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Memorandum No. 1044

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October 26 2006
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decisions of Law in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Concerning the Constitutionality of the Annual Conference’s Adoption of a “Resolution to Prohibit Discrimination in Receiving Members into United Methodist Congregations.”

A resolution, entitled “Resolution to Prohibit Discrimination in Receiving Members into United Methodist Congregations,” was adopted during the 2006 session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference stating:

Be it resolved that the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of the [sic] United Methodist Church believes that Judicial Council Decision 1032 is inconsistent with Christian teachings, and contrary to the United Methodist Church Constitution; and Be it FURTHER resolved, that from this day forward, the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference will model inclusive behavior by expecting and encouraging its congregations and clergy to abide by the principle: Membership in any local church in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference shall not be denied on the basis of race, color, national origin, economic condition, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, ability or disability, or any other status.
After the adoption of the resolution, two members of the Annual Conference submitted written questions of law during the regular business of the session. The first question of law stated:
Please rule on the constitutionality i.e. harmony with the Discipline regarding our passage of “Resolution to Prohibit Discrimination in Receiving Members into United Methodist Congregations.”
The second question of law stated:
Paragraph 16, Article IV of the 2004 Book of Discipline states “The General Conference shall have full legislative power over matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: 1. To define and fix the conditions, privileges, and duties of church membership, which shall in every case be without reference to race or status.” In light of Paragraph 16, Article IV, is the “Resolution to Prohibit Discrimination in Receiving Members into United Methodist Congregations” in order with the 2004 Book of Discipline?
The presiding bishop issued decisions of law in response as follows:
The resolution does not change any conditions, privileges or duties of church membership. . . . The legislation does not mandate certain conditions, privileges or duties, but hopes that churches will receive all people regardless of race, color, national origin, economic condition, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, ability or disability. . . . [T]he Baltimore-Washington legislation does not change or prohibit fulfilling Judicial Council ruling 1032. It does not reference directly or by inference that pastors do not have the sole responsibility for determining readiness for membership. Again, the legislation is a hope of the annual conference.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2004 Discipline. The Discipline is the law of the church which regulates every phase of the life and work of the church. Annual conferences may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree even when the disagreements are based upon conscientious objection to those provisions. See Decisions 96 and 886. All actions of an annual conference must be faithful and consistent with the Discipline. The presiding bishop correctly ruled that the resolution adopted by the Annual Conference is aspirational in nature and does not violate Division Two, Section II, Article IV of the Constitution (¶ 16.1, 2004 Discipline). Only the General Conference can define and fix the conditions, privileges, and duties of Church membership. The resolution does not seek to define and fix the conditions, privileges, and duties of Church membership. The resolution does not carry or propose any penalties or actions if a congregation or clergyperson chooses not to agree or comply. Annual conferences may express disagreement with other bodies of The United Methodist Church, but they are still subject to the Constitution, the Book of Discipline, and the decisions of the Judicial Council. The decision of law is affirmed.
DIGEST
The resolution adopted by the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference concerning church membership is aspirational in nature and does not violate Division Two, Section II, Article IV of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church (¶ 16.1, 2004 Book of Discipline). Mary A. Daffin and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent.

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