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Decision No. 961

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April 26 2003
In Re: Request from the Council of Bishops for a Declaratory Decision on a Proposed Amendment to ¶ 407.3 of the 2000 Discipline Making the Term of the President of the Council of Bishops Four Years and Releasing the President from Residential and Presidential Responsibilities During That Four Year Term.

Digest of Case

The legislation proposed by the Council of Bishops which would set aside a bishop for a term of four (4) years to serve as President of the Council of Bishops without residential or presidential responsibilities in any jurisdictional or central conference would be unconstitutional. Such a change could be adopted as an amendment to the Constitution in accordance with the procedures outlined in Division Five of the Constitution. In the event that the General Conference adopts such an amendment, the General Conference may immediately adopt enabling legislation for such amendment which shall be contingent on ratification of the amendment by the required two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members of the several annual conferences present and voting, and effective once the Council of Bishops, operating as a canvasser of votes, announces that the amendment has been passed. Decision 843 is overruled.

Statement of Facts

On November 8, 2002, the Council of Bishops adopted a motion, by a vote of 33-18, requesting a declaratory decision under ¶ 2609.2 of the 2000 Discipline as to the constitutionality of legislation which the Council of Bishops proposes to submit to the 2004 General Conference. The motion included the following proposed amendment to ¶ 407.3 of the Discipline which would place the current language in a new subsection a), and then add a new subsection b) which, if enacted, would read as follows: b) The Council of Bishops may elect a bishop, from among the active members, by a two-thirds majority vote to serve a four-year term as President of the Council of Bishops. He/she shall be released from residential and presidential responsibilities for that term. Such bishop shall continue to be a member of the College of Bishops from which elected, but shall not be counted under ¶ 405 or comparable central conference rules for the purpose of determining the number of bishops to which a jurisdictional or central conference is entitled. Upon completion of one four-year term, the bishop shall be returned to the jurisdictional or central conference for assignment to presidential and residential supervision. No bishop or group of bishops will be excluded from consideration for the office of Council of Bishops’ presidency. This legislation shall take effect upon approval by General Conference. Oral hearings were held on April 26, 2003 in Ft. Worth, Texas. Those speaking were Bishops Sharon Brown Christopher, John G. Innis, William B. Oden, G. Lindsey Davis, and Jack E. Tuell representing the Council of Bishops and Sandra K. Lackore from the General Council on Finance and Administration. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.2 of the Discipline. Analysis and Rationale We are asked to render a declaratory decision with respect to the constitutionality of the proposed legislation if it were to be enacted by the General Conference at some future date. Our analysis is limited to such an inquiry. The Constitution of The United Methodist Church defines the plan for the Church’s itinerant general superintendency in Division Three of the Constitution (¶¶ 43-52 of the Discipline). Significantly, ¶ 47 of the Discipline specifies that the “bishops shall have residential and presidential supervision in the jurisdictional or central conferences in which they are elected or to which they are transferred.” Paragraph 47 provides that each bishop shall have residential and presidential responsibilities. The proposed legislation is contrary to this constitutional requirement. Additionally, while ¶ 47 provides that a “bishop may be assigned by the Council of Bishops for presidential service or other temporary service,” such assignment must be “in another jurisdiction” and must be made in response to a request by “a majority of the bishops in the jurisdiction of the proposed service.” The proposed legislation is inconsistent with this constitutional provision for “temporary service.” The legislation proposed by the Council of Bishops effects a fundamental change in the contours and content of the plan of the Church’s itinerant general superintendency, and specifically is in contravention of the provisions of ¶ 47 of the Discipline. Enactment of the proposed legislation by the General Conference would be unconstitutional. Nevertheless, such a determination does not mean that the proposal cannot be considered by the General Conference as an amendment to the Constitution under ¶ 57 of the Discipline. If adopted by a two-thirds majority of the delegates to General Conference present and voting and a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members of the several annual conferences present and voting, the proposal would then be incorporated in the plan of the Church’s itinerant general superintendency. In Decision 843, the Judicial Council decided that “[in] the event that an amendment to the Constitution is passed by a General Conference it must be approved by the required vote of Annual Conferences (¶ 57) and the Council of Bishops, operating as a canvasser of votes, must announce that the amendment has been passed before the enabling legislation can be proposed or adopted.” The Judicial Council, on its own motion and pursuant to its rules of practice and procedure, now reconsiders Decision 843 and overrules that Decision. Should the Council of Bishops or others propose language to amend the Constitution and should such an amendment be adopted by the General Conference, the General Conference may proceed to enact enabling legislation which will be effective at such time as the Council of Bishops, operating as a canvasser of votes, announces that the amendment has been passed.

Decision

The legislation proposed by the Council of Bishops which would set aside a bishop for a term of four (4) years to serve as President of the Council of Bishops without residential or presidential responsibilities in any jurisdictional or central conference would be unconstitutional. Such a change could be adopted as an amendment to the Constitution in accordance with the procedures outlined in Division Five of the Constitution. In the event that the General Conference adopts such an amendment, the General Conference may immediately adopt enabling legislation for such amendment which shall be contingent on ratification of the amendment by the required two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members of the several annual conferences present and voting, and effective once the Council of Bishops, operating as a canvasser of votes, announces that the amendment has been passed. Decision 843 is overruled.

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