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Decision No. 1147

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April 23 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Dakotas Annual Conference Regarding the Structure of the Annual Conference Under the Provisions of ¶ 16.15 and ¶ 610.

Digest of Case

The bishop’s rulings of law are reversed. The first sentence of ¶ 610 of the 2008 Discipline was incorrectly interpreted; the mandatory language of ¶ 641 is in effect; ¶ 610 does not constitute enabling legislation of ¶ 16.15; and ¶ 16.15 authorizes, but does not mandate, the General Conference to enact legislation to permit annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission. The annual conference must abide by all disciplinary mandates and Judicial Council Decisions in the creation of its new structure.

Statement of Facts

The Dakotas Annual Conference met in special session in November 2009 to consider and perfect the proposed structure and rules of the Annual Conference. The presiding bishop was asked a set of questions of law:

In regards to the action just taken in approving this new structure, specifically in regards to the defeat of an amendment requiring a Conference Commission on Archives and History, as specifically mandated and described in ¶ 641 [of the 2008 Book of Discipline], I have the following questions: 1. In ¶ 610, what is the meaning, effect and application of the phrase “with the exception of [sic] ¶¶ 635, 636, 639, 640, 647, 648”? 2. Does ¶ 610 allow annual conferences to ignore mandates of General Conference, specifically ¶ 637, ¶ 641, ¶ 665, and ¶ 2518, which are not mentioned in ¶ 610? 3. Does ¶ 610 adequately preserve the connectional system and thereby meet General Conference’s constitutional responsibility, as required by ¶ 16? 4. What is the meaning, effect and application of ¶ 16.15? 5. Does the constitution empower General Conference to adopt legislation empowering annual conferences to ignore General Conference mandates for specifically described annual conference structures? 6. Is ¶ 610 “appropriate enabling legislation,” as required by Judicial Council Decision 815, to allow annual conferences to restructure themselves pursuant to ¶ 16.15?

The bishop responded to the questions of law, at length, in writing within the required thirty-day period.

Jurisdiction

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

Question 1:

In ¶ 610, what is the meaning, effect and application of the phrase “with the exception of [sic] ¶¶ 635, 636, 639, 640, 647, 648”?

The first sentence of ¶ 610 was incorrectly interpreted by the annual conference and the presiding bishop to mean that the only annual conference structures now mandated by the 2008 Discipline are the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, the Conference Administrative Review Committee, the Conference Board of Pensions, the Board of Trustees, United Methodist Women, and United Methodist Men. That is an incorrect reading of ¶ 610. The first sentence of ¶ 610 was misquoted not only by the presiding bishop, but also by the person that asked the question of law. Paragraph 610 begins with the following sentence:

¶ 610 The annual conference is responsible for structuring its ministries and administrative procedure in order to accomplish its purpose (¶ 601), with the exception of the mandated provisions of ¶¶ 635, 636, 639, 640, 647, 648. … [emphasis added]

