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Decision No. 351

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April 14 1972
In Re: Request of Southwest Texas Annual Conference for Decision on Constitutionality of Paragraphs 368 and 369 of the Discipline.

Digest of Case

The use of Paragraphs 368 and 369 to place a travelling elder in "involuntary location" does not violate our constitutional provisions in Paragraphs 18 and 63 of the Discipline.

Statement of Facts

At an executive session of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference on April 17, 1971, F. Gene Leggett, a member of the Conference under special appointment, announced on the floor of the Conference, "I am a homosexual." In light of this statement and its implications the matter was referred to the Conference Board of the Ministry for recommendation to the Annual Conference at its meeting May 31, 1971. Pursuant to this, several conferences were held with Mr. Leggett by the Chairman of the Board of Ministry Committee on Conference Relations, by Bishop 0. Eugene Slater, in which the procedures under Paragraphs 368 and 369 of the Discipline were discussed. On May 21, 1971, Mr. Leggett stated in a letter that he would not consider surrendering his ministerial office or agreeing to location. On May 30, 1971, the Conference Board of Ministry met for several hours with Mr. Leggett. Non-members of the Board who are ministerial members of the Conference were also present. After long discussion and a roll-call vote, in the presence of Mr. Leggett, the members of the Board voted to ask him to request location. Later, on May 31st, he was informed in writing by the Board that it was their judgment that he was "unacceptable for the work of the ministry" and he was asked to request location. Mr. Leggett replied in writing that he would refuse to request location. The letter from the Board had indicated to Mr. Leggett that if he refused to request location, "the Board of Ministry would recommend that the Conference by count vote locate you without your consent." At the Annual Conference session on May 31, the Board of Ministry report was presented and the following action was recommended, "therefore the Board of Ministry recommends that the conference locate [Mr. Leggett] without his consent and thereby his authority to exercise the ministerial office shall be suspended." After considerable discussion on the conference floor the vote was taken by count with 144 in favor of the report and 117 against. One basis for this particular petition to the Judicial Council is the fact that on April 17, 1971 at a called executive session of the ministers of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference at which Mr. Leggett announced publicly that he is a homosexual, "a motion was made that Mr. Leggett be placed under 'arrest of character' and that the Annual Conference proceed under paragraph 1740.9." This paragraph 1740.9 states: "An Annual Conference may entertain and trycharges against its ministerial members though no investigation of them has been held or though the investigation has not resulted in suspension." The presiding Bishop, 0. Eugene Slater, ruled the motion out of order because the special session had not been called for the purpose of questions relating to ordination, character, and conference relationships, as provided in paragraph 663.5. Subsequent to this action a resolution was passed by the Southwest Texas Annual Conference requesting a ruling from the Judicial Council "as to whether the enforcement of Sections 368 and 369 of the Discipline violate due process through a trial procedure and thereby ought to be declared invalid" (p. 58, 1971 Conference Journal). We interpret this action as a petition for a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction of this matter under Paragraph 1715 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS The United Methodist Church has a heritage of concern with the rights of persons. That concern has repeatedly made provision for the protection of the rights of its members and of its ministers. Historically our church through its Constitution and Rules of Procedure has provided two forms of such protection of the rights of its ministers. On the one hand is the right of trial by his peers. The other well-established parallel procedures deal not with trials as such, but with methods equally organic because of the long history of the process by which a minister may be "located" after a thorough process of investigation, petition and hearing. The Constitution provides for the trial procedure in Paragraphs 18 and 63. "The General Conference shall not do away with the privilege of our ministers of the right to trial and of an appeal . . ." (Par. 18) "The General Conference shall establish for the church a judicial system which shall guarantee to our ministers a right to trial by a committee and an appeal. . ." (Par. 63) Such trial procedures are available to any minister who may stand formally accused on the floor of an Annual Conference. Equally historic is the method for protecting the rights of ministers who are not "under charges," against whom no formal accusations have been brought, and therefore for whom no trial is properly in order. This method has used long-accepted practices and procedures to determine the acceptability of a person for appointment by a bishop to a parish in the church. A similar process may be involved in the event evidences of unacceptability are brought to the attention of the Board of the Ministry. This process is carefully spelled out in the Discipline, Paragraph 368, which reads: "Whenever it is determined by the Board of the Ministry that in their judgment a member of the Annual Conference is unacceptable, inefficient, or indifferent