Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 1051

Back to Search

Share:

October 26 2006
In Re: Request for a Declaratory Decision by the General Commission on the General Conference as to the Application of Article III of the Constitution and ¶ 502 of the 2004 Book of Discipline with Respect to the Admission of the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference into The United Methodist Church and the Calculation of Representation for the Several Annual Conferences at the 2008 General Conference.

Digest of Case

Under ¶ 502 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, the General Conference has plenary authority to provide for its composition and the allocation of delegates. In allocating delegates to the 2008 General Conference, the Secretary of the General Conference shall allocate two delegates to the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in accordance with the action of the 2004 General Conference.

Statement of Facts

On Friday, May 4, 2004, the 2004 General Conference considered calendar item 1505, Resolution No. 41611, p. 2246 of the Daily Christian Advocate. The resolution proposed the addition of Cote d'Ivoire to the West Africa Central Conference. The presiding officer informed the body that the Commission on Central Conference Affairs was recommending referral of the issue to the executive committee of the Commission on Central Conference Affairs together to all work with the General Board of Global Ministries and the West Africa Central Conference toward the inclusion of the Church of Cote d’Ivoire into the West Africa Central Conference. The referral recommendation contemplated eventual compliance with the provisions of paragraphs 537.3, 537.6, and 537.10 of the 2000 Discipline. A substitute motion was offered from the floor. The text of the substitute motion as lifted from the Daily Christian Advocate is as follows:

"BRETSCH: I move to substitute this petition as follows: In Discipline Paragraph 535.3 that Cote d'Ivoire be added to the West African Central Conference and the West African Central Conference is authorized to elect a bishop to serve as its Episcopal leader in the new Cote d'Ivoire Area. The Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area is responsible to set up and fully fund its own Episcopal Fund during the 2005-2008 quadrennium with no funding from either GCFA or the Episcopal Fund of the United Methodist Church. Further, the Annual Conference within the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area shall be represented at the 2008 General Conference with two delegates, one lay, one clergy. Finally, the Commission on Central Conference Affairs in consultation with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table shall bring enabling legislation to the 2008 General Conference in order to include the Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal area in the Episcopal Fund of the UMC at this time.

The substitute motion was adopted. During its regular meeting held May 23-25, 2006, the Commission on the General Conference unanimously approved the following resolution to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council:

"Resolved, that the Commission on the General Conference petition to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision as to the application of Article III of the Constitution and paragraph 502 of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2004 in light of the action of the 2004 General Conference admitting Cote D'Ivoire into The United Methodist Church as an Annual Conference and fixes the representation at two delegates, one lay and one clergy, to the 2008 General Conference. Should the secretary of the General Conference calculate the number of delegates to the 2008 General Conference from each Annual Conference based upon the factors and procedures lists in paragraph 502 resulting in approximately 35 lay and 35 clergy delegates, or upon the action of the General Conference in admitting Cote D'Ivoire into The United Methodist Church?"

Oral hearings were held in Cincinnati, Ohio, on October 26, 2006. Greg Stover, representing the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, Sam Dixon, representing the General Board of Global Ministries, and James R. Allen, General Counsel of the General Council on Finance and Administration, presented oral argument.

Jurisdiction

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

The Commission on the General Conference is a body created by the General Conference and is among those bodies authorized to request a declaratory decision on matters relating to or affecting the work of such body. The General Conference is vested with plenary authority to set the formula for delegate representation from the several annual conferences under ¶ 502 of the 2004 Discipline. The 2004 General Conference specifically determined that Cote d’Ivoire would have two delegates, one clergy and one lay delegate, to the 2008 General Conference. The action of the General Conference was not a final act of admission of the Church of Cote d’Ivoire into The United Methodist Church. By its terms the legislation contemplated that further legislative action would be taken by the 2008 General Conference. The record of the General Conference debate demonstrates that the General Conference never intended for Cote d’Ivoire to have any more than two delegates to the 2008 General Conference. The allocation of two delegates to the Church of Cote d’Ivoire for the 2008 General Conference was within the General Conference's authority under ¶ 502 to provide for its composition and for the allocation of delegates. The General Conference cannot function effectively as a committee of the whole. The General Conference action deviated from disciplinary procedures. The course chosen by the General Conference has led the church into a veritable no-man’s land where the questions are many and the answers are few. Several deliberative processes are set forth in the Book of Discipline that allow the church the opportunity to consider and resolve questions and dilemmas that attend upon the processes of affiliation with and admission into The United Methodist Church. More importantly, the General Conference should make a clear decision as to its desired outcome. The original resolution contemplated following the provisions of ¶ 537 of the 2000 Discipline. The substitute motion offered referred to ¶ 535.3 of the 2000 Discipline. The aftermath of the harried discussion and precipitous action on the substitute motion has lead many to believe that the Church of Cote d’lvoire has joined The United Methodist Church under the provisions of ¶ 575. Such a process has not been achieved. In fact, none of the processes that lead to church affiliation or admission were perfected by the General Conference action (2004 Daily Christian Advocate at 2246). The 2000 and the 2004 Disciplines set forth procedures by which churches may become an autonomous Methodist Church, an affiliated autonomous Methodist Church, an affiliated United Church, a covenanting church or a concordat church. Paragraph 553 of the 2000 Discipline and ¶ 575 of the 2004 Discipline set for the process for joining The United Methodist Church. The substitute motion adopted anticipates that the 2008 General Conference will consider further legislative action to include Cote d’lvoire into the Episcopal Fund. The remaining formalities of affiliation or admission should be completed by the agencies to whom the responsibility is assigned in time for presentation to and perfection by the 2008 General Conference. Once the process of joining The United Methodist Church is fully achieved, Cote d’lvoire would have the right to full representation in its delegations to the 2012 and succeeding General Conference Sessions according to the formula set forth in the Constitution (¶ 15) and ¶ 502 of the 2004 Discipline.

