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Decision No. 905

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October 26 2000
In Re: Request from the Alaska Missionary Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Whether ¶ 710 Is Constitutional as it Relates to the Requirement That a Lay Member of a General Agency of the United Methodist Church Resign When the Member’s Permanent Residence Changes to a Place Outside the Boundaries of the Conference.

Digest of Case

The provisions of ¶ 710 do not violate the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

Statement of Facts

This matter comes before the Judicial Council on a petition for declaratory decision from the Alaska Missionary Conference as to the constitutionality of ¶¶ 710.8.a), 710.8.b) and 710.8.c) of the 1996 Discipline. These paragraphs set forth circumstances by which a clergy member or lay member of a general agency or jurisdictional agency would lose their membership on such agency. The petition challenges the constitutionality of these paragraphs because they provide a reason for the lay person to lose his or her seat on a general or jurisdictional agency that is different from one which would cause the clergy person to lose his or her seat on such agency. The clergy’s requirement for retention of membership under these paragraphs is based on continued membership in the annual conference that he or she was elected to represent. The lay persons continued membership is based upon maintaining a permanent residence in the annual conference. At an oral hearing on October 26, 2000 in Dallas, Texas, Lonnie D. Brooks made a presentation on behalf of the Alaska Missionary Conference. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Par. 4 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church provides that “n 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.” (Footnote omitted) Similarly, ¶ 15.14 gives the General Conference the power “[t]o secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status.” Disciplinary provisions must be measured against these constitutional standards.. Pars. 710.8.a), .b), and .c) of the 1996 Discipline set eligibility requirements for membership on general and jurisdictional agencies for both clergy and lay persons. The petitioner cites Decision 567 as requiring a finding that these provisions are unconstitutional. The legislation under review in Decision 567 was quite different than the legislation under consideration here. In Decision 567, we dealt with legislation that imposed a term limitation on clergy holding a general secretary position while no limitation was imposed on a lay person holding the same position. The provisions of ¶ 710 limit both lay and clergy in holding membership on an agency. While the triggering event is different, clergy and laity are in the same class. Their eligibility for membership on a general or jurisdictional agency is conditioned by requiring a connection to the annual conference from which they were elected. Because annual conference relationships are determined by different criteria for clergy and laity, it is entirely appropriate that continued membership on a general or jurisdictional agency be conditioned by reference to the basis for determining annual conference relationship. Clergy are required by the Discipline to itinerate which does not necessarily change their annual conference relationship. The Discipline does not require laity to itinerate or move. Their relationship to a local church and annual conference normally changes when they move outside the boundaries of an annual conference. For a lay person, full membership in a local church determines permanent residence.

Decision

The provisions of ¶ 710 do not violate the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

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