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April 24 1997
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Southwest Texas Conference on Whether a Person May Be Denied the Right to Lead and/or Participate in Activities and Programs of the Church in Accordance with Article 4 of the Constitution and ¶ 113 of the 1992 Discipline. (Remanded via Memorandum 791)
Digest of Case
The question asked at the 1996 session of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference directly related to the Conference Agency Membership Policy of the conference. The Judicial Council finds this policy in violation of the Discipline. An Annual Conference may not paraphrase, incorrectly quote, nor summarize sections of the Discipline in its own policy and procedure documents.
At the 1996 session of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference Bishop Raymond H. Owen was asked to rule on the following question:
In accordance with Article 4, as amended, of the Constitution and Paragraph 113 of the 1992 Book of Discipline, can a person be denied the right to lead and/or participate in activities and programs of the church on the basis of his or her sexual orientation?
Bishop Owen ruled "Question of law was not properly presented under Paragraph 2613. The question is not related to an Episcopal ruling. It is hypothetical."
At its October 1996 session, the Judicial Council ruled that in order to not be a "hypothetical" question, the request must "be presented during the session of the Annual Conference and that it relate to business of the Annual Conference." Memorandum 791. The council then found that in the instant matter, "the request did relate to an action taken by the Southwest Texas Annual Conference" (Memorandum 791), and remanded the matter for the bishop to render a decision of law.
In response to the Judicial Council request, the bishop again replied that the question was hypothetical and stated that he believed there was a misunderstanding about the question.
The bishop's response is not affirmed. The Judicial Council understands the question to be directly related to action taken by the Annual Conference related to the Conference Agency Membership Policy.
In 1995, the Conference Agency Membership Policy stated:
(a) We strongly recommend that the nominating committees of the Annual Conference and the districts exercise common sense, wisdom, imagination, Christian courage and compassion in carrying out their duties. We reject any proposal that suggests a double standard of morality one for clergy and one for lay persons and expect all clergy and laity to reflect the essence of the Christian faith. The nominating process shall adhere to the standards set forth in paragraph 420.8 and 421.1 (8) and 414.8 of the 1992 Book of Discipline.
At the 1996 Annual Conference, the one at which the request for a ruling was made, the first section of the Agency Membership was changed to read:
a) Nominees shall "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 his/her influence as [a leader], be willing to make a complete dedication of himself/herself to the highest ideals of the Christian life; and to this end agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God." (Paragraph 420.1(8), 1992 Discipline)
The Southwest Texas Conference has violated the Discipline with such a policy. There is no authority in the Discipline given to an Annual Conference to set its own standards for membership on conference boards and agencies beyond that which is given in the Discipline. Additionally, the 1996 version of the policy quotes the Discipline, but changes words in the quotation. An Annual Conference may not paraphrase, incorrectly quote, nor summarize sections of the Discipline in its own policy and procedure documents. See Decisions 476, 700 and 736.
April 25, 1997
We respectfully disagree with the conclusion reached by the majority of our colleagues in this Decision because we believe they have answered a question that was not asked. Their response is centered around the Conference Agency Membership Policy when, in fact, the question posed to the council was:
Whether a person may be denied the right to lead and/or participate in activities and programs of the church in accordance with Article 4 of the Constitution and Paragraph 113 of the 1992 Discipline.
We would respond to the question as follows:
Statement of Facts
During the report of the Committee on Nominations being made on June 1, 1996 to the members of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference a motion was made and adopted that the co-chair format of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries be eliminated and that the Conference elect a single chair, and that the co-chair who had been nominated be submitted to the floor for election or rejection as a member of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. During the election process on the person in question a written ballot, by vote of the Annual Conference, was taken and the person was not elected as a member of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries by a vote of 405 to elect and 422 not to elect.
The person who was not elected subsequently submitted to the presiding bishop for an episcopal decision of law the following question:
In accordance with Article 4, as amended, of the Constitution and Paragraph 113 of the 1992 Book of Discipline, can a person denied the right to lead and/or participate in activities and programs of the Church on the basis of his or her sexual orientation?
The presiding bishop made the following decision of law:
A review of the evidence surrounding the question shows it to be hypothetical in that there is no showing of any relationship between the question and the business of the Annual Conference.
Based on that decision of law the presiding bishop did not submit a response to the question asked. The Judicial Council, meeting in October, 1996, did not affirm the bishop's decision but remanded the question to the bishop to be answered. The bishop subsequently re-affirmed his decision that the question, as submitted, was hypothetical and could not be responded to in an episcopal decision of law. He further asked that the Judicial Council review the facts in the case and render a decision based on its new understandings of the question.
Analysis and Rationale
The record, as submitted in the minutes of the Annual Conference Session by the conference secretary, does not contain reference to the sexual orientation of the person who was not elected as a member of the Conference Council on Youth Ministries. It merely indicates that the person failed to be elected to membership on the Conference Council on Youth Ministries by a vote of 405 for election and 422 against election. Therefore, according to the minutes of the conference secretary, no issue of sexual orientation was before the Annual Conference during the election process. If the minutes of the conference secretary are correct and accurate, as the Judicial Council presumes them to be, the question posed by the lay member to Annual Conference is hypothetical, as it did not relate to any action taken nor proposed by the Annual Conference.
Though the lay member to the Annual Conference did make reference to Article 4 (presumably ¶ 4, Article IV) of the Constitution and ¶ 113 of the 1992 Discipline, he did not ask the Annual Conference to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality, meaning, application or effect of the referred to paragraphs of the Discipline. That would have been the proper method to get the Judicial Council to render such a decision.
In Decision No. 33 this council ruled:
The provisions for Paragraph 914, Discipline 1944, limits the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council as to Declaratory Decisions so that they do not include hypothetical questions; and the same principle applies to requests for rulings by a Bishop in an Annual Conference, which requests should be based upon some action taken or proposed to be taken, wherein under the specific facts in each case some doubt may have arisen as to the legality of the action taken or proposed.
If the bishop were to rule on the request from the lay member to the Annual Conference, as stated, he would be rendering a decision on a hypothetical question or rendering a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application or effect of the paragraphs of the Discipline to which the lay member referred in his request to the bishop, both actions being precluded by Decision No. 33.
John G. Corry
April 25, 1997
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