Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 462
October 26 1979
In Re: Eligibility of a Full Member of an Annual Conference for Appointment to a Charge.
Digest of Case
By virtue of Pars. 420 and 451 of the Discipline, every member of an Annual Conference in full connection is eligible for appointment to a charge so long as the Annual Conference continues the member in good standing and in the effective relation.
Statement of Facts
The Secretary of the New York Annual Conference has transmitted to us the following petition and advised us that it was adopted by the Conference on June 8, 1979: WHEREAS, there exists a difference of opinion in the New York Annual Conference regarding the appointive status of a ministerial member in full connection of this Annual Conference; and WHEREAS, Par. 71 D of the Social Principles of the 1976 Book of Discipline contains a statement on homosexuality; and WHEREAS, Pars. 404(7) and 414.7(c), "Candidacy for Ordained Ministry" and "Qualifications for Election to Probationary Membership", contain stated references to the Social Principles; THEREFORE, we, the members of the New York Annual Conference in session in Bridgeport, Connecticut, this eighth day of June, 1979, do hereby petition the Judicial Council, in accordance with Par. 2515.1 of the 1976 Book of Discipline, for a declaratory decision as to the meaning, application, and effect of Pars. 71 D, 404(7)(c), and 414(C) of the above Book of Discipline, to wit: Is a self-avowed practicing homosexual clergyperson who is a member in full connection of an Annual Conference eligible for appointment to a charge under the law of the United Methodist Church? At the time of the 1978 session of the New York Annual Conference one of the ministerial members had openly stated that he was a practicing homosexual. The Bishop and his District Superintendent talked with him and asked him to request a leave of absence under Par. 433 of the Discipline, but he refused. Subsequently, the Bishop and the Cabinet recommended to the Board of Ordained Ministry that the minister involuntarily be placed on leave of absence, but the Board declined to recommend such action. During the 1978 session of the Conference an Executive Session of the ministerial members was held. The Cabinet then recommended involuntary leave of absence. The Board reported its disagreement and the Executive Session did not impose leave of absence. The church where the minister had been serving indicated that he was acceptable and the Bishop reappointed him. We are not told just what happened in the 1979 session of the Conference except for the adoption of the petition on June 8. The minister was again reappointed to the same church. In both the 1978 and 1979 sessions of the Annual Conference, when the inquiry required by Par. 703.5 was made the chairman of the Cabinet responded that the character of all ministers was approved with one exception which was still under study. The name of that one person was not stated. Briefs were submitted by the Bishop, the District Superintendents, the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Secretary of the Annual Conference, the Metropolitan District Superintendent at the time of the 1978 session of the Conference, and the New York Conference Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. Oral presentations at the open hearing on October 25, 1979 were made by David C. Houston, Chairman of the Board of Ordained Ministry, and John Collins, of the New York Conference Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS The petition refers to Pars. 71 D, 404 (7) and 414.7 (c). Par. 71 D is part of the Social Principles. It reads as follows: ... Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship with God, with others, and with self. Further we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured, though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Par. 404 (7) reads: (Candidates for the ordained ministry of The United Methodist Church shall have) agreed for the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of their influence as ministers, to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life as set forth in Pars. 67-76 and to this end agreed to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God. Par. 414.7 (c) (2) reads: (Candidates may be elected to probationary membership after each has been examined in written form and approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry with respect to the following questions.) ... For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of your influence as a minister, are you willing to make a complete dedication of yourself to the highest ideals of the Christian life, and to this end will you agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God? The 1976 General Conference also expressed its intent in the legislation of Par. 906.13 which gives to the General Council on Finance and Administration the responsibility for: ... ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any "gay" caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality ... We note that Pars. 404 and 414 relate to candidates for the ordained ministry whereas the petition relates to a member in full connection. Our response to the specific question asked by the New York Conference must be limited to the question of law and is controlled by Pars. 420 and 451 of the Discipline which read: ... Every effective member in full connection who is in good standing (Par. 702.4) in an Annual Conference shall receive an annual appointment by the bishop. (Par. 420) All ministerial members who are in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive annually appointment by the bishop unless they are granted a sabbatical leave, a disability leave, or are on leave of absence or retired. (Par. 451) As we said in Decision No. 380: There is no directly stated Constitutional right to an appointment. However, it is implicit in Constitutional provisions such as Restrictive Rule III (Par. 17) which forbids the General Conference to destroy the plan of our itinerant general superintendency and Par. 59 which authorizes the bishops to appoint ministers to charges. It becomes explicit as an absolute right clearly set forth in Pars. 308.3, 316 and 391.10, disciplinary provisions which have long been a part of the tradition of the predecessor bodies of The United Methodist Church. Par. 380.3 of the 1972 Discipline is now included in Par. 452 of the 1976 Discipline and the relevant provisions of former 316 are now found in Par. 451. To the above citation of Par. 391.10 of the 1972 Discipline there might well have been added Par. 332. The last sentence of Par. 332 is identical with the last sentence of Par. 420 of the 1976 Discipline, except that in the latter there has been added the parenthetical reference to Par. 702.4. We have found in the 1976 DCA no indication that such addition was by legislative enactment and believe it to be only an editorial cross-reference. Our Decision No. 351 also discusses our Church's heritage of concern for the protection of the rights of its members and ministers. (see also Decision No. 459) Par. 420 is limited to effective members in full connection. Par. 451 is not limited to members in full connection. It does not refer to effective members but the exceptions regarding sabbatical and disability leaves, leaves of absence and retirement express the same intent. Of course, the word "effective", is not used in its usual dictionary sense, but as pointed out in the unofficial Glossary at page 605 of the Discipline refers to one in the active ministry, not on leave, retired, etc. Par. 427 gives associate members the same security of appointment as probationary and full members. The editorial cross-reference in Par. 420 to Par. 702.4 calls attention to procedures under which an effective member in full connection may lose one or the other of those qualifications. (Of course, there are other ways such as various forms of voluntary leave or location as set forth in Pars. 431-433, 435, retirement under Par. 434, termination by action of the Annual Conference under Par. 438 or withdrawal under Par. 439.) Par. 702.4 reads as follows: The Annual Conference shall have power to make inquiry into the moral and official conduct of its ministerial members. Subject only to the provisions of Paragraphs 2520-60, the Annual Conference shall have power to hear complaints against its ministerial members and may try, reprove, suspend, deprive of ministerial office and credentials, expel, or acquit any against whom charges may have been preferred. The Annual Conference shall have power to locate a ministerial member for unacceptability or inefficiency. Pars. 2520-60 are carefully drawn to safeguard the right to a fair hearing and possible appeal. Par. 702 sets forth several procedures under which a minister may be deprived of full connection. Subject to the same safeguards, the Annual Conference has power to suspend. During a suspension a minister would not be an effective member. Both Par. 420 and Par. 451 qualify the right to appointment by referring to members "in good standing." We find in the Discipline no definition or explanation of that phrase. We therefore apply the usual meaning and hold that one is in good standing until and unless there has been some change in the nature of a restriction or impairment of membership, as distinguished from termination. The only impairment to which we have been able to find reference in the Discipline is suspension as a result of action by the Annual Conference under Par. 702.4, or by a bishop on recommendation of the Committee of Investigation under Par. 2521.4, or by a Trial Court under Par. 2521.5. Par. 703.5 says: The Annual Conference shall make inquiry into the moral and official conduct of its ministers. In response to the inquiry whether all ministerial members of the conference are blameless in their life and official administration, the district superintendent may answer for all the preachers in the district in one answer, or the Board of Ordained Ministry may make inquiry of each district superintendent about each minister in the district and make one report to the bishop and the conference in open session; provided that the conference or the bishop may order an executive session of the ministerial members to consider questions relating to matters of ordination, character, and conference relationships. Obviously, a report to the Annual Conference under Par. 703.5 that the character of one unnamed minister was still under study could not by itself affect either the effective relationship or the good standing of any minister. A ministerial member in full connection with an Annual Conference, in good standing and in the effective relationship, may involuntarily lose his full connection, his good standing or his effective relationship only by action of his Annual Conference. The authority and responsibility for any change in the status of a ministerial member of an Annual Conference is entrusted by the Discipline to the Annual Conference.
By virtue of Pars. 420 and 451 of the Discipline, every member of an Annual Conference in full connection is eligible for appointment to a charge so long as his Annual Conference continues him in good standing and in the effective relation.