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Decision No. 1108

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October 24 2008
In Re: Request for Declaratory Decision from Kansas East Conference on the Meaning, Application and Effect of ¶ 507.2 of the 2004 Discipline with Regard to the Scope of Petitions Presented to General Conference

Digest of Case

The secretary of the General Conference has the authority to determine when ¶ 507.2 is applicable. When a petition could potentially affect several Discipline paragraphs on a closely related topic, it should be presented as one petition.

Statement of Facts

In preparing petitions for the 2008 General Conference, members of the Kansas East Annual Conference sought to amend seven paragraphs or sub-paragraphs of the 2004 Book of Discipline by eliminating specific language regarding homosexuality. A Task Force on Sexual Orientation crafted what it called a “comprehensive petition” to offer amendments of various kinds to seven locations in six paragraphs of the Discipline. According to ¶ 507.2,

Each petition must address only one paragraph of the Discipline, except that, if two or more paragraphs of the Discipline are so closely related that a change in one affects the others, the petition may call for the amendment of those paragraphs also to make them consistent with one another.
At its 2007 session the Kansas East Annual Conference approved this “comprehensive petition” for submission to the 2008 General Conference. Subsequently, the petition was divided into five separate petitions, each of which applied to a separate paragraph in the Discipline. In the view of the Task Force leaders this negated the intent of the petition and limited the published rationale to only fifty words for these six proposed changes. At its session in June 2008 the Kansas East Annual Conference voted to ask the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the “meaning” of ¶ 507.2 and on “the scope of its application to petitions presented to the General Conference.” An oral hearing was held in Bloomington, Minnesota, on October 24, 2008. Appearing before the Council were Barbara Lukert, Andrew Mitchell, and Frank Dorsey.

JURISDICTION

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610.

ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE

Paragraph 507.2 concerns the work of the General Conference and the manner in which petitions to the General Conference may be formed. The specification of that paragraph does not in general refer to items concerning the same or similar topic, but rather refers specifically to a close relationship between two or more paragraphs such that a change in one would necessitate a change or changes elsewhere. The meaning and application of ¶ 507.2 are that a common theme or topic between (or among) paragraphs will not achieve the threshold necessary to permit embracing them in a single petition. If greater breadth is intended about what meets the threshold of “closely related” paragraphs, it is the role of the General Conference to establish such breadth, and a mechanism exists for doing so in the rules of order (¶ 505) by which the General Conference governs its procedures. Any petitioner who seeks a “comprehensive” approach to various legislative changes may do so by submitting multiple petitions with a rationale for each. The request from the Kansas East Annual Conference to clarify a matter which is already clear, both in its current form and in its potential for amendment, does not compel the Council to create a more comprehensive answer.

Decision

The secretary of the General Conference has the authority to determine when ¶ 507.2 is applicable. When a petition could potentially affect several Discipline paragraphs on a closely related topic, it should be presented as one petition.

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