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Memorandum No. 1093

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April 28 2008
In Re: Request for Declaratory Decision from the Tennessee Annual Conference with respect to the Meaning and Application of ¶ 642.3(o)of the 2004 Book of Discipline Specifically with Regard to the Role of the Commission on Religion and Race as an Investigatory Body following the Filing of a Complaint against a Clergyperson or Layperson.

Decision

On June 13, 2007, the Tennessee Annual Conference passed a resolution requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council with respect to the meaning and application of ¶642.3(o) of the 2004 Book of Discipline “specifically with regard to the role of the Commission on Religion and Race as an investigatory body following the filing of a complaint against a clergyperson or layperson.” The Annual Conference asks three questions in its request for declaratory decision:

1. Does ¶642.3o [sic] of the Discipline give the Annual Conference Commission on Religion and Race authority to investigate complaints of violations of the Church’s policies regarding racial equality other than as part of the supervisory process or just resolution process at [sic] outlined in ¶¶ 362 and 2701 of the Discipline? 2. How is it intended that the Annual Conference Commission on Religion and Race Investigation interplay or intermix with the Conference’s regular investigatory process? Can the results be used by either the Conference or the Respondents as part of the trial process? 3. The Tennessee Annual Conference is concerned that the Commission on Religion and Race’s role 292 2007 Tennessee Conference Journal as a neutral body when conducting site evaluations and surveys will be compromised if those results can then be used against the body surveyed. Can the Tennessee Annual Conference lawfully instruct the Commission on Religion and Race that it may, if it chooses, adopt a policy that it will not involve itself in investigations authorized in ¶642.3o [sic]?
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2004 Book of Discipline. Paragraph 642.3(o) of the 2004 Discipline states that “[t]he annual conference commission will assume responsibility for such matters as: . . . [s]erving in consultation with the bishop and other appropriate conference leadership to investigate and assist in resolution of complaints of racial discrimination made by clergy or laity.” The authority that the annual conference commission has with respect to any aspect of the complaint process involving racial discrimination proceeds from this disciplinary provision. In that regard, the annual conference commission on religion and race serves in a consulting role to the bishop and other conference leadership. It is not an investigative body. Upon the filing of a complaint of racial discrimination against clergy or laity, the role of the conference commission is to consult with the bishop and other appropriate conference leadership to investigate and assist in a resolution of the complaint. Although ¶ 2008.6 authorizes the General Commission on Religion and Race to review, investigate and conduct hearings, no such language is present in ¶642. Paragraph 642.3(o) authorizes the conference commission on religion and race “to follow the general guidelines and structure of the General Commission on Religion and Race as outlined in ¶¶ 2002 and 2008, where applicable.” [Emphasis added]. Paragraph 2008.6 requires the General Commission to review, investigate, and conduct hearings without consultation “in response to written allegations of violation of the Church’s policy of racial and ethnic inclusiveness that have not be satisfactorily resolved in the annual conference, any general agency, or other institution of the Church.” In the case of the conference commission, ¶642.3(o) requires “serving in consultation with the bishop and other appropriate conference leadership to investigate and assist in resolution of complaints of racial discrimination made by clergy or laity.” Thus a close reading of the paragraph in question requires the conference commission to investigate and assist in resolving such complaints only in consultation with the bishop and other appropriate conference leadership. The Judicial Council has ruled that a respondent has a right to possess any supporting materials accompanying a complaint. See Decision 974. Paragraph 642.3(o) does not give the annual conference commission on religion and race authority to investigate complaints of racial discrimination other than in consultation with the bishop and other appropriate conference leadership. The annual conference has no authority to adopt any policy that is contrary to ¶642.3(o). The responsibilities given to the annual conference commission by this provision are mandatory and cannot be abridged in any manner by the annual conference.
DIGEST
Paragraph 642.3(o) of the 2004 Book of Discipline does not give the annual conference commission on religion and race authority to investigate complaints of racial discrimination. The annual conference commission serves in a consulting role to the bishop and other appropriate conference leadership. The annual conference has no authority to adopt any policy that is contrary to ¶642.3(o). The responsibilities given to the annual conference commission by this provision are mandatory and cannot be abridged in any manner by the annual conference. Shamwange P. Kyungu was absent. C. Rex Bevins, the first clergy alternate, participated in this decision.

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