Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 843
October 29 1998
In Re: Request From the General Board of Discipleship on Whether Under ¶ 508 of the 1996 Discipline Enabling Legislation May Be Enacted by a General Conference to Become Effective After the Ratification of a Constitutional Amendment Proposed by the Same General Conference.
Digest of Case
In the event that an amendment to the Constitution is passed by a General Conference it must be approved by the required vote of Annual Conferences (¶ 57) and the Council of Bishops, operating as a canvasser votes, must announce that the amendment has been passed before enabling legislation can be proposed or adopted.
Statement of Facts
The 1996 General Conference approved the document concerning baptism entitled By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism, and also approved legislation which implemented the tenets of this document. In Decision 811, the Judicial Council ruled that all this legislation was in violation of Article 4 of the Constitution and thereby null and void. The council further stated that "no change which abolishes the vow requirement can be legislated without amending the Constitution." A directive was issued that the local church membership rolls of The United Methodist Church be kept and maintained in accordance with ¶ 232 of the 1992 Discipline, and that the baptism and membership practices and polity be continued in accordance as set forth in the 1992 Discipline. No application for rehearing was received. The General Board of Discipleship has now raised the question: Paragraph 508, 1996 Book of Discipline, states "All legislation of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church shall become effective January 1 following the session of the General Conference at which it is enacted, unless otherwise specified (Par. 537.22)." Could this phrase (underlined) allow enabling legislation for By Water and The Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism, adopted by the 1996 General Conference, to be implemented upon the announcement of the Council of Bishops that an Amendment of Article 4 (Division One---General) of the Constitution has received the required vote by the Annual Conferences (Par.57)? At an oral hearing held October 29, 1998, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Gayle Felton appeared, representing the General Board of Discipleship. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The General Board of Discipleship makes several arguments in favor of the position that legislation may be handled in the way that they propose. After working for more than ten years the General Board of Discipleship contends that the matter is now "urgent" and that "[f]urther delay threatens to exacerbate confusion and undermine appreciation for the significance of the sacrament and of the privileges and responsibilities of church membership." As a matter of fact, the brief filed by the General Board of Discipleship makes note, itself, of a number of errors in the document and a number of things that need to be changed, amended, or made more specific. They also contend that the direction to use the 1992 Discipline in this regard creates two contradictory ideologies of baptism, and that it is "imperative" that there be an amendment to the Constitution and prompt enactment of appropriate legislation to rectify this current "unstable" situation. There is only one valid interpretive document that governs ritual and "official interpretive...", whatever that means. The theology of baptism is clearly outlined by the Disciplines of 1992 and 1996. The United Methodist Church is a world wide denomination that has a method in adopting legislation which needs to be preserved. What is being asked is for the Judicial Council to overrule itself when it said: In Decision No. 811, effective on October 25, 1997, the Judicial Council ruled that regardless of theological understandings of baptism, "no change which abolishes the vow requirement can be legislated without amending the Constitution." The practical effect of this decision is that: "The 1996 legislation which constituted amendments to the membership provisions of the 1992 Discipline is unconstitutional and invalid. The 1992 Discipline relating to membership categories `preparatory membership' and `full membership' Pars. 216.4, 222-224, 2321 and 2 (1992 Discipline) remain as the governing law of The United Methodist Church." Therefore, "local church membership rolls.... [are] to be kept and maintained in accordance with Par. 232 of the 1992 Discipline." More broadly stated, "baptism and membership practices and polity shall be continued in accordance [with]....the 1992 Discipline." It is further asking that the General Conference abandon the provisions of ¶ 57 of the Constitution. The process is very clear. One, amendments to the Church Constitution should be passed by the General Conference. Two, they should be sent to the Annual Conferences for action in accordance with ¶ 57. After amendments are ratified, by the Annual Conferences the Council of Bishops must canvas the vote and announce the result. Enabling legislation cannot be passed by the General Conference until after that time. The General Board of Discipleship is asking the General Conference to pass enabling legislation concerning legislation that has not been ratified by the Annual Conferences. Such a decision would sound like a directive to the Annual Conferences. It is, after all, in the final analysis, their decision. The brief submitted by the General Board of Discipleship contains a number of references to errors other than the one handled in Decision No. 811, which indicates that further work should have been done before the 1996 General Conference.
In the event that an amendment to the Constitution is passed by a General Conference it must be approved by the required vote of Annual Conferences (¶ 57) and the Council of Bishops, operating as a canvasser of votes, must announce that the amendment has been passed Concurring Opinion I concur only in the final decision of this Judicial Council ruling and I base my opinion on the fact that Par. 508 does not address the situation at hand. The proposed request is not really for a change in the designation of the date of effectiveness. Rather, it is a request that the legislation passed become effective only if a condition precedent occurs. This is not a question of "when", but of "if", and there is no paragraph in the Discipline, including ¶ 508, which allows for such a process nor is there any precedent on which to rely. Additionally, I believe that the General Conference should consider developing a process whereby an explanation would be required to be submitted in writing at the same time a constitutional amendment is presented to the General Conference. This explanation should include the definition of terms used and how the Constitutional amendment, in its implementation, will allow for, and/or require, legislative changes in the Discipline. Such additional information would greatly assist Annual Conferences in understanding the impact of the Constitutional amendments on which they are voting. Evelynn S. Caterson