Both the conference member and the presiding bishop were quoting the Discipline but each failed to cite the critical part of this sentence: “the mandated provisions of”. This second part of the sentence is directed to the very specific structural and operational mandates that are contained within the paragraphs that create the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (¶ 635), the Conference Administrative Review Committee (¶ 636), the Conference Board of Pensions (¶ 639), the Board of Trustees (¶ 640), United Methodist Women (¶ 647), and United Methodist Men (¶ 648). The first part of the first sentence of ¶ 610 sets forth that the annual conference has the responsibility to structure its ministries and administrative procedures in a manner that will enable the annual conference to accomplish its purpose, defined in ¶ 601. The second part of the sentence then provides the first set of restrictions in ¶ 610 which limit the scope of that which the annual conference may structure. Specifically, the annual conference cannot redefine any of the specific provisions (e.g., composition, election, membership terms, reporting methods, lines of accountability, ministry, mission, structure, and the like) that are mandatory provisions contained in the paragraphs relating to the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (¶ 635), the Conference Administrative Review Committee (¶ 636), the Conference Board of Pensions (¶ 639), the Board of Trustees (¶ 640), United Methodist Women (¶ 647), and United Methodist Men (¶ 648). The annual conference’s restructuring committee apparently misread the sentence and did not understand that the exception was referring to the various provisions related to each agency; they read the sentence as meaning only the agency itself. Thus, although the presiding bishop did an admirable job in answering the questions and citing some of the legislative history and Judicial Council decisions, the response is predicated upon this misinterpretation of the first sentence of ¶ 610. Therefore, the full analysis is flawed because it is premised upon trying to reconcile a misreading of the first sentence of ¶ 610 with other parts of the Discipline. The sentence cited in the question of law is directed to the very specific structural and operational mandates that are contained within the paragraphs that create the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (¶ 635), the Conference Administrative Review Committee (¶ 636), the Conference Board of Pensions (¶ 639), the Board of Trustees (¶ 640), United Methodist Women (¶ 647), and United Methodist Men (¶ 648). Thus, the effect of applying this sentence to the work of the conference would be that each provision, within the paragraphs that create each of the six entities, must not be changed by the annual conference and must remain as it is defined in the Discipline whenever the provision is mandatory. Therefore, in applying ¶ 610 to the provisions found in the first subparagraph of ¶ 635 (Conference Board of Ordained Ministry), the effect upon the structure of the annual conference is, for example, as follows:

635. Conference Board of Ordained Ministry—1. Each annual conference at the first session following the General Conference, shall elect for a term of four years a Board of Ordained Ministry. [emphasis added]

The annual conference must elect a Board of Ordained Ministry and the term for membership is four years. It is a mandated provision of ¶ 635; the annual conference cannot reduce the term to three years, nor increase the term to five years, but rather it must be a term of four years – that is one of the mandatory provisions in the first sentence of ¶ 635. The term “mandated provisions” references the various mandates contained within the paragraphs which create the agencies listed in ¶ 610, which agencies are also mandatory. The sentence does not, as interpreted by the annual conference, mean that there are no mandated agencies except for those six agencies created by the six paragraphs listed. Question 2:

Does ¶ 610 allow annual conferences to ignore mandates of General Conference, specifically ¶ 637, ¶ 641, ¶ 665, and ¶ 2518, which are not mentioned in ¶ 610?

No. As set forth above, ¶ 610 does not allow annual conferences to ignore mandates of General Conference. An Annual Conference may not restructure itself in such a manner that it disregards the mandatory structures established by the General Conference and described specifically in the Discipline. See Decision 314. Annual Conferences do not have the authority to legislate actions that rightly belong to the General Conference. The bishop’s reliance on Decision 1026 is misplaced. The specific paragraph in question mandating the Conference Commission on Archives and History, ¶ 641, was before the General Conference in 2008. A petition was submitted by the National Association of Directors' of Connectional Ministries to revise the then ¶ 640 (current ¶ 641) by adding the words, "or other structure to provide for the function of this ministry." (Daily Christian Advocate, Volume 2, Section 2, page 1260, Petition 81228-IC-par. 640.1) The Legislative Committee on Independent Commissions recommended referral to the Annual Conferences by vote on April 26, 2008, which is recorded in the DCA, at page 2178. This item was calendared as #783 and adopted by the Plenary on May 2, 2008, at 9:02 p.m. This action of the General Conference is null and void in that Annual Conferences cannot change or nullify mandates of the Discipline. See Decisions 339, 680, 712, 831 and Memoranda 411 and 640. Thus, in the case of ¶ 641, this paragraph mandating the Conference Commission on Archives and History is maintained in the 2008 Discipline as an operative paragraph, and the precedential principle does not apply in this case. There are mandates throughout the Discipline which require particular structures and procedures within each annual conference besides those which are referenced in ¶ 610. For example, each annual conference is required to have a Conference Committee on the Episcopacy (¶ 637), a Conference Commission on Archives and History (¶ 641), a District Committee on Ordained Ministry (¶ 665), and a District Board of Church Location and Building (¶ 2518). All of these boards and committees are mandated structures within the annual conference; the annual conference does not have discretion to create an alternative structure to provide for the basic functions of those boards and committees. Question 3:

Does ¶ 610 adequately preserve the connectional system and thereby meet General Conference’s constitutional responsibility, as required by ¶ 16?