Decision

Under ¶ 502 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, the General Conference has plenary authority to provide for its composition and the allocation of delegates. In allocating delegates to the 2008 General Conference, the Secretary of the General Conference shall allocate two delegates to the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in accordance with the action of the 2004 General Conference. October 27, 2006 Mary A. Daffin and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent. Rodolfo C. Beltran, Dennis L. Blackwell, Keith D. Boyette and James W. Holsinger, Jr. dissent.

Dissenting Opinion

At the 2004 General Conference, the Commission on Central Conferences brought a report that recommended that a resolution to add Cote d’Ivoire to the West Africa Central Conference be referred “to the executive committee of the Commission on Central Conference Affairs together all to work with the General Board of Global Ministries and the West Africa Central Conference toward the inclusion of the church in Cote d’Ivoire into the West Africa Central Conference.” Bishop Nkulu Ntanda Ntambo stated that the rationale for the referral was to

give appropriate time for the West Africa Central Conference to fix its boundary of annual conferences and also to fix the episcopal areas. The respective board in the committee to whom the matter shall be referred is helping to monitor the process so that we can report to the next General Conference the inclusion of Cote d’Ivoire into the list of countries belonging to the West Africa Central Conference as well as about the episcopal leadership for the new area. This process will follow the provisions as stated in the Book of Discipline, Paragraph 537.3, 537.6, 537.10.

The paragraphs of the Discipline referred to by Bishop Ntambo relate to the powers of a central conference. Paragraph 537.3 of the 2000 Discipline relates to the election of bishops by a central conference and the tenure of such bishops. Paragraph 537.6 of the 2000 Discipline relates to the fixing episcopal areas and residences, and the assignment of bishops. Paragraph 537.10 of the 2000 Discipline relates to the fixing of the boundaries of annual conferences by a central conference. Although the decision of the Judicial Council speaks of “affiliation” and “admission” of an existing church with The United Methodist Church, none of the provisions cited by Bishop Ntambo address “affiliation” or “admission” of an existing church with or into The United Methodist Church. In response to the motion to refer, a substitute motion was made and ultimately adopted by the 2004 General Conference as follows:

I move to substitute this petition as follows: In Discipline Paragraph 535.3 that Cote d’Ivoire be added to the West African Central Conference and the West Africa Central Conference is authorized to elect a bishop to serve as its episcopal leader in a new Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area. The Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area is responsible to set up and fully fund its own Episcopal Fund during the 2005-2008 quadrennium with no funding from either GCFA or the Episcopal Fund of The United Methodist Church. Further, the annual conference within the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area shall be represented at the 2008 General Conference with two delegates – one lay, one clergy. Finally, the Commission on Central Conference Affairs in consultation with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table shall bring enabling legislation to the 2008 General Conference in order to include the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in the Episcopal Fund of the UMC at that time.

