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Decision No. 696

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October 29 1993
In Re: The Legality of Holding Membership in Two Denominations Simultaneously.

Digest of Case

There is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained United Methodist minister to hold membership simultaneously in another denomination. Upon joining another denomination, membership in The United Methodist Church is terminated.

Statement of Facts

While there is a lengthy chronology relating to this matter, the essential facts are as follows: William Farmer, a member in full connection with the North Texas Annual Conference and serving under due assignment to St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, entered full communion with the Roman Catholic Church at Holy Cross Catholic Church on January 26, 1990, as a lay member. This matter was the subject of consideration by Bishop Bruce Blake, the Conference Relations Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Joint Review Committee, the Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, and the Clergy Session of the North Texas Conference, all of which took various actions and all of which made various recommendations. In any event, the matter came before the 1993 Session of the North Texas Annual Conference on a motion by the 1992 Clergy Session that William Farmer's membership be terminated. Bishop Blake ruled that the motion to terminate would be acted on at the next Clergy Session of the North Texas Conference. At the opening of the 1993 Clergy Session of the North Texas Annual Conference, Bishop Blake ruled a substitute motion in order, which motion reversed the previous action of the 1992 Executive Session terminating William Farmer's membership and embraced the dual witness. Subsequently, the positive answer to the disciplinary question, "Are all members of the Conference blameless in their life and official administration?" including William Farmer was approved by the Clergy Session. This action precipitated submission of a written question to the bishop. The response was Bishop Blake's decision that such an answer relating to William Farmer was illegal inasmuch as he was in disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church by joining the Roman Catholic Church and being in full communion therewith. Zan Holmes recused himself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2613 of the 1992 Discipline. ANALYSIS While there has been considerable discussion of due process and rights under ordination, this matter is one of membership. The General Conference is vested with the authority to set forth the terms and conditions of membership in The United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church in some instances has sanctioned a member in full connection serving in a position requiring Word, Sacrament and Order in other denominations, e.g. Par. 443.1(d). These instances are carefully authorized by disciplinary provisions and are well defined. There is no disciplinary provision authorizing an ordained member of The United Methodist Church to hold membership in another denomination as a lay person. The Discipline speaks directly on the subject of lay persons who join another denomination and who fail to follow the procedures of transfer of membership. Par. 241 of the Discipline states that "upon receiving confirmation of a member's reception into another congregation ... the membership shall thereby be terminated." Par. 242 of the Discipline further provides that if a person joins another church the word "withdrawn" shall be entered after the person's name on the membership roll and be reported to the next Charge Conference. In the case of ordained ministers, provisions in Par. 453.2, under the heading "Withdrawal to Unite with Another Denomination," and under Par. 453.5 entitled "Withdrawal Between Conferences," clearly lead one to the conclusion that joining another denomination constitutes a voluntary WITHDRAWAL by the clergy member from the denomination. These two paragraphs, coupled with the language of Par. 241, constitute the fact that a person cannot belong to another denomination and remain a member of The United Methodist Church. To hold otherwise would create a situation wherein ministers could hold dual membership with other denominations and lay persons could not. Bishop Blake's decision that one cannot hold dual membership is correct. However, we deem irrelevant and immaterial that portion of his decision that William Farmer's "joining the Catholic Church constitutes a disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church." We further find immaterial and irrelevant his decision "that the action of the North Texas Conference in Clergy Session that William Farmer is blameless in his life and official administration is illegal." Additionally, a bishop does not have authority to make such decisions. The admitted action of William Farmer in entering full communion with the Roman Catholic Church at Holy Cross Catholic Church on January 25, 1990, as a lay member constitutes William Farmer's withdrawal from The United Methodist Church and thereby terminates his membership therein. Decision Bishop Blake's decision that William Farmer cannot hold dual membership as modified herein is affirmed.

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