Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 364
October 26 1972
In Re: Appeal by the Council of Bishops for a Ruling as to the Constitutionality of Paragraph 827, 1972 Discipline, of Legislation Creating the General Council on Ministries
Digest of Case
The General Conference may not delegate legislative functions and responsibilities which are assigned to it by the Constitution. The legislative powers granted to the General Council on Ministries by Paragraph 827 are therefore held to be unconstitutional.
Statement of Facts
The General Conference of 1972 enacted legislation creating a General Council on Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Incident to the consideration of this legislation two questions were appealed to the Judicial Council. The first appeal came directly from the General Conference asking for a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality of that part of the legislation which specifically denies the possibility of a bishop being an officer of the Council on Ministries. The Judicial Council answered that question in its Decision No. 359 while the General Conference was still in session. The second appeal came from the Council of Bishops and was received by the Judicial Council on April 28. It reads as follows: "WHEREAS the General Conference on April 24th last passed a measure creating a Council on Ministries as is found in the Daily Christian Advocate of that date; "And whereas the measure as passed contained a paragraph listed as 829, P. 426 of the D C A, which outlined the powers granted to the said Council; "And whereas among these powers are those allowing it in the interim of general conferences to 'establish policies and make decisions governing the functions of the general boards and agencies of the United Methodist Church consistent with the actions of the General Conference during the interim between its sessions'; and also to 'approve or disapprove Recommendations by a board to change its internal structure' and also giving power to the boards 'to transfer functions among them' this also in the interim, "We the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church, respectfully ask the Judicial Council of the Church to rule on the constitutionality of the said paragraph which seems to be a delegation of powers to the said Council on Ministries which the General Conference of the Church cannot give under its own constitutional powers. Respectfully submitted by the Council of Bishops by their own vote." Because of the press of time it was not possible for the Judicial Council to give a decision on this second question before the adjournment of the General Conference. Therefore, it was docketed for the 1972 fall session and is the question under consideration in this decision. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1507 of the Discipline. ANALYSIS The Constitution of The United Methodist Church establishes the General Conference as the highest legislative body of the Church and defines its powers and duties. Paragraph 7, provides that: "There shall be a General Conference for the entire Church with such powers, duties, and privileges as are hereinafter set forth." Paragraph 15, states: "The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: * * * "8. To initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration. * * * "13. To establish such commissions for the general work of the Church as may be deemed advisable. * * * "15. To enact such other legislation as may be necessary, subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the Church." The General Conference acted clearly within its legislative authority when it created a General Council on Ministries as an entity for the promotion and administration of the work of the Church. It is only where the delegation of authority by the General Conference goes beyond promotion and administration and includes delegation of legislative functions that constitutionality is called into question. Paragraph 829 (April 24, 1972, D C A, p. 426) of the legislation which created the General Council on Ministries states: "The powers of the Council on Ministries are: "1. To establish policies and make decisions governing the functions of the general boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church, consistent with the actions of the General Conference, during the interim between its sessions. "2. To approve or disapprove recommendations by a board to change its internal structure as specified in the Discipline or by boards to transfer functions among them, subject to ratification by the General Conference." (emphasis added) The powers delineated in Paragraph 829 (Par. 827, 1972 Discipline), go far beyond promotion and administration. These powers are legislative in nature and so far as boards and agencies are concerned could, in effect, make the General Council on Ministries an interim, and more or less continuous, General Conference. They would permit the Council to function on behalf of, and with full authority of, the General Conference at any time between sessions of that conference. This would mean that any board or agency of the Church, established by the General Conference and responsible to that conference, could change its policies, functions and structure as established by legislative act of the General Conference, subject only to the approval of the General Council on Ministries. Thus a board directly responsible to the General Conference with its functions clearly and specifically defined by legislative enactment of that conference and promulgated as a part of the Discipline could be completely re-structured as to its organization, its policies and its functions simply by securing approval of the Council on Ministries at any time between sessions of