Contrary to the assertion in the decision of the Judicial Council, the General Conference was not moving pursuant to those paragraphs that permit an existing church to be recognized as an autonomous Methodist church (¶ 546, 2000 Discipline), an affiliated autonomous Methodist church (¶ 547, 2000 Discipline) or a covenanting church (¶ 549, 2000 Discipline). The General Conference was also not acting pursuant to ¶ 553 of the 2000 Discipline to make an autonomous Methodist church or an affiliated autonomous Methodist church outside the United States a part of The United Methodist Church. None of these disciplinary provisions were cited by the Commission on Central Conferences in making its motion to refer, by the maker of the substitute motion or by those who participated in the debate preceding the adoption of the substitute motion by the General Conference. Furthermore, there is nothing to indicate that the General Conference was acting in anticipation of applying those provisions when it meets again in 2008. Contrary to the analysis in the decision of the Judicial Council, there was nothing transitional in the petition adopted by the 2004 General Conference. The petition as adopted 1) added Cote d’Ivoire to the countries assigned to the West Africa Cental Conference in ¶ 535.3(g) of the 2000 Discipline. The 2004 General Conference was empowered to take this action by Division Two, Section V, Article I of the Constitution (¶ 26, 2000 Discipline). 2) authorized the West Africa Central Conference to elect a bishop to serve as its episcopal leader in a new Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area. The 2004 General Conference was empowered to take this action by Division Two, Section II, Article IV (¶ 15.5, 2000 Discipline) and Division Two, Section V, Article IV (¶ 29.2, 2000 Discipline). Following the conclusion of the 2004 General Conference, the West Africa Central Conference elected Rev. Benjamin Boni to the episcopacy of The United Methodist Church, as it was authorized to do by the action of the 2004 General Conference and by ¶ 543.2 of the 2004 Discipline. The West Africa Central Conference then assigned Bishop Boni to the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area composed of the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference, as it was authorized to do by the action of the 2004 General Conference and by ¶¶ 543.5 and 543.8 of the 2004 Discipline. As a result of the action by the 2004 General Conference and the subsequent meeting of the West Africa Central Conference, the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference came into existence and was immediately entitled to all of the rights and privileges of any annual conference in The United Methodist Church. As with all of the other annual conferences, the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference, with the assistance of the General Board of Global Ministries, has filed with the General Council on Finance and Administration, the appropriate report indicating that as of June 26, 2006, the Cote d’Ivoire Annual Conference has 123 full-time clergy members and 591,142 professing members. The substitute petition adopted by the 2004 General Conference did provide that the Commission on Central Conference Affairs in consultation with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table is to bring legislation to the 2008 General Conference in order to include the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in the Episcopal Fund of The United Methodist Church at that time. Paragraph 817 of the 2004 Discipline provides for the establishment of an Episcopal Fund. Every effective bishop of The United Methodist Church is to participate in the proceeds of the Episcopal Fund under ¶ 817. There is no legislative action needed to include the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in the Episcopal Fund as the episcopal leader of that area is included by virtue of such episcopal leader being an effective bishop under ¶ 817. The decision of the Judicial Council states that “nder ¶ 502 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, the General Conference has plenary authority to provide for its composition and the allocation of delegates.” Therefore, the Judicial Council has instructed the secretary of the General Conference to allocate two delegates to the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area in accordance with the action of the 2004 General Conference. The so-called “plenary” authority of the General Conference to provide for its composition and the allocation of delegates is nonetheless subject to the provisions of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. Article III of Section II of Division Two of the Constitution (¶ 14, 2000 Discipline, ¶ 15, 2004 Discipline) provides:

The General Conference shall fix the ratio of representation in the General, jurisdictional, and central conferences from the annual conferences, missionary conferences, and the provisional annual conferences, computed on a two-factor basis: (1) the number of clergy members of the annual conference and the missionary conference, and (2) the number of professing members in the annual conference and the missionary conference, provided that each annual conference, missionary conference, or provisional annual conference shall be entitled to at least one clergy and one lay delegate in the General Conference and also in the jurisdictional or central conference.

This constitutional provision limits the “plenary” authority of the General Conference to provide for its composition and the allocation of delegates and requires that the allocation of the number of delegates amongst the annual conferences, missionary conferences and the provisional annual conferences be proportionate. No annual conference may be singled out for special treatment in representation, resulting in either positive or negative inequity. The proviso of this constitutional provision does not authorize the General Conference to award only one clergy and one lay delegate to an annual conference, missionary conference or provisional conference that would otherwise be entitled to more than that number of delegates proportionately. Rather, the proviso ensures that any annual conference, missionary conference or provisional annual conference that would not be entitled to at least one clergy and one lay delegate under a proportionate formula will be entitled to minimal representation. The action of the 2004 General Conference in providing that the annual conference within the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area is to be represented at the 2008 General Conference with two delegates – one lay, one clergy – is unconstitutional. This action denies a fully functioning annual conference duly created by the actions of the 2004 General Conference and the West Africa Central Conference its proportionate representation amongst the delegates to the 2008 General Conference. The General Conference, and now this Judicial Council, has acted in a way which substantially disenfranchises what statistically is the largest annual conference in The United Methodist Church. And applying the logic of our colleagues, it creates a situation where other annual conferences can likewise be denied proportionate representation so long as they are provided with the minimal representation of one lay and one clergy delegate. This is a dangerous precedent and one which reflects poorly upon the global nature of our church. Four of the seven members of the Judicial Council present and voting at our fall 2006 session have voted to hold the action of the 2004 General Conference in allocating two clergy delegates to the Cote d’Ivoire Episcopal Area unconstitutional. Paragraph 2608 of the 2004 Discipline requires that “[a]n affirmative vote of at least six members of the council shall be necessary to declare any act of the General Conference unconstitutional.” We dissent from the decision of the Judicial Council for the reasons indicated. Rodolfo C. Beltran Dennis L. Blackwell Keith D. Boyette James W. Holsinger, Jr.

Decision

Back to Search

Share: