Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 357

Back to Search

April 23 1972
In Re: Constitutional Authority of the General Conference to Mandate an End to Annual Conferences Structured on Race.

Digest of Case

The Enabling Legislation in the Plan of Union authorized a transitional period within which to merge ten Negro Annual Conferences with their white counterparts and thus bring an end to racial structure within the Church, as required by Paragraph 4 of the 1968 Constitution. Thus far, mergers have been voluntarily achieved in six of the ten situations. Four remain. It is within the constitutional authority of the General Conference to determine that the transitional period for voluntary mergers has ended. If it so determines, it may direct the Annual Conferences involved to negotiate mergers within a named deadline that would be possible of achievement. This would appear to be the sessions of 1973. It is also within the constitutional authority of the General Conference to direct the Jurisdictional Conferences within whose boundaries these Annual Conferences lie to expedite in every reasonable manner the required jurisdictional approval of names and boundaries of conferences so merged. Such approvals may be given in advance and action may be directed to be taken at the 1972 sessions of the Jurisdictional Conferences. The General Conference may neither authorize nor require Jurisdictional Conferences to themselves undertake to merge Annual Conferences. Jurisdictional Conferences possess no such powers nor could they be vested in them short of a constitutional amendment. An Annual Conference may not be structured bi-racially with respect either to structure or voting, even though undertaken to protect a minority.

Statement of Facts

The General Conference has referred to us for a declaratory decision the constitutionality of three legislative amendments proposed by the Commission on Religion and Race, as follows: AMENDMENT No. I "Amend Paragraph 625 of the Discipline by adding at the end of the present paragraph an additional sentence reading as follows: "In furtherance of that policy the Jurisdictional Conference shall determine the boundaries of its Annual Conferences without regard to race. The mergers of Annual Conferences required by this provision shall be effective at the close of the 1972 session of the Jurisdictional Conference, subject to the transitional provisions for readjustment of districts involved in the 1972 amendment to subparagraph 3 of Paragraph 390 of the Discipline." AMENDMENT No. 2 "Amend subparagraph 3 of Paragraph 390 of the Discipline by adding at the end thereof the following: Not later than the 1973 session of each Annual Conference, the districts shall be formed and their boundaries fixed without regard to race." AMENDMENT No. 3 " Amend subparagraph 4 of Paragraph 815 of the Discipline by adding at the end thereof the following: "In the case of Annual Conferences resulting from mergers involving former Negro Annual Conferences, during the Quadrennium in which such a merger becomes effective all members of boards and agencies of the Annual Conferences parties to the merger shall be members of the boards and agencies of the new merged Annual Conference. A chairman of a board or agency of one of the constituent Annual Conferences shall be either chairman or co-chairman of that board or agency in the resulting Annual Conference. For the next two Quadrenniums the resulting Annual Conference shall include in each of its boards and agencies, regardless of size, at least one member coming from each of the constituent Annual Conferences and shall recognize the principal of at least twice the number of members coming from former Negro Annual Conference membership, in relation to the number coming from other Annual Conference memberships, as the relative numerical membership coming from the respective Annual Conferences would indicate; provided that this provision shall not be applied so as to give representatives coming from former Negro Annual Conferences a majority position, which, except for this provision, they would not have." The background of the proposed legislation is explained sufficiently in the Analysis. JURISDICTION Jurisdiction is based on Paragraph 1707 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS Paragraph 4 of the Constitution provides that ". . . no conference..... shall be structured so as to exclude any member..... because of race, color, national origin or economic condition." Were a new Annual Conference to be structured on the basis of race, there is no doubt that it would be unconstitutional. When The United Methodist Church was formed in Dallas, it inherited ten Annual Conferences, formerly of the Central Jurisdiction of The Methodist Church, so structured. Today only four such conferences remain. The progress made to date has been accomplished under a program of voluntary merger authorized in the Enabling Legislation included in the Plan of Union. In Decision No. 242 (November 1966), we held that the interdiction of a racially structured conference in Paragraph 4 of the Constitution was to be harmonized, over a transitional period, with the voluntary procedures of the Enabling Legislation set forth in the Plan of Union. In that opinion we stated: "The Enabling Legislation in the Plan of Union delineates policies and procedures to be followed by the new church during a transitional period in order to bring its structures and practices into harmony with the Constitution of the new church. "Read together, Article IV of Division One of the Constitution and Paragraph 9 of the Enabling Legislation in the Plan of Union reveal a pattern to move toward the inclusiveness defined in Article IV of the new Constitution by the policies and procedures spelled out in Paragraph 9 of the Enabling Legislation. It is recognized that the transition from the old to the new cannot be accomplished the moment the new church comes into being. At that moment the enactments of the Enabling Legislation furnish a bridge by which we get from the old to the new." The basic constitutional issue posed by the proposed amendment to Paragraph 625 of the Discipline is whether the General Conference may now determine that the transitional period for voluntary mergers is over and that the prohibition of racial structures in Paragraph 4 of the Constitution must now be made effective. We believe it is within the authority of the General Conference to so determine. The Enabling Legislation in the Plan of Union defined the transitional period in these terms: "The 1966 session of the Methodist General Conference unmistakably expressed its determination to bring about not only the elimination of the Central Jurisdiction but also the merger of the separate Negro Annual Conferences formerly part of that jurisdiction with the conferences of the Regional Jurisdictions and the elimination of any structural organization based on race. The resolution adopted by the General Conference and submitted by it to the other bodies named therein reads in part: "By the adoption of this resolution each Annual Conference, each Jurisdictional Conference, the General Conference, each College of Bishops, and the Council of Bishops express their determination to do everything possible to bring about the elimination of any structural organization in The Methodist Church based on race at the earliest possible date and not later than the close of the Jurisdictional Conferences of 1972 . . ." The proposed legislation directs that the cut-off dates on voluntary mergers be the meeting dates of the Jurisdictional Conferences of 1972. This is in harmony with the "determination" previously expressed in the Enabling Legislation, to bring to an end by that date any organizational structures based on race. We are aware that the Southeastern Jurisdiction did not commit itself to a date but pledged itself to assist in bringing about such mergers of its conferences as soon as practicable and mutually agreeable to the conferences directly involved. Nevertheless, the Enabling Legislation speaks for the entire Church. The authority of the General Conference to direct compliance with Paragraph 4 of the Constitution is found in Paragraph 15(3) of the Constitution which authorizes it "to define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences" in all matters distinctively connectional; and in Paragraph 15(14) which authorizes it in matters distinctively connectional "to secure the rights and privileges of members in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status." There is no doubt that racial inclusiveness is a matter distinctively connectional, as witness Paragraph 4 of the Constitution, and our Decision No. 232 in 1965. Legislation based on Paragraph 15(3) or (14) is necessarily subject to the limitations and restrictions of the remainder of the Constitution. Within these grants of authority, thus defined and limited, the General Conference may direct the Jurisdictional Conferences to determine the number, names and boundaries of its constituent Annual Conferences without regard to race. It may direct that this be done at the 1972 meetings of the Jurisdictional Conferences. The General Conference may also direct the Annual Conferences involved to take all steps necessary to consummate mergers with their geographical counterparts at the earliest possible dates, initial action to be taken in Annual Conference sessions of 1972 and to be concluded not later than the regular Annual Conference sessions of 1973. In so doing, the General Conference must respect the inherent authority of an Annual Conference, as the basic body of the Church and the residual repository of authority not delegated elsewhere by the Constitution, to negotiate such terms of merger as it deems appropriate, subject only to (1) the exercise of the powers of the Annual Conference in harmony with the policy of The United Methodist Church with respect to elimination of discrimination on the basis of race (Par. 662 of the Discipline), and (2) the approval of the Jurisdictional Conference with respect to names and boundaries. The legislation proposed to be added to Paragraph 625 of the Discipline would exceed the authority of the General Conference. It directs the Jurisdictional Conferences to bring about these mergers of Annual Conferences by jurisdictional action. The authority of the Jurisdictional Conferences over Annual Conferences is limited to approval of their names, number and boundaries. The legislation before us goes beyond this limited authority, and would appear to direct the Jurisdictional Conferences to merge Annual Conferences and, as a necessary corollary, to determine matters of structure and staff, as well as dispositions of property. These are matters beyond the constitutional competence of a Jurisdictional Conference. Under the existing constitutional structure, Annual Conferences merge by their own agreement and on their own terms, subject only to the limitations previously named. We deem it a matter of importance that the constitutional integrity of the Annual Conferences be maintained. The proposed amendment to Paragraph 390(3) of the Discipline is constitutionally unobjectionable, but it would serve no purpose if the amendment to Paragraph 625 is abandoned. We likewise advise that it is beyond the authority of the General Conference, at this time to direct the composition of the boards and agencies of the Annual Conferences that may be directed to merge, or to require that one party to the merger have a voting strength disproportionate to its membership. These steps would be directed if Paragraph 815 of the Discipline were to be amended in the manner submitted to us. Whether a General Conference may thus dictate terms of the Annual Conference mergers under consideration, in the event that the Annual Conferences fail to achieve merger within the time limits imposed upon them, is a matter to be decided when such a situation arises. If the time should come when it is constitutionally appropriate to pass such legislation, care must be taken not to structure voting or conference organizations on the basis of racial quotas. If such legislation were on the terms submitted to us with respect to amendment of Paragraph 815 of the Discipline, it would be unconstitutional as a bi-racial structuring of a conference. Decision No. 5 of the Interim Judicial Council gives the guide lines. Annual Conference structure or voting quotas cannot be based on race or color, even when done for the protection of the minority. The Church may not be structured bi-racially. It must be color blind. This is more than a matter of semantics. It cannot be circumvented by the substitution of general language which obscures the fact that the legislation will be dealing with the merger of four Negro Annual Conferences with their white counterparts. When they come together they must do so as a single entity, in which neither structure nor vote is controlled by former conference affiliation. Merger of Annual Conferences connotes equitable attitudes in matters of representation in subordinate bodies of the merged conferences. In the absence of mutual agreement on the terms of merger, the General Conference has the authority to provide the offices of an appropriate agency to mediate or arbitrate differences which impair the achievement of conference mergers. It would not be beyond its legislative power to prescribe a time certain for conclusion of mergers, and provide for binding arbitration of mergers not concluded by the prescribed time. It is the province of the General Conference to state clearly when the transitional period expressed in the Enabling Legislation has ended, and what is required of Annual Conferences to comply with the constitutional prohibitions against racial structures.

Decision

We advise that it is beyond the authority of the General Conference either to authorize or require Jurisdictional Conferences to merge Annual Conferences, this authority being vested in the Annual Conferences, subject only to the authority of the Jurisdictional Conferences to approve name, number and boundaries of the Annual Conferences. The proposed amendment to Paragraph 390 (3), intended as an implementation to the proposed amendment of Paragraph 625, would be constitutional but inappropriate, in view of the unconstitutionality of the proposed amendment to Paragraph 625. The proposed amendment to Paragraph 815 (4) would be unconstitutional as a structuring of Annual Conferences on bi-racial lines.

Back to Search