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Memorandum No. 1160

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October 29 2010
In Re: Request from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on Whether the Action of the 2008 General Conference in Changing the Language of ¶ 225 from “May” to “Shall” supersedes Judicial Council Decision 1032

The 2010 session of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference adopted the following resolution:

The Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church respectfully asks The Judicial Council whether the action of the General Conference of 2008 in changing the language of Par. 225 from “may” to “shall” supersedes Judicial Council Decision 1032.
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 of 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, or discussion of the annual conference and must have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the annual conference session. In Decision 452, the Judicial Council determined that to have jurisdiction, the question submitted for declaratory decision must have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the body submitting the petition. This principle has never been reversed or modified. There is no showing in the record supplied that the request for a declaratory decision 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. 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. It would be improper for the Judicial Council to answer questions beyond its authority. The Judicial Council has only such jurisdiction as is expressly granted to it 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.
DIGEST
The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction.
Concurring Opinion
I continue to believe that Decision 1032 was wrongly decided. In addition to usurping the legislative authority of the General Conference, the decision ignored longstanding Judicial Council jurisprudence and precedent regarding to the assumption of jurisdiction. Decision 1032 sits atop an ideological fault line within our connection and my disagreement with its holding was made clear in my dissent. Nevertheless, I do not look favorably upon continued requests for the Judicial Council to make new Church law. At this Judicial Council session, now five years after Decision 1032 was rendered, we have been asked in seven separate cases to review or reconsider Decision 1032 in some fashion. Efforts to nuance or explain away the meaning of Decision 1032 through conference policies, resolutions or sophistry do nothing to achieve the true goal of clarifying the issue of inclusive membership for the Church as a whole. The General Conference is the only body authorized and able to resolve the issue for the Church. Although I vigorously dissented from the majority opinion in Decision 1032, I have grown weary of repeated requests for review, reconsideration, and retraction of the decision. The only sensible course available to those who wish for Church law to be different is to work within the Church’s structures to make it so. Annual Conferences and individual members of The United Methodist Church possess the power of petition and should use it whenever issues facing the Church require a full and fair debate. The Judicial Council is not an appropriate body to change Church law. The resolution in this case and others of similar ilk should be ushered through the legislative processes of the General Conference. There is a larger principle is at stake. I will not do now the very thing I criticized then. It was wrong for the Judicial Council to legislate then and it would be wrong for the Judicial Council to legislate now. This issue cannot and should not be resolved by judicial fiat. The same thought and energy that annual conferences expend in adopting these tepidly symbolic resolutions should be directed in the future to the legislative processes of the 2012 General Conference and to subsequent sessions of the General Conference if necessary. Albert Einstein taught that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Annual Conferences planning to adopt resolutions requesting the Judicial Council to reconsider Decision 1032 should consider another course. Jon R. Gray October 30, 2010
Concur In Part and Dissent In Part
I concur with my colleagues when they state that: “The Judicial Council has only such jurisdiction as is expressly granted to it 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.” I wholeheartedly concurred with my colleagues that the jurisdiction of the Judicial Council is narrow and that requests from annual conferences for declaratory decisions must be “on matters relating to the annual conferences or the work therein.” Furthermore, in Decision 1165, I agreed with the majority that the requirements for membership in The United Methodist Church are in the exclusive purview of the General Conference, which I understand to mean that only General Conference can pass legislation amending or changing those requirements. However, the question of membership, and the issues of interpretation concerning membership are indeed germane to annual conferences and their work therein. Having said that, I do believe that it is proper for the Judicial Council to refrain from providing interpretations of certain actions of General Conference when doing so would in essence constitute creating law. Such was the case in Decision 1032. That was, and continues to be, a case with which I strongly disagree. However, the fallout from Decision 1032 and the lack of clarity that many people have pursuant to the 2008 General