasive. The resolution of commendation was coupled with a series of resolutions directing the College of Bishops and the Executive Board to call a special (extra) session of the Central Conference upon approval by the Annual Conferences to arrange for a smooth transition into union. In a word, those who drafted the resolutions and those who voted on the resolutions were assuming that the approval of the Annual Conferences would complete the voting and constitute ratification of the Plan of Union. The fact that everybody, including those who now take a different view, construed a favorable vote of the Annual Conferences as an end to the matter further confirms our impression that the Central Conference intended to vote its approval of union by its vote of commendation. The Central Conference, once having voted its commendation, and the Annual Conferences having added their approval, the required vote for acceptance of the Plan of Union was complete. A second and negative vote by the Central Conference, sitting in extra session, was both inappropriate in point of timing and ultra vires of the Central Conference in view of the approval given at its earlier session. We, therefore, conclude that the 1970 Central Conference acted beyond its legal authority in submitting the Plan of Union to a second vote. The suggestion has been advanced that this issue has become moot because the Church of North India has become an accomplished fact and M.C.S.A. is out of it. An issue becomes moot when an intervening event deprives a decision of practical significance. In our Decision No. 161, we had before us the legality of the action of a college board in accepting the resignation of the president of the college when he had not, in fact, tendered his resignation. While that issue was awaiting decision by the Judicial Council, the president voluntarily resigned and the issue of his forced resignation thus became moot. In Decision No. 225, we had been requested to interpret a paragraph of the 1960 Discipline with respect to the practice of racial segregation or exclusion in certain local Methodist Churches. The General Conference of 1964 put that issue to rest by unequivocal legislation found in Paragraph 106 of the 1964 Discipline. We, therefore, held that the meaning of the replaced language of the 1960 Discipline had become a moot issue. Bishop James K. Mathews made a similar ruling and we sustained him in Decision No. 231. In each of these cases, it mattered not how we determined the issues originally tendered to us. The college president had voluntarily resigned and the General Conference had settled the very issue that had been submitted to us for ruling. A decision by us, after these intervening acts, had been deprived of practical significance. The issues, therefore, were moot and we so held. Not so in the instant case. We have no reason to believe that the issue of church union is dead in M.C.S.A. That Church has a long record of leadership in attempting to bring about union, and the overwhelming vote cast for union in the Annual Conferences suggests the probability that the issue is still very much alive. The Church of North India has invited renewed negotiations on the basis of the Fourth Plan of Union, as revised. The authorization given to M.C.S.A. by the General Conference to enter the union on the basis of that plan is still in effect. The Central and Annual Conferences of M.C.S.A. have given the required approvals. If renewed negotiations establish that M.C.S.A. can still enter the Church of North India within the framework of the Fourth Plan of Union, the fact that entry has been delayed or that the General Conference is again in session, does not invalidate or terminate either the General Conference authorization or the approvals given by the Central and Annual Conferences. We, therefore, conclude that the issue before us has not become moot because the Church of North India has been formed without the inclusion of M.C.S.A. Union is still a negotiable matter if both parties desire it and our decision with respect to the voting on the Fourth Plan of Union should enable all concerned to concentrate upon future events and bury the past.
The Methodist Church of Southern Asia had given all required approvals necessary to entry into the Church of North India when its Central Conference commended the plan to its constituent Annual Conferences, and the latter voted their approval. A subsequent vote against union by the 1970 Central Conference was beyond the authority of the Central Conference. The authorization given by the General Conference of 1968 to M.C.S.A. to unite with other churches in the Church of North India under the terms of Plan Four as revised is still valid. The Central Conference and the Constituent Annual Conferences of M.C.S.A. have voted the approvals requisite to union. We return the matter to the Central Conference of the Church of Southern Asia for such implementing action as it may deem appropriate.