in the work of the ministry or that his conduct is such as to impair seriously his usefulness as a minister or that his engagement in secular business, except as required by the ill health of himself or of his family, disqualifies him for pastoral work, they shall notify him in writing and ask him to request location at the next session of the Annual Conference. If he refuses or neglects to locate as requested, the conference may by count vote, on recommendation of the Board of Ministry, locate him without his consent. In the case of involuntary location the authority to exercise the ministerial office shall be suspended, and the district superintendent shall require from him his credentials to be deposited with the secretary of the conference." Further disciplinary provisions are found in Paragraph 369: "Whenever it is unanimously determined by the district superintendents that a member of the Annual Conference should be located for any of the reasons cited in Par. 368, they shall notify him in writing of their judgment at least three months before the next session of the Annual Conference and ask him to request location at such session under the provisions of Par. 365. If he refuses or neglects to locate as requested, the district superintendent shall certify the fact to the Board of the Ministry, which committee shall proceed to recommend his immediate location without his consent. Upon such action his right to exercise the functions of the ministry shall be suspended, and the district superintendent shall require from him his credentials to be deposited with the secretary of the conference." It should be noted that these paragraphs reflect a process of firmly established and long-accepted practice in our denomination and its predecessor denominations. Prior to the 1968 Constitution of the United Methodist Church, the process involved in Paragraphs 368 and 369 was in practice in both the Evangelical United Brethren and The Methodist Church. Similarly, before unification in 1939 had provided the Constitution of The Methodist Church, the practices outlined in Paragraphs 368 and 369 were provided for in at least two of the three uniting denominations. Built into this process of investigation, hearing, petition and judgment are safeguards for protecting the rights of the minister. As a member of an Annual Conference, a person makes himself available for an appointment by the bishop. In return, the Annual Conference guarantees this person an appointment each year so long as he is "appointable" to any appointment in the conference. "Appointability" is determined first of all by a process of training, testing, and evaluation by procedures authorized in the Discipline to assure a high standard of ministry. The Discipline provides for a candidate for the ministry to meet certain requirements for entrance into the Annual Conference. When he has completed certain requirements of education and personal qualification, he receives the recommendation of the Board of the Ministry to the Annual Conference which is the body finally to determine "acceptability for membership and appointment." He is received as a Probationary Member. After completing his educational requirements and serving one year under full-time appointment, he may be recommended by the Board of the Ministry and elected by the Annual Conference to full membership. Thus, in the case before us, the rights of Mr. Leggett as a ministerial member of the Annual Conference are defended by the process by which he was both accepted into membership and later was declared unacceptable for appointment and given involuntary location. The Annual Conference did not and the Judicial Council does not make any moral judgment on homosexuality. We are asked here to rule on whether or not Paragraphs 368 and 369 violate the rights of a minister as provided for in Paragraphs 18 and 63, and particularly whether the rights of Mr. Leggett were in this case not protected. The evidence presented in various briefs shows that the Southwest Texas Annual Conference was thorough and diligent in protecting the rights of Mr. Leggett in meeting its disciplinary requirements for action on involuntary location. There is record of consultation with the Bishop, where Mr. Leggett was advised of his rights and options. There was a semi-public hearing before the Board of the Ministry. There was a lengthy hearing before the Annual Conference including unlimited time for Mr. Leggett to speak in his own behalf. There was a vote by his peers with a clear majority voting for involuntary location. The actions of the Bishop and the Conference give evidence of deep concern for persons; the extensiveness of the debate indicates that full information on the conditions bringing about the Board of the Ministry recommendation was provided before a final decision was required from the Conference. In the studied and informed judgment of his Conference Mr. Leggett's "conduct was such as to impair seriously his usefulness as a minister" (Par. 368) and therefore his "acceptability for appointment" was no longer a viable option for the Conference. The action of this Conference indicates not only strict adherence to disciplinary procedures but attests to the protection afforded ministers by Paragraphs 368 and 369, to assure their rights to hearing before their peers on any recommendation concerning the termination of their conference membership.

Decision

The exercise of its functions by a Conference Board of the Ministry and by an Annual Conference in locating a member involuntarily under provisions of Paragraphs 368 and 369 does not violate the rights of that member to due process under Paragraphs 18 and 63, and Paragraphs 368 and 369 are constitutional.

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