Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 1161

Back to Search

Share:

October 29 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Mississippi Annual Conference Regarding Whether a Report of the Council on Finance and Administration Violates ¶613.8

Digest of Case

Under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse the decisions of law made by bishops in central, district, annual, or jurisdictional conferences upon receiving questions submitted to them in writing during the regular business of the session. The conference secretary shall enter into the conference journal an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop. Questions submitted only orally during the business of the session are not sufficient to confer jurisdiction. The bishop’s decision of law is reversed and vacated.

Statement of Facts

On June 13, 2010, during the 2010 session of the Mississippi Annual Conference, when the report of the Council on Finance and Administration was being considered, a member of the annual conference gave the following statement:

I request a ruling of law as to the validity of report #2 of the CFA report at this Annual Conference and as to its Disciplinary appropriateness and legality.
The request referred to a portion (identified as Report #2) of the full report by the Conference Council on Finance and Administration to the annual conference. It purported to fulfill the requirement of ¶ 613.8 of the 2008 Discipline for the Council On Finance And Administration.
To recommend to the annual conference for its action procedures for dealing responsibly with situations in which budgeted funds, as approved by the annual conference, are inadequate to meet emerging missional needs or unforeseen circumstances.
On July 12, 2010, the Presiding Bishop issued her decision of law. She found the inquiry about the “validity” of the report “to be a hypothetical question and shall not be decided.” On the substance of the matter, she ruled as follows: The question concerning the disciplinary appropriateness and legality of the report is another matter.
… It is the legal opinion of this Bishop that CFA properly interpreted Discipline Section 613.8 to define at what point an unforeseen circumstance may arise and further finds that CFA acted both appropriately and legally in interpreting the Discipline Section under question, and properly made its recommendations for procedures before the Annual Conference.
The content of Report #2 defined “an unforeseen circumstance” as one in which “actual cash receipts in any given monthly period are such that cash reserves are equal to or less than 17% of the current year required cash payments.” Report #2 then recommended a five-step procedure for implementation in the event of such “an unforeseen circumstance.”
1. Upon the determination by the conference treasurer than an unforeseen circumstance has occurred, the conference treasurer shall report the occurrence to the Bishop, Conference Lay Leader, Dean of the Cabinet, Chair of Trustees and Chair of CFA. These leaders are then expected to begin work with their respective committees to effect a 5% reduction of 100% items that will become effective no later than the date in item 3 below. 2. If the unforeseen circumstance exists for three (3) consecutive months, the Bishop, District Superintendents, Conference Trustees and CFA shall meet in joint session to formally confirm the existence of the unforeseen circumstance. In this meeting, reports from each of the named leaders in number 1 above will be received and reviewed. 3. Upon confirmation of the existence of the unforeseen circumstance, the Conference Treasurer shall be required to use all apportioned receipts first to apply to the actual amount spent for the 100% required payments as reported to the annual conference, with the balance of the receipts shared pro rata with all other apportioned line items. 4. When the reserves return to the amount determined above for three (3) consecutive months, in the following month the Treasurer shall report that fact to the Bishop, Dean of the Cabinet, Chair of Trustees, and Chair of CFA, and begin paying out the receipts as so indicated by the Mission Share statements submitted by the local churches from this date forward. 5. The declaration of and the cessation of an unforeseen circumstances [sic] shall be reported to the local churches and all entities that will be affected within 30 days of the declaration date.
The minutes for June 13 indicate that “Report Number 2 was approved.”
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
Problems abound with the record in this matter. First, the report of the bishop’s decision of law is not delivered on the form provided by the Judicial Council, as required in ¶ 2609.6. Second, the minutes do not provide an exact statement of the request for a ruling of law that conforms to the written form of the request. Third, the request for a ruling of law was not presented “in writing in the regular business of a session” (as required in ¶ 2609.6) but rather, according to the text of an email in the record, was provided after the conclusion of the session by the individual who orally “requested a judicial council decision” (according to the minutes in the record) after “someone spoke to him and told him he had asked for the wrong thing” (according to the email in the record). Fourth, Report #2 by CFA recommended a set of procedures to the annual conference which would be followed if “an unforeseen circumstance” (which CFA proposed to define as a situation when monthly receipts are insufficient to sustain cash reserves equal to 17% of the required annual cash payments) arose. Fifth, it is unclear from the way that the recommendations in Report #2 are framed whether CFA is inviting the annual conference to accept circumstances involving underpayment of apportionments as a mechanism for reducing apportionments set by the General Conference; but, if so, that would be contrary to Decisions 1054 and 1146. The decision of law by the Bishop responds to the inquiry about “appropriateness and legality” by affirming the way that the Conference Council on Finance and Administration interpreted the language of the Discipline in ¶ 613.8. However, that interpretation rests upon a reading of the text which stretches the law of the church. The plain language of ¶ 613.8 refers to “situations in which budgeted funds, as approved by the annual conference, are inadequate to meet emerging missional needs or unforeseen circumstances.” These words do not contain a reference to the “actual cash receipts” which are cited in Report #2. It is not explicit in ¶ 613.8 that inadequate performance on the payment of apportionments meets the tests in the Discipline for “emerging missional needs or unforeseen circumstances.” In fact, by establishing a procedure to handle an inadequate flow of “actual cash receipts,” Report #2 and the action to adopt it by the annual conference are declaring them to be foreseeable circumstances. The Bishop’s decision of law in affirming the interpretation of ¶ 613.8 by CFA is incorrect in that it adopts an incorrect reading of the Discipline.

Decision

Under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse the decisions of law made by bishops in central, district, annual, or jurisdictional conferences upon receiving questions submitted to them in writing during the regular business of the session. The conference secretary shall enter into the conference journal an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop. Questions submitted only orally during the business of the session are not sufficient to confer jurisdiction. The bishop’s decision of law is reversed and vacated.

Back to Search

Share: