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Church ‘growth committee’ fails constitution test

By Linda Bloom
May 19, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)

The proposed establishment of a United Methodist “Standing Committee on Strategy and Growth” funded by $20 million taken from denominational coffers was ruled unconstitutional May 19 by the church’s top court.

In Decision 1320, the United Methodist Judicial Council noted that the amended petition did not include how the committee’s membership “is to be determined nor how the $20 million is to be spent.”

That is in conflict with Paragraph 16.9, the council said, which gives the General Conference a “responsibility that cannot be delegated” to determine and provide “for raising and distributing funds necessary to carry on the work of the church.”

The ruling came after a request by General Conference 2016 for a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of an amended item from the Financial Administration Committee that establishes “a Standing Committee on Strategy and Growth. This committee would be funded by using a carve-out of $20 million from the World Service Fund.”

The purpose of the committee, the amendment to Petition 61057 explained “is to develop and implement a strategy to first slow the decline in worship attendance and professions of faith, and then return them to positive growth within the jurisdictional conferences.”

But the council’s decision found that “the lack of specificity as to the duties and responsibilities of the proposed standing committee is unprecedented.”

Any action by the General Conference to establish a connectional enterprise “must include the duties and responsibilities of the entity,” the Judicial Council said.

“This amendment is almost entirely devoid of any such detail,” the decision said. “This lack of detail will necessarily lead to the Standing Committee determining its own duties, responsibilities, functions and priorities. The Judicial Council has consistently held such delegation is unconstitutional.”

Such a committee also “cannot dictate the duties, functions or responsibilities of the general agencies,” the decision said.

In terms of the $20 million budget, Paragraph 16.9 “makes it clear that only the General Conference can determine how general church funds are to be distributed,” the council said. “This is accomplished through the adoption of a quadrennial budget. Thus, it is not constitutional for General Conference to adopt a budget for this Standing Committee when one has not been proposed.”

In its ruling, the council also noted that the Standing Committee “addresses an issue in only one region” – the United States – of the denomination’s global connection.

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at https://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (615)742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.