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Decision No. 410

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April 28 1976
In Re: Request by the College of Bishops of the Central Conference of theMethodist Church in Southern Asia for a Reconsideration of Decision No. 350 and Memoranda Nos. 355, 369, and 374.

Digest of Case

After many years of active leadership in negotiations for church union, the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia petitioned the General Conference of 1968 for an enabling act authorizing it to consummate union under the fourth edition of the Plan of Union with other churches in North India and Pakistan. The General Conference granted the enabling legislation under the provisions which the Methodist Church in Southern Asia had requested, namely, that there be a two-thirds affirmative vote of the Central Conference followed by a two-thirds aggregate vote of the Annual Conferences. The 1968-69 session of the Central Conference voted to commend the Plan to its Annual Conferences for their "yes" or "no" votes. The vote of the Central Conference was 122-5. The Annual Conferences then voted approval of the Plan by an aggregate vote of 662-298, 22 more than the required two-thirds majority. The Executive Board of the Central Conference then announced that the necessary votes had been taken and that the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia had "made its irrevocable decision to enter the union." The 1968-69 session of the Central Conference had voted to call a special session of the Conference, in the event the required two-thirds vote was obtained, "to do the business necessary for a smooth transition into the Church of North India." That special session met in 1970 and added to its agenda a vote on the Plan of Union under the arguments of some that the earlier session of the conference had merely "commended" the Plan to the Annual Conferences for their votes but had not adopted the Plan. This time the vote in the Central Conference was 108 to 48 against the Plan. Following this vote, the Central Conference dropped out of the Plan of Union while the other six churches in the Plan moved ahead to form the Church of North India. The newly formed Church invited the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to renew negotiations so that it might still join the new Church under the Fourth Plan. An appeal was taken to the Judicial Council by the requisite one-fifth of the members of the Central Conference raising the question of the legality of the vote against union in the special session. In Decision No. 338 the Judicial Council ruled that there was no constitutional limitation on the right of a special session of the Central Conference to vote on the Plan of Union, but noted that there might well be a question on the validity of such a vote in the 1970 special session in view of the Central Conference's earlier action commending the Plan to the Annual Conferences for their "yes" or "no" vote and the consequent ratification of the Plan by the Annual Conferences. The Judicial Council referred this latter question to the Judicial Court of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia for a declaratory decision, meanwhile retaining jurisdiction in the matter. The Judicial Court, noting that six of its nine members were also members of the Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia properly felt that it should render no decision on the question and returned the matter to the Judicial Council. When the Judicial Council took up the matter again in Decision No. 350 in 1972, it noted that the enabling act, requested by the Methodist Church in Southern Asia and granted by the General Conference called for a two-thirds favorable vote in the Central Conference followed by a two-thirds affirmative aggregate vote in the Annual Conferences. The Council declared that a vote on the matter in the Central Conference following the vote in the Annual Conferences did not conform to the order of voting authorized by the enabling act and that, therefore, the negative vote on the Plan of Union in the 1970 special session of the Central Conference was invalid. The Council decided that the vote of the 1968-69 session of the Central Conference commending the Plan to the Annual Conferences for their "yes" or "no" vote was a vote approving the plan, and that, when the aggregate vote of the Annual Conferences was also affirmative, both votes exceeding the required two-thirds majority, all the required votes for union under the Fourth Plan had been completed. The Council took notice of the fact that the other six churches had now formed the new Church of North India and that, therefore, some adjustments might have to be made within the framework of the Fourth Plan. The Council felt that union under the Fourth Plan was still a negotiable possibility and called attention to the fact that the Methodist Church in Southern Asia was still under the authorization of the General Conference action and now under the mandate of its own vote to consummate union. The Methodist Church in Southern Asia then renewed negotiation with the Church of North India. Periodic consultations between the two were held. Obviously there were now more difficulties in the situation. Some two years had gone by since the Methodist Church in Southern Asia had dropped out of the Plan of Union after the negative vote of the Central Conference, now declared invalid. Negotiations were with one church instead of six. In Memoranda Numbers 355, 369 and 374 the Judicial Council answered questions concerning problems which arose out of the planning for and participation in the consultations. The Council warned that any adjustments would have to be within the framework of the Fourth Plan, that the Plan itself could not be revised. These memoranda also reminded the Methodist Church in Southern Asia that it was under the mandate of its own vote to consummate union. It became evident that the consultations were not making progress toward union. Many problems were obviously very difficult to solve. Whatever the reasons, the time came when union under the Fourth Plan seemed no longer possible. A special session of the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia was called to meet in January, 1976. An "Historical Statement from 1968 to date in Regard to Church Union" was adopted by the Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia and published in the India Witness for distribution to the delegates of this special session. While we are greatly disturbed by the statement's inaccurate reporting of Judicial Council decisions and of the action taken by the General Conference in the enabling act, it did portray the failure of attempts to consummate union. The special session of the Central Conference voted to rescind all its previous votes in favor of church union under the Fourth Plan and sent a similar resolution down to the Annual Conferences which also voted to rescind all previous actions on union. The Central Conference vote was 136 to 0. The aggregate vote of the Annual Conferences was 770 to 22 with 10 abstentions. Since the rescinding voting procedure followed the order of voting in the enabling act authorizing union, it is the opinion of the Judicial Council that this was a valid vote. The College of Bishops of the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia has requested the Judicial Council to reconsider its Decision No. 350 and its Memoranda Numbers 355, 369 and 374. The Judicial Council declines reconsideration because it reaffirms the correctness of this decision and these memoranda. We do take notice, however, of two factors which now change the judicial situation-1, the failure to consummate union under the Fourth Plan, and-2, the rescinding vote of the Central Conference followed by the rescinding aggregate vote of the Annual Conferences. It is the ruling of the Judicial Council that the Methodist Church in Southern Asia returns to the status it had prior to the enabling act of 1968 and its vote for union in 196869, namely, as a Central Conference in The United Methodist Church.

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