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Decision No. 857

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April 22 1999
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the California-Nevada Annual Conference Related to Inclusiveness in the Church.

Digest of Case

The ruling of the bishop that the ministries given financial support by the Annual Conference is not discriminatory nor exclusive is affirmed. The ruling of the bishop that several of the "questions" posed by the petitioners are moot and hypothetical is affirmed.

Statement of Facts

On Saturday, June 20, 1998, during a regular session of the California-Nevada Annual Conference three members of the Conference presented a written request to Presiding Bishop Melvin G. Talbert to render an episcopal decision of law on five questions, the latter of which contained four parts, as indicated below: We respectfully request a ruling of law during the 1998 Annual Conference under ¶ 49 and ¶ 2613 of The Discipline regarding: ¶4, "Inclusiveness of the Church," states in part, "In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition." 1. Are those churches within the California-Nevada Annual Conference which have chosen to become Transforming Congregation "constituent bodies" which cannot be excluded from the life of the Annual Conference? 2. Since the Reconciling Congregation Program excludes the theology and practice of the Transforming Congregation Movement, does the establishment of a Conference Reconciling Committee which exists to promote Reconciling Congregations (not Transforming Congregations) and the inclusion of $l,000 in the conference budget (to be raised to $1,500) for this committee (Item 1, Line 38) violate ¶ 4 of the Constitution, structuring the conference to exclude those churches with the status of being Transforming Congregations? 3. Does the inclusion of a $200 contribution to the National Reconciling Congregation Program without a comparable contribution to the National Transforming Congregation Movement, also violate ¶4 of the Constitution? 4. Does the class, "evangelical," constitute a status, which cannot be excluded from the life of the Annual Conference? 5. Does the testimony presented at the May 20 meeting between the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship and the Conference Ministry Staff indicate that evangelicals are being excluded from the life of the conference in violation of ¶4 of the Constitution? 5.1 Judicial Council Decision 491 (October 31, 1980), which dealt with Annual Conference funding for gay caucuses or groups, noted, "It is clear that Par. 906.13 of the Discipline concerns the funding of boards, agencies, committees, commissions, or councils of the general church. It does not refer to the Annual Conference." In the 1996 Discipline ¶ 806.12 is the same as the 1980 ¶906. 13 . However, in 1984, General Conference added a definition of "agency" which includes annual conferences in the definition of "agency." Now in ¶701.1a, that paragraph reads, "The term agency, wherever it appears in the Book of Discipline, is a term used to describe the various councils, boards, commissions, committees, divisions, or other units constituted within the various levels of Church organization (General, jurisdictional, central, annual, district, and charge conferences) under authority granted by the Book of Discipline..." ¶806.l2 says that "no agency...shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality." In the light of this change in The Discipline, we ask: Is the Annual Conference now an "agency" under ¶806.12? 5.2 Is the Reconciling Congregation Program to be considered a "gay caucus or group?" 5.3 Do such Annual Conference funds given to Reconciling Congregations or used to promote the Reconciling Congregation Program now fall under ¶806.12, either by going to a "gay caucus or group" or by being used to "promote the acceptance of homosexuality? The bishop indicated that he would render his decisions within the thirty days allowed by the Discipline, which he did. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale In response to question number one the bishop ruled: Voluntary association with the movement called "Transforming Congregations" does not exclude such congregations from being involved in the life of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. In fact, such congregations could participate in every aspect of conference life, including the Reconciling Congregation program. Non-participation in certain programs is the choice made by some congregations, but is in no way the action or the structure of the Annual Conference as such. Therefore, there is no basis for Transforming Congregations to claim exclusion based on Paragraph 4 of the 1996 Book of Discipline. The bishop is affirmed in his ruling on this question. On question number two the bishop ruled: The fact that a congregation disagrees with the direction of a particular program and does not participate in it does not constitute an "exclusion" by the Conference. In Decision 847 we said, "In declaring that an annual conference may not become an unauthorized organization, the Judicial Council is in no way limiting efforts by conferences to pursue principles and causes, affirmed in the Discipline and by the General Conference." The bishop is affirmed in his ruling on this question. On question number three the bishop ruled: The fact that a cause which some congregation believes in does not receive funding in a conference budget does not constitute an Annual Conference structure excluding such congregation. The Annual Conference has the authority, upon recommendation from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, to adopt a budget to support its various ministries, which are not violative of the doctrine and Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The bishop is affirmed in his ruling on this question. On question number four the bishop ruled: This question is not a proper question of law requiring a ruling because it is hypothetical. In Decision 799 this Council set forth Guidelines for Bishop's Rulings on Questions of Law. Among those guidelines was: Questions of law shall be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the Annual Conference and shall state the connection to a specific action taken, or the question must be raised during the deliberation of a specific issue of a matter upon which the conference takes action. This question, as posed, does not meet the above guideline. The ruling of the bishop on this question is affirmed. On question number five the bishop ruled: This question is marked by vagueness, and asks for an opinion based on opinions of unidentified persons; as such it is not a proper "question of law" under paragraph 2613. On the same basis as indicated above, the bishop is affirmed in his ruling on this question. On question number 5.1 the bishop ruled: No! The California-Nevada Annual Conference is not an agency. Rather, it is a level of church organization. I call your attention to Judicial Council Decision #491 which points back to Judicial Decision #196. The Annual Conference as established in the Constitution (paragraph 31), is "the basic body in the Church," and is in no way "an agency." The bishop is affirmed in his ruling on this question. On question number 5.2 the bishop ruled: This question is moot and hypothetical because the Reconciling Congregation Program has received no funds from any "agency"of the United Methodist Church. This question does not meet the guidelines as set forth above. The ruling of the bishop is affirmed. On question number 5.3 the bishop ruled: This question is moot and hypothetical because the Reconciling Congregation Program has received no funds from any "agency"of the United Methodist Church. The ruling of the bishop on this question is affirmed.

Decision

The ruling of the bishop that the ministries given financial support by the Annual Conference is not discriminatory nor exclusive is affirmed. The ruling of the bishop that several of the "questions" posed by the petitioners are moot and hypothetical is affirmed.

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