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Memorandum No. 911

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April 25 2001
In Re: Continued Jurisdiction over Ruling of Law by Bishop Elias G. Galvan in the Pacific Northwest Conference as Required by Decision 897.

Digest of Case

The decision of law of Bishop Elias G. Galvan is not affirmed since Report # 10 of the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order violates the Discipline and thus, cannot be acted upon by the Conference.

Statement of Facts

During the course of the regular session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, on June 17, 2000, the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order presented its Report # 10, a resolution entitled “Affirmation of the Goodness of Human Sexuality” with a recommendation of concurrence. Prior to action being taken on the resolution by the annual conference, a clergy member requested a decision of law that was submitted in writing to the regular session of the annual conference. This request was based on Decision 886 which states that the annual conference may not “legally violate, negate, or ignore” the Discipline, even for conscionable reasons. The annual conference minutes state: “further discussion of Report # 10 was postponed pending Bishop Galvan’s ruling.” Later the bishop indicated that he would research the issue and take up to thirty days to review the matter. The annual conference minutes then state that “the Report cannot be considered at this session” of the annual conference. On July 7, 2000, by written decision, the bishop stated that the question of law request “had the effect of suspending parliamentary action on the report pending the Bishop’s ruling.” The bishop ruled “the request to be premature and hypothetical and moot and not to be decided per Decision #33, since the Annual Conference had not as yet taken action either approving or rejecting Report #10.” On October 27, 2000, the Judicial Council in Decision 897 determined that “debate and a vote on a proposed resolution was erroneously suspended when the presiding bishop deferred ruling on a question of law until after adjournment of the annual conference session. The question of law was not rendered moot by this erroneous action. The request for a decision of law is remanded to Bishop Elias G. Galvan for an answer by February 1, 2001. The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction and this matter is continued to the Spring 2001 docket.” On January 16, 2001, the bishop responded in writing stating his decision of law as follows: The resolution in question (Report #10 of the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order) offered to the Pacific Northwest Conference on June 17, 2000, does not violate the Constitution or the Book of Discipline, and was therefore properly before the Conference. The bishop supports his ruling by indicating that the report of the legislative committee simply offered the resolution to those individuals who wished to sign it. He further states that should the conference adopt the resolution that it would not itself be adopting, agreeing to, concurring in, or urging, commending, or in any way recommending a position on the enclosed resolution. He further states: “there is nothing in Report #10 which in any way indicates that the Pacific Northwest Conference is negating, ignoring, or violating the Discipline. In fact, in the Report’s refusal to go on record expressing any viewpoint about the enclosed resolution, it is clearly repudiating the idea of the Conference expressing a viewpoint.” Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this case under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale The key question raised here is whether the petition can be offered or commended in the name of the annual conference. The underlying issue at stake in this instance is whether the annual conference’s sanction would have been granted to the document which is entitled “Affirmation of the Goodness of Human Sexuality.” Decision 886 posed a significant question: are actions of the annual conference which violate the provisions of the Discipline but are based upon disagreement in conscience with a particular paragraph in the Discipline legal within the context of our church law? In Decision 886 the Council asserted that the Discipline is the book of law of The United Methodist Church that is binding on annual conferences and individual members of the church. Thus annual conferences are not free to violate disciplinary provisions because they disagree with them. Such violations would result in negating, ignoring, or violating the Discipline. We must determine whether this resolution could have been offered legally in the name of the annual conference. Bishop Galvan ruled that by offering the declaration for all who wished to sign it, the annual conference would not be negating, ignoring, or violating the Discipline. The operative issue being, as the bishop interpreted it, that the annual conference was not itself adopting, agreeing to, concurring in, urging, commending, or recommending any position on the matter. However, by holding this document out (if it were adopted) as the property of the annual conference, it becomes difficult to then separate the intent of the annual conference action from the actual effect. We do not agree with the bishop’s assessment that by adopting the resolution the annual conference would not be adopting, agreeing to, or concurring in the document. The issue in this case is the intent of the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order in bringing Report # 10 to the 2000 session of the Pacific Northwest Conference. The bishop in his decision indicates that this report is separate from the accompanying resolution. A review of the resolution clearly demonstrates that Report # 10 is itself the resolution being presented to the Conference for vote. Clearly by a legislative committee of the Conference bringing a report that in its entirety is a resolution, by definition the resolution is a formal statement of opinion that is being presented in order for the conference to make a decision. Resolutions are official expressions of the annual conference and are valid until they are specifically rescinded, amended, or superseded by action of the annual conference. The effect of commending a resolution by an annual conference is the potential adoption of the substance of the document. Thus, it is difficult at that point to distinguish the will of the annual conference from individuals who may sign the document. The action thus occurs with the imprimatur of the conference that will undoubtedly influence individual members of the annual conference if the measure were adopted. Furthermore, such action would be held out publicly and interpreted as an annual conference initiative. The content of the resolution in Report # 10 is a clear statement which violates the intent of ¶¶ 304.3, and 306.4f, and 332.6 of the 2000 Discipline and is contrary to Decision 886 which states, “Annual Conferences may not legally negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagreeÿ” That the intent of the resolution as offered to the conference is to make a statement in opposition to the actions of the 2000 General Conference and the 2000 Discipline is clearly borne out by the request in the resolution to report the action of the Conference to the media. However, although annual conferences cannot take official actions in violation of the Discipline, United Methodists are expected to study and debate issues of importance to the church and society. Therefore, the decision of law of the presiding bishop of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference that Report # 10 of the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order does not violate the Discipline and was properly before the Conference is not affirmed.

Decision

The decision of law of Bishop Elias G. Galvan is not affirmed since Report # 10 of the Legislative Committee on Conference and Church Order violates the Discipline and thus, cannot be acted upon by the Conference.

We agree that the bishop was in error to rule that a resolution adopted by an annual conference does not become an official statement We also agree with the majority opinion that if Report # 10 had been adopted by the annual conference without alteration by amendment it would have been unconstitutional. However, the resolution was never discussed by the body. Therefore, we are unable to determine what language might have been adopted. Without that knowledge, it is not possible to discern what the outcome would have been. We do not believe the Constitution requires restraint on discussion or debate. We believe the bishop should have ruled the question out of order until after the annual conference discussed and voted on the resolution. At that time the question could have been considered. Sally Brown Geis Sally Curtis AsKew Rodolfo C. Beltran

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