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ICJ No. 7

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May 02 1969
In Re: Request of the Uniting Conference to the Interim Judicial Council to determine the constitutionality of its action by which it denied to a Lay Pastor or a Minister's Spouse eligibility for election as Lay Members in an Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

The action of the Uniting Conference, determining that a lay pastor may not be elected as the lay member of an Annual Conference, is constitutional. The action of the Uniting Conference, determining that a minister's spouse may not be elected as a lay member of an Annual Conference, is in violation of the Constitution.

Statement of Facts

The Interim Judicial Council received the following certification from the Secretary of the Uniting Conference: "This is to certify that the Uniting Conference of The United Methodist Church in morning session, May 3, 1968, requested a declaratory decision of the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the adoption of Calendar 253 (D.C.A. page 454) in that section which denies the right of lay membership in the Annual Conference to a lay pastor or a minister's spouse on the basis of Article IV.14." JURISDICTION Jurisdiction is based upon the creation of the Interim Judicial Council and the grant of authority given to it by the Uniting Conference (D.C.A. 190-192). ANALYSIS In the Report No. 14 of the Committee on Local Church of the Uniting Conference (D.C.A. p. 454), in setting forth the procedures for the election of lay members to the Annual Conference by the Charge Conference, the qualifications for such lay members are set forth. The concluding sentence of the paragraph dealing with the said qualifications reads: "No lay pastor or minister's spouse shall be eligible as a lay member or alternate (see 36.1)." The question submitted to us is whether such restriction upon the eligibility of "a lay pastor or a minister's spouse" is in accordance with the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. In submitting this question to us for decision, special reference is made to Paragraph 15, Article IV, 14, of the Constitution which grants to the General Conference power: "to secure the rights and privileges of membership is all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status." The parenthetical note (see Par. 36.1) at the end of the sentence under consideration obviously refers to the constitutional provision for the election of lay members of the Annual Conference by the local charges. For us, there are two questions involved which require separate consideration. First, we must consider the restriction placed upon the eligibility of the "lay pastor." For the former The Methodist Church this is a new designation but for all practical purposes refers to the Methodist classification of "approved supply pastor." Judicial Council Decision No. 112 of the former The Methodist Church deals with this question and states: "An approved supply pastor represents his charge as a pastor in every respect except the right to vote. Therefore he cannot represent the charge in the dual capacity of Pastor and Lay Member at the same time." Since, by the action of the Uniting Conference, such decisions of the Judicial Council of the former The Methodist Church are to be considered as precedents in The United Methodist Church, we accept the decision made in that case and reaffirm it as the decision of this Council. The second question involves the right of a Charge Conference to elect as its lay member of the Annual Conference a "minister's spouse." The Constitution, Paragraph 15, grants to the General Conference broad legislative powers, among which is: "3. To define and fix the powers and duties of . . . charge conferences and congregational meetings." The Judicial Council of the former The Methodist Church has consistently held, however, that in the exercise of its power the General Conference may not invade nor abridge the powers and duties of other church bodies specifically reserved to them by the Constitution. Paragraph 36 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church provides that: "The Annual Conference shall be composed of ministerial members as defined by the General Conference together with a lay member elected by each charge." The only qualifications for eligibility to election as lay members as provided in this paragraph are as follows: "The lay members shall be at least 21 years of age and shall have been for the four years next preceding their election members of one of the constituent churches forming this union or of The United Methodist Church." We hold that the action of the General Conference in restricting the Charge Conference in its right to make its own choice in its election of a lay member of the Annual Conference is an abridgment of the rights and duties of the Charge Conference reserved to it by the Constitution and is therefore in violation of the Constitution. Further strengthening our position, the Council is of the opinion that the action of the Uniting Conference in denying to a special class of persons the right to election as lay members of the Annual Conference is also violative of Paragraph 15.1 and 15.14 of the Constitution. Par. 15.1 grants the power of the General Conference "to define and fix the conditions, privileges, and duties of church membership which shall in every case be without reference to ... status." Par. 15.14 secures "the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of . . . status."

Decision

It is the decision of the Interim Judicial Council that the action of the Uniting Conference which provides that a lay pastor may not be elected by his charge as lay member of an Annual Conference is not in violation of the Constitution, and that the similar action which provides that a minister's spouse may not be elected by a charge as a lay member is in violation of the Constitution and is therefore void. MURRAY H. LEIFFER Vice President, Interim Judicial Council J. RUSSELL THROCKMORTON Secretary, Interim Judicial Council (Paul R. Ervin, Leon E. Hickman and Samuel W. Witwer were absent.)

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