Conference’s amendment of ¶ 225, in my opinion constitutes a genuine need for an authoritative voice on the matter. It appears that there are many people that genuinely seek guidance. They want to know where church law currently stands. For example, given that Decision 1032 involved a case that specifically concerned a clergyperson’s refusal to admit a person into membership under ¶ 225 (transfer of membership) and that General Conference has subsequently amended that paragraph to mandate acceptance of said members, what does that do to the discussion in 1032 about ¶ 214 which was not the actual issue in the case upon which Decision 1032 was decided? Many people are looking to this Council for help in their understanding of where the United Methodist Church’s law stands now in light of General Conference’s amendment of ¶ 225 after the issuance of Decision 1032. The General Conference amendment has a direct effect on the holding of Decision 1032 and it appears that people want clarity on specifically what that effect is on the holding. I believe their questions to be sincere. It is particularly vexing for conferences, such as Northern Illinois, that probably have a culture that is more akin to that of The Methodist Church and The Methodist Episcopal Church. As expressed in their brief, they have always assumed that pastors are not vested with the authority and discretion to determine that a person may not take the vows of membership when that person is willing and stating their readiness. Likewise, there are many in our connection that are from a culture that is more akin to The Methodist Episcopal Church South wherein they have always assumed that pastors are vested with such authority and discretion. Thus those among us who, like me, have assumed that pastors do not have such authority are troubled by Decision 1032, yet are pleased that General Conference affirmed their understanding of this issue by amending ¶ 225, while remaining perplexed that similar amendments did not pass after debate on ¶ 214. Then there are those among us who are, in all likelihood, troubled by the implications of the 2008 General Conference’s amendment of ¶ 225, while hoping that everyone will continue to rely upon the judicial dictum of Decision 1032, bolstered by the 2008 General Conference’s decision to not amend ¶ 214. It appears to me that the best method to determine an outcome to this situation (short of a clear action by General Conference) is the legislative history. Not only are the Books of Discipline very telling, but many of these issues have been debated recently enough that we actually have a verbatim record of the various considerations that were raised before the entire voting body. Such is the case in the transfer of membership paragraphs and the General Conference debate of 1952. Past Disciplines provide evidence of the Church’s evolution of thought on this topic. Thus, we have a long legislative history upon which to rely in the interpretation of ¶¶ 214 and 225. The fact that General Conference voted overwhelmingly to amend ¶ 225 and make the acceptance of transfers of membership from other denominations obligatory is not surprising to many; it is entirely consistent with the legislative history of The United Methodist Church, The Methodist Church, and The Methodist Episcopal Church. Most recently, it was only The Evangelical United Brethren Church that required persons who were transferring in from other denominations to go before the Committee on Membership (Local Conference) for consideration and action. A look at some of the more recent previous Disciplines is revealing:
1939
Reuniting Conference – The Methodist Church
¶131. All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and desiring to live the Christian life are eligible for membership in the Methodist Church. ¶132. It shall be the duty of the Pastor to instruct or to appoint suitable leaders to instruct, all persons offering themselves for Church membership in the principles of the Christian life, in the baptismal and membership vows, and in the rules and regulations of the Methodist Church. ¶133. When the Pastor is satisfied as to the genuineness of their faith, their acceptance of the baptismal and membership vows, and their knowledge of and willingness to keep the rules and regulations of The Methodist Church, he shall present the candidates to the congregation; and after the candidates have been baptized and the members of the Church have entered into solemn covenant with one another as provided in the Ritual, he shall receive them into Church membership according to the prescribed form.
1963
The Evangelical United Brethren Church
Committee on Membership ¶224. The local conference shall be the Committee on membership in the local church to which all applications for church membership shall be referred by the minister. Persons recommended by the local conference shall be admitted to membership according to the form provided in the order and DISCIPLINE of The Evangelical United Brethren Church. (See ¶2255.) Applications for transfer or withdrawal of membership shall be referred to this committee for consideration and action. (See ¶¶246-251, 254.) Members from Other Churches ¶225. Persons who present certificates of membership in good standing from other recognized evangelical churches and who have been recommended for reception into the membership of The Evan¬gelical United Brethren Church by the local conference shall in the presence of the congregation answer questions 4 and 5 asked of applicants for membership, and be given the right hand of fellowship. (See ¶2255.)