The presiding bishop ruled that ¶ 610 adequately preserves the connectional system and thereby meets General Conference’s constitutional responsibility as stated in ¶ 16. The bishop argues that:

In enacting ¶ 610, General Conference required annual conferences seeking to rework their conference structures to “provide for the connectional relationship of the local church, district, and conference with the general agencies.” General Conference attempted, in ¶ 610, to preserve the connectional system and to meet the General Conference’s constitutional responsibility as set forth in ¶ 16: The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: 3. To define and fix the powers and duties of annual conferences, . . . 8. To initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration. 15. To allow the annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission, other mandated structures notwithstanding.

However, the bishop is mistaken because ¶ 610 speaks to the mandated provisions concerning only six of the agencies mandated by the Discipline; ¶ 610 is not inclusive of all of the agencies currently mandated in the 2008 Discipline, and, as such, this paragraph does not adequately preserve the connectional system and does not meet the General Conference’s constitutional responsibility. Question 4:

What is the meaning, effect and application of ¶ 16.15?

The presiding bishop answered as follows:

¶16.15 conveys both constitutional authority and constitutional mandate to the General Conference to enact disciplinary legislation that permits annual conferences flexibility in their boards and agencies with the exception of specifically mandated agencies.

The Bishop then quoted part of Decision 1023. The presiding bishop is not affirmed in her analysis of the meaning, effect and application of ¶ 16.15. Paragraph 16.15 states:

¶ 16. Article IV.—The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: … 15. To allow the annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission, other mandated structures notwithstanding.

Paragraph 16.15 authorizes, but does not mandate, the General Conference to enact legislation to permit annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission. See Decisions 815, 825, and 909. Question 5:

Does the constitution empower General Conference to adopt legislation empowering annual conferences to ignore General Conference mandates for specifically described annual conference structures?

The bishop responded to this question by citing her answer for question two above. The bishop’s answer cannot be sustained. Question 6:

Is ¶ 610 “appropriate enabling legislation,” as required by Judicial Council Decision 815, to allow annual conferences to restructure themselves pursuant to ¶ 16.15?

The bishop incorrectly responded that ¶ 610 meets the requirement for enabling legislation as set forth by Decision 815. Paragraph 610’s reference to mandated provisions within some, but not all, of the mandated boards and agencies, causes confusion within the annual conferences as they attempt to restructure to meet their unique missional needs. The 2008 General Conference retained other mandatory structures that are not referenced in ¶ 610, including the Conference Committee on the Episcopacy (¶ 637), the Conference Commission on Archives and History (¶ 641), the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (¶ 665), and the District Board of Church Location and Building (¶ 2518). Thus ¶ 610, does not constitute enabling legislation for ¶ 16.15. The annual conference must abide by all Disciplinary mandates and Judicial Council. See Decisions 314, 339, 411, 417, 418, 640, 680, 712, 827, 831, 835, and 1023.

Decision

The bishop’s rulings of law are reversed. The first sentence of ¶ 610 of the 2008 Discipline was incorrectly interpreted; the mandatory language of ¶ 641 is in effect; ¶ 610 does not constitute enabling legislation of ¶ 16.15; and ¶ 16.15 authorizes, but does not mandate, the General Conference to enact legislation to permit annual conferences to utilize structures unique to their mission. The annual conference must abide by all disciplinary mandates and Judicial Council Decisions in the creation of its new structure. Jon R. Gray concurs dubitante.

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