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Decision No. 446

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October 26 1978
In Re: The Constitutionality of the Disciplinary Requirements for One-Third Laywomen, One-Third Laymen, and One-Third Clergy Representation on Annual Conference and General Church Agencies.

Digest of Case

The General Conference has the power to establish formulas for the membership of General and Annual Conference program boards and agencies within the limits of the Constitution. In the absence of any constitutional requirements for equal clergy and lay membership representation on Annual Conference and general church boards and agencies, the General Conference has the authority to establish membership representation including the requirement that one-third be clergy, one-third laymen and one-third laywomen. This decision is limited to the question presented, whether the General Conference has the power to set membership formulas on General and Annual Conference boards other than equal clergy and laity.

Statement of Facts

The General Council on Ministries of The United Methodist Church, meeting on March 13-17, 1978, voted: "to request a Declaratory Decision by the Judicial Council as to the constitutionality of the present membership formula between representation on the Annual Conference and general church Boards and Agencies which calls for 1/3 laywomen, 1/3 laymen and 1/3 clergy" Briefs have been received from the General Council on Ministries, and from the Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church. Comments have been received from other interested parties. Oral presentations were made by Kiyoko Kasai Fujiu and Nancy Grissom Self of the Commission and by Bishop Jack Tuell. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515 of the 1976 Discipline. ANALYSIS The General Conference has enacted several disciplinary paragraphs which provide for representation on General and Annual Conference boards and agencies in a ratio of one-third clergy, one-third laywomen and one-third laymen. The question is whether it is constitutional for the General Conference so to legislate. The Constitution Par. 15 Article IV reads: "The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: "3. To define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences etc. "8. To initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration. "14. To secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status. "15. To enact such other legislation as may be necessary subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the Church." In these paragraphs 3 and 8 the General Conference is granted the power to establish Annual Conference and general church boards and agencies which includes the power to define size and representation. Par. 14 establishes a responsibility to protect the rights and privileges of membership on those boards and agencies regardless of race or status. The question of an historic principle of equal lay and clergy representation is interesting. The United Methodist Church is the product of a number of mergers over a long period of years. When we examine the history of lay participation in the predecessor bodies we find that there was a time when there was no lay participation; then came rights for lay men and finally women were included in the Annual and General Conferences. We do not find any consistent historic principle of equal lay and clergy representation in any of the predecessor bodies of The United Methodist Church. Neither do we find any Constitutional mandate for equal representation of lay and clergy other than in delegates to the General Conference, Article I Par. 12; delegates to Jurisdictional Conference, Article III Par. 24; and membership in Annual Conferences, Article I Par. 36. To argue that because membership structures of the General, Jurisdictional, Central and Annual Conferences are all "equal lay-clergy representation," therefore the Constitution imposes the same ratio in the connectional boards and agencies membership, is not only falacious, but is a restriction upon the powers of General Conference, as stated in the Constitution. The Constitution gives to the General Conference "full legislative powers over all matters distinctively connectional" which embraces the general program boards, referred to in the legislation of Par. 804. 1 and 2 of the 1976 Discipline. In the absence of any constitutional requirements for equal clergy and lay membership representation on Annual Conference and general church boards and agencies the General Conference has the authority to establish membership representation including the requirement that one-third be clergy, one-third laymen and one-third laywomen.

Decision

The General Conference has the power to establish formulas for the membership of General and Annual Conference program boards and agencies within the limits of the Constitution. In the absence of any constitutional requirements for equal clergy and lay membership representation on Annual Conference and general church boards and agencies, the General Conference has the authority to establish membership representation, including the requirement that one-third be clergy, one-third laymen and one-third laywomen. This decision is limited to the question presented, whether the General Conference has the power to set membership formulas on General and Annual Conference boards other than equal clergy and laity.

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