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Memorandum No. 1118

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April 23 2009
In Re: Request for a Declaratory Decision from the Alaska United Methodist Conference upon the meaning, application, and effect of ¶ 4 of the 2004 Book of Discipline as it relates to ¶¶ 214 and 225.

Digest of Case

The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction.

Statement of Facts

The 2008 session of the Alaska United Methodist Conference approved a motion to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council. The matter was originally docketed at the Fall 2008 session. After an oral hearing at the Fall 2008 session, we determined that the record supplied by the secretary of the annual conference was insufficient in that it failed to comply with Rule III B of the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church. The matter was deferred to the Spring 2009 docket and remanded to the secretary of the Alaska United Methodist Conference with directions to provide all materials relating to the matter being appealed, including the minutes and an exact statement of the entire question submitted for declaratory decision. See Memorandum 1102. The Secretary of the Alaska United Methodist Conference has since provided the record of the annual conference action, including an exact statement of the entire question submitted for declaratory decision. The President of the Judicial Council granted requests for an oral hearing which was conducted on April 23, 2009, in Denver, Colorado. Mr. Lonnie Brooks and the Rev. Walter Fenton appeared on behalf of the interested parties. The request for a declaratory decision was as follows:

REQUEST FOR DECLARATORY DECISION
Under its authority in ¶2610.2 of the 2004 Book of Discipline, the Alaska United Methodist Conference (AUMC) asks the United Methodist Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the meaning, application, and effect of ¶4 of the 2004 Book of Discipline as it relates to ¶¶214 and 225 on the matter of the mandatory or permissive nature of the language concerning membership in The United Methodist Church. Since the annual conference is the basic (¶33) and fundamental (¶11) body of The UMC, it is primarily through the annual conference that local churches are connected to the Church. They are so connected by virtue of the election of lay members of the conference coupled with the requirement that those lay members report to the local church (¶¶247.14 and 251.2). In addition the clergy appointed to those churches have their membership in and are responsible to the annual conference (¶¶330.5, 333.2, 362.2 and 634.2). Membership in local churches provides the basis on which annual conference representation in the church beyond the annual conference is determined (¶15.(2)). Thus membership in local churches and the role that pastors of local churches have in the process of recruiting and receiving members is vitally related to and inseparable from the work of the annual conference. The specific questions which the AUMC addresses to the Judicial Council are the following: Does the phrase “shall be eligible” as it appears in the sentence, “All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection” of ¶4 constitute mandatory language meaning that such discretion that exists in the membership process rests with the applicant for membership, not with the local church pastor being asked to receive the applicant into membership in the Church? As it stands in ¶214 and ¶225, is the permissive language “may” conditioned by the mandatory language of ¶4 so that the permissive language of ¶¶214 and 225 must be understood as permissive to the benefit of the applicant for membership, not to the local church pastor or the local church, since the derivative law of neither of those paragraphs may modify the Constitution, the primary law of the Church? If the answer to the proceeding two questions is in the affirmative, will this decision have the effect of reversing Judicial Council Decision 1032? The motion was seconded from the floor. A brief discussion ensued, after which Bishop Edward W. Paup called for a decision. The request was unanimously approved (62 in favor, 0 opposed).
Under ¶ 2610, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference. The Judicial Council’s jurisdiction to make such a ruling upon request from an annual conference is limited by the language of ¶ 2610.2 (j) which requires that a request from an annual conference must relate to annual conferences or the work therein. Our longstanding jurisprudence has interpreted ¶ 2610 to mean that a request for a declaratory decision that comes from an annual conference must be germane to the regular business, consideration, and discussion of the annual conference and must have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the annual conference session. In order for the Judicial Council to have jurisdiction, an annual conference request for declaratory decision must relate to some action taken or to be taken by the annual conference session. See Decisions 301 and 452. There is no showing from the record supplied that the request for a declaratory ruling was germane to annual conferences or the work therein, or that the request related to some action taken or to be taken by the annual conference session. In light of a growing number of requests for declaratory decisions from the Judicial Council, it seems wise to call attention to a fundamental principle that determines jurisdiction in cases of this nature. A request for a declaratory decision must be based upon some action taken or proposed to be taken by the annual conference, wherein under the specific facts in each case some doubt may have arisen over the legality of the action taken or proposed. The request for a declaratory decision must also make reference to a specific paragraph of the Discipline thought to have been violated. The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to answer questions from an annual conference that do not relate to annual conferences or the work therein. See Decisions 33, 301, and 452. The Judicial Council has only such jurisdiction as is expressly granted by the Constitution and by the General Conference. Our lodestar principle has been that we may not assume jurisdiction to render a declaratory decision unless jurisdiction has been clearly vested in the Judicial Council. See Decision 29. Our long-standing policy is to construe our jurisdiction strictly and with restraint. See Decisions 255 and 535. Ruben T. Reyes was absent. Jay Arthur Garrison, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.
CONCURRING OPINION
Although I have been persuaded by the majority that the circumstances of this case do not confer jurisdiction, I am compelled to write a concurring opinion. As one who dissented in Decision 1032, I continue to be concerned about its holding and the interpretation of the Discipline as contained therein. Decision 1032 fails to take into consideration the full scope of decades of legislative history, as enlightened by General Conference debate, which bears upon the issues set forth therein. I continue to disagree with Decision 1032 while simultaneously striving to be faithful to that with which I have been entrusted, namely, to fairly interpret and uphold our church law as it is embodied in our Book of Discipline and previous Judicial Council decisions. Beth Capen
DISSENTING OPINION
Contrary to the statement in the controlling majority of the Judicial Council in the Memorandum, I observe that this request for a declaratory decision does address specific paragraphs in The Book of Discipline (¶¶ 214 and 225, as well as ¶ 4 of the Constitution). Although several Judicial Council decisions have interpreted ¶ 2610.2(j) to mean that a matter must emerge from something being addressed by an individual annual conference, I think the Council needs to review the implications of the plural (“annual conferences”) as it appears in that paragraph. F. Belton Joyner, Jr. Angela Brown joins in this dissenting opinion.

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