1964
The Methodist Church
¶107. All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and sincerely desiring to be Christian in faith and practice are proper candidates for membership in The Methodist Church. When such persons offer themselves for membership, it shall be the duty of the pastor, or of proper persons appointed by him, to instruct them in the meaning of the Christian faith and the history, organization, and teaching of The Methodist Church; to explain to them the baptismal and membership vows (¶¶1713-14); and to lead them to commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When they shall have given proof of the genuineness of their faith in Christ and of their desire to assume the obligations and become faithful members of The Methodist Church, and after the rite of baptism has been administered to those who have not been previously baptized, he shall bring them before the congregation, administer the vows (¶¶1714) and receive them into the fellowship of the Church, and duly enroll them as members. ¶ 111. A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The Methodist Church may be received into membership by a proper certificate of transfer from his former church, or by his own declaration of Christian faith, and upon affirming his willingness to be loyal to The Methodist Church, and after he and the members of the church have entered into solemn covenant with one another as provided in the Ritual (¶1714).
1968
The United Methodist Church
¶115.1. All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and sincerely desiring to be Christian in faith and practice are proper candidates for membership in The United Methodist Church. When such persons offer themselves for membership, it shall be the duty of the pastor, or of proper persons appointed by him, to instruct them in the meaning of the Christian faith and the history, organization, and teaching of The Methodist Church, using materials approved by The United Methodist Church to explain to them the baptismal and membership vows, and to lead them to commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When they shall have confessed their faith in Christ and have made known their desire to assume the obligations and become faithful members of The United Methodist Church, after the completion of a reasonable period of training, and after the Sacrament of Baptism has been administered to those who have not been previously baptized, he shall bring them before the congregation, administer the vows, receive them into the fellowship of the Church, and duly enroll them as members. ¶ 119. A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church may be received into membership by a proper certificate of transfer from that person’s former church, or by a declaration of Christian faith, and upon affirming willingness to be loyal to The United Methodist Church. The pastor will report to the sending church the date of reception of such a member. It is recommended that instruction in the faith and work of the Church be provided for all such persons. Persons received from churches that do not issue certificates of transfer or letters of recommendation shall be listed as “Received from other denominations.”
2008
The United Methodist Church
¶ 214. Eligibility—The United Methodist Church is a part of the holy catholic (universal) church, as we confess in the Apostles’ Creed. In the church, Jesus Christ is proclaimed and professed as Lord and Savior. All people may attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments and become members in any local church in the connection (¶ 4). In the case of persons whose disabilities prevent them from reciting the vows, their legal guardian[s], themselves members in full covenant relationship with God and the Church, the community of faith, may recite the appropriate vows on their behalf. ¶ 225. Transfer from Other Denominations—A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church shall be received as either a baptized or a professing member. Such a person may be received as a baptized member by a proper certificate of transfer from that person’s former church or some certification of Christian baptism and as a professing member upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith through appropriate services of the baptismal covenant in our ritual (see ¶¶ 214-217). In baptism water is administered in the name of the Triune God by an authorized person. The pastor will report to the sending church the date of reception of such a member. It is recommended that instruction in the faith, work, and polity of the Church be provided for all such persons. Persons received from churches that do not issue certificates of transfer or letters of recommendation shall be listed as “Received From Other Denominations.”
However, the difficulty is that even though I believe that General Conference’s amendment of ¶ 225 should be deemed as overruling Decision 1032, the Decision contained much judicial dictum concerning ¶ 214 which was not amended by General Conference in 2008. I understand that this question should be answered, indeed begs to be answered, but I also understand and appreciate the majority’s reluctance to do so in light of the actions of the 2008 General Conference. Beth Capen October 30, 2010

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