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Decision No. 1042

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October 26 2006
In Re: Review of a Bishop's Decision of Law in the Detroit Annual Conference Concerning the Meaning, Application and Effect of ¶ 716 of the 2004 Book of Discipline Related to Socially Responsible Investments.

Digest of Case

Requests for a decision of law from a presiding bishop in an annual conference must relate to business under consideration or discussion of the conference session. Any question or request for a decision of law that does not relate to the business under discussion or to the legality of some action taken or proposed is improper and should not be answered.

Statement of Facts

During the 2006 regular session of the Detroit Annual Conference, the following written request for a decision of law was received: Does Paragraph 716 of the 2004 Book of Discipline of the [sic] United Methodist Church have the standing of law or is it a guideline?

If you rule as a law: (a) What is the threshold of “making a conscious effort”? (b) Who is empowered to monitor this policy; especially as it pertains to the local church? (c) What are the consequences for the groups named above if this policy is not followed?
(Original emphasis). In his decision, the bishop determined that the question did not relate to the business under consideration or discussion of the conference session and was therefore moot and hypothetical.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2004 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The Bishop was requested to interpret, the meaning, application, and effect of ¶ 716 of the Discipline which reads:
Socially Responsible Investments -- It shall be the policy of The United Methodist Church that all general boards and agencies, including the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, and all administrative agencies and institutions, including hospitals, homes, educational institutions, annual conferences, foundations and local churches, shall, in the investment of money, make a conscious effort to invest in institutions, companies, corporations, or funds whose practices are consistent with the goals outlined in the Social Principles; and shall endeavor to avoid investments that appear likely, directly or indirectly, to support racial discrimination, violation of human rights, sweatshop or forced labor, gambling, or the production of nuclear armaments, alcoholic beverages or tobacco, or companies dealing in pornography. The board and agencies are to give careful consideration to shareholder advocacy, including advocacy of corporate disinvestment.
In Decision 33, the Judicial Council established the fundamental principle that moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided. The Judicial Council has extended this principle to requests for decisions of law by a bishop in an annual conference. A request for a decision of law must be based on some action taken or proposed to be taken by the conference wherein under the specific facts in each case some doubt arises as to the legality of the action taken or proposed. It is improper for a presiding bishop to rule upon any moot or hypothetical questions or to answer requests for information that involve no legal matter for decision. Guidelines for bishop’s decisions on questions of law were extensively discussed in Decision 799.
Decision
Requests for a decision of law from a presiding bishop in an annual conference must relate to business under consideration or discussion of the conference session. Any question or request for a decision of law that does not relate to the business under discussion or to the legality of some action taken or proposed is improper and should not be answered. Mary A. Daffin and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent.

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