the General Conference. It is true that the Council on Ministries would, at a later date, be required to make a report and be accountable to the General Conference which in its consideration of the actions would be faced with a fait accompli. In this way the Council on Ministries would in fact, if not in procedure, be exercising legislative functions reserved to the General Conference by the Constitution of the Church. The Constitution limits the General Conference in the authority it may delegate to the boards and agencies which it creates. This authority is limited to the work of promotion and administration. Such boards and agencies may not determine policies of the Church nor may they determine their own functions except as such action is consistent with actions already taken by the General Conference; much less are they free to transfer functions and change internal structure which has been specified in the Discipline through the legislative enactments of the General Conference. Under the Constitution of The United Methodist Church the creation and establishment of general church boards and agencies, the fixing of their structure, the determination of their functions, duties and responsibilities, and the establishing of church priorities are legislative functions reserved to the General Conference alone. These legislative functions may not be delegated. Only Paragraph 827 of the legislation creating the General Council on Ministries is before the Judicial Council in this appeal and we rule here only on that paragraph. This decision neither denies nor establishes the constitutionality of any other paragraph of the legislation. We are not unmindful of the fact that it is argued, and with some cogency and logic, that in our rapidly changing world a period of four years is too long to wait for necessary changes if the Church is to be effective and relevant in certain areas of Christian Mission and that a much more timely flexibility is needed. Some degree of flexibility is possible under the administrative powers granted to the General Council on Ministries and to other boards and agencies. If greater flexibility than is now possible under these powers is desired by the Church, such flexibility may be obtained through appropriate legislative action regarding its constitutional law, or through more frequent sessions of the General Conference.
The General Conference of The United Methodist Church is its highest legislative body. The Church Constitution empowers this conference alone with certain legislative functions and responsibilities. Such legislative powers may not be delegated. The legislative powers granted to the General Council on Ministries by Paragraph 827, 1972 Discipline, are therefore held to be unconstitutional. Dissenting Opinion I concur with the decision to the extent that Paragraph 827.2 may grant to the General Council on Ministries powers which could enable the council to approve actions that might be tantamount to creating legislation. It is my opinion, however, that not only are the powers granted in Paragraph 827.1 not legislative, but such powers as are granted in that section are required to be ". . . consistent with the actions of the General Conference . . ." and thus could not result in legislation. Therefore, I dissent with the decision as relates to Paragraph 827.1. FLORENCE LUCAS EDWARDS Dissenting Opinion The constitutional power to legislate in all matters connectional is clearly vested in the General Conference. The validity of its legislation to "initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises . . . and provide for their promotion and administration" should be given a strong presumption in the absence of compelling reasons otherwise. Such compelling reasons should be real, not fancied or assumed. The judicial authority called upon to interpret legislation, in the light of the constitution, should in all cases avoid substituting its judgment for that of a representative legislative authority. In this instance we believe the Judicial Council has erred by applying a narrow and restrictive rule to powers of a legislature which may be delegated, and has repealed by judicial decree an essential part of legislation of great significance to the Church. The principle long established in civil law that a legislative authority cannot delegate its power to make laws is applicable, but should not be applied so narrowly as to stifle a legislative body in pursuit of orderly and effective governance and administration. We contend that the rule precluding the delegation of law-making power by a legislature, does not embrace every power the legislature may properly exercise. Any power not law-making in character which the General Conference may exercise, we believe it may properly delegate. Thus the General Conference may not delegate its power to make laws in matters connectional, but in the exercise of the power to initiate and direct connectional enterprises of the Church, it has the authority to delegate administrative and functional powers to an agency established for the purpose of promoting the work of the Church. The powers granted by the General Conference to the General Council on Ministries in Discipline Paragraph 827 are not, in my opinion, law-making authority, but rather ministerial power to achieve functional co-ordination and effectiveness of general boards and agencies in achieving goals of the Church. The law-making powers of the General Conference are expressly reserved, and the ministerial powers granted must be exercised "consistent with actions of the General Conference" and be "subject to ratification by the General Conference." The constitutionality of Paragraph 827 enacted by the General Conference should have been sustained. THEODORE M. BERRY