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Decision No. 871

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October 28 1999
In Re: Review of Bishop's Decision of Law in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference Requiring Any Church Adopting an Identification Label to Reverse That Action.

Digest of Case

A local church or any of its organizational units may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement. Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. The ruling of Bishop Alfred J. Norris is reversed.

Statement of Facts

The 1999 session of the Northwest Texas Annual Conference adopted the following resolution: WHEREAS the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled, in its October 28-30, 1998 meeting, that United Methodist annual conferences may not identify themselves with or take on the label of an unofficial body or movement because to do so is, among other things, "divisive", this same logic should apply to congregations within the Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Further, any congregation within the Northwest Texas Conference that has taken on any such label be required to reverse that action within forty five (45) days after this petition becomes effective. After the adoption of the resolution, a request for a ruling was made as to whether the resolution is in conflict with The Book of Discipline and the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. The bishop wrote: It is my opinion that the "Curtis Resolution" assumes that the logic of the Judicial Council ruling (Decision No. 847) on an Annual Conference should in fact extend to a local congregation. I cannot find any authority or an enforcement mechanism to carry out said resolution. It appears that the Annual Conference has no such authority and if it does it would seem to be an attempt by resolution to legislate authority which has not been granted by The Discipline. My ruling, then, is that I find a lack of authority in the Constitution or The Discipline for an Annual Conference to require a local church to reverse a "label" within 45 days. Therefore, the resolution is in conflict with The Discipline and Constitution. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The annual conference is the basic body of The United Methodist Church and as such under Paragraph 31 of the Constitution has reserved to it such "... rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the Constitution, ...". Certainly, an annual conference has the right to correct what it determines to be actions by its local churches identifying or labeling themselves as unofficial bodies or movements which are not in compliance with the Discipline and the Constitution. In Decision 847, the Judicial Council held that the adoption of a resolution by an Annual Conference to identify or label itself with an unofficial organization is in conflict with the Constitution. The identification or labeling of an Annual Conference, local church or any other constitutional or Disciplinary entity of the Church implies acceptance and affirmation of doctrines, purposes and agendas of such unofficial organizations. Such action subjects United Methodist organizations to being in conflict with the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith and the General Rules which are protected by the Restrictive Rules (¶¶ 16 and 19). The council has ruled, in the case of an Annual Conference, such action would be "... divisive and destructive to the life of the church." See Decision 847. We hold that the same logic in Decision 847 is applicable to local churches. In matter of fact, Decision 847 stated "...This principle applies to any Annual Conference or other United Methodist Church entity which attempts to identify itself as an unofficial body." We do, however, reiterate the proposition that local churches like Annual Conferences can freely pursue principles and causes affirmed in the Discipline and by the General Conference with the mandate of reconciliation and healing being required of the whole church.

Decision

A local church or any of its organizational units may not identify or label itself as an unofficial body or movement. Such identification or labeling is divisive and makes the local church subject to the possibility of being in conflict with the Discipline and doctrines of The United Methodist Church. The ruling of Bishop Alfred J. Norris is reversed.

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