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Decision No. 847

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October 29 1998
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference Related to a Resolution Adopted by the Conference Entitled "A Call to Doctrinal Integrity."

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement (such as, but not limited to, a "Confessing Conference," "Reconciling Conference," or "Transforming Conference"). Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the official bodies of the Church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. Decision 794 is reversed insofar as it allows the Annual Conference to become identified or labeled as a "Reconciling Conference." Decision 665 is reversed, insofar as it authorizes the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to become identified and labeled as a "Reconciling Commission." The ruling of Bishop Alfred L. Norris in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference is not affirmed.

Statement of Facts

The Northwest Texas Annual Conference adopted a resolution entitled "A Call to Doctrinal Integrity" at the June 1998 session. In the resolution the conference voted to become a "Confessing Conference." The resolution further affirmed the Articles of Religion, as well as a list of certain other doctrinal statements. The bishop was asked for a ruling of law on the following written question: Is the resolution "A Call to Doctrinal Integrity" that is before the conference in conflict with the Constitution of the United Methodist Church and the Book of Discipline, specifically including but not limited to the following paragraphs: Article II, Division 1 of our Constitution (Par 3); Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, ¶ 62; ¶¶ 117,15, 60 (pp.59,45,46, and 49) and others. (from copy of minutes furnished by Conference Office, see attachment #2). The bishop ruled: My ruling is that the resolution as presented is not unconstitutional, nor is it in violation of the paragraphs of the Discipline identified in the request for a ruling of law, as long as the resolution is interpreted as a mere expression of the opinion of the Annual Conference and not as a rule binding upon local churches or any other body of The United Methodist Church, nor applied as a standard to judge clergy with respect to their ordination, character or conference relations.... The resolution does not appear to conflict with the doctrinal standards of The United Methodist Church as expressed in the Articles of Religion or in the Confession of Faith (¶ 60-63)...If the resolution is interpreted as a mere expression of opinion, it is not in violation of the Constitution or of the Discipline. Though a review of pertinent parts of current doctrine does not lead me to conclude that the resolution is in conflict with the Discipline under ¶ 604.1, it is unnecessary to make a complete analysis under that section because the resolution is not a rule or regulation, just an expression of opinion. As such, it cannot be applied as a "litmus test" for either clergy or laity. These factors lead me to the conclusion that the resolution as passed is constitutional and that it was not voted on inappropriately by the entire Conference, clergy and lay, so as to violate Division Two, Section VI, Article II (¶ 31). Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale In adopting a resolution to become a "Confessing Conference" an Annual Conference identifies itself with an unofficial organization which may espouse certain doctrinal standards and confessions. This act of identifying and/or labeling subjects the official bodies of The United Methodist Church of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. There are other unofficial groups with which conferences by resolution have become identified or have labeled themselves. This identification or labeling is divisive and destructive to the life of the Church. As United Methodists, we have duly established the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, a Constitution and historic doctrinal statements. ¶ 3, Article III of the Constitution states that, "The Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith shall be those currently held by The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church respectively. The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church are contained in ¶ 62. Par.¶16, Article I of the Constitution states that, The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine. In order to preserve this historic identity, the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith and the General Rules are protected by the Restrictive Rules (Par. 16 and 19). Any attempt to paraphrase, summarize, alter, or change the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith and the General Rules is prohibited. Decisions 476 and 700 state that "the Annual Conference has no authority to approve or disapprove any provisions of the Discipline." Decision 714 goes on to state that, "A vote to approve implies the power to disapprove, and is therefore not permissible." In the instant case, the resolution, as amended , conflicts with the Constitution in ¶¶ 3, 16, and 19. The resolution also conflicts with certain other portions of the Discipline such as ¶ 62. The Annual Conference in affirming doctrinal statements violates the Constitution, as well as the Restrictive Rules as above set forth. In keeping with this rationale, the Judicial Council hereby reverses Decision 794 insofar as it authorizes the Wisconsin Annual Conference to become a "Reconciling Conference." The resolution implies acceptance and affirmation of purposes and agendas and may conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. We also reverse Decision 665 insofar as it implies acceptance and affirmation of purposes and agendas in conflict with the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. This principle applies to any Annual Conference or other United Methodist Church entity which attempts to identify itself as an unofficial body. In declaring that an Annual Conference may not become an unauthorized organization, the Judicial Council is in no way limiting efforts by the conferences to pursue principles and causes, affirmed in the Discipline and by the General Conference. Additionally, reconciliation and healing is a mandate of the gospel required of the whole church. "As servants of Christ we are sent into the world to engage in the struggle for justice and reconciliation. We seek to reveal the love of God... and to demonstrate the healing power of the gospel with those who suffer." (¶ 103) The action of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference in the resolution conflicts with the Discipline in the aforementioned paragraphs. The ruling of the presiding bishop is not affirmed.

Decision

An Annual Conference may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement (such as, but not limited to, a "Confessing Conference", "Reconciling Conference", or "Transforming Conference"). Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the official bodies of the Church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. Decision 794 is reversed insofar as it allows the Annual Conference to become identified or labeled as a "Reconciling Conference." Decision 665 is reversed, insofar as it authorizes the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to become identified and labeled as a "Reconciling Commission." The ruling of Bishop Alfred L. Norris of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference is not affirmed.

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