Court rules on question of authority

In response to a request for review from General Conference 2016, the United Methodist Judicial Council has found no conflict between two of its previous decisions or between specific paragraphs in the church’s constitution.

Decision 1321, issued May 20, said that Paragraphs 16 and 33 of the constitution “assign specific authority and responsibility to the General Conference and to the annual conferences in The United Methodist Church. They are not in conflict.”

The Rev. Jeremy Troxler, Western North Carolina Conference, made the motion for the review during a May 16 plenary session. He said he believed there was “a basic separation of constitutional power issue here that Judicial Council must resolve” related to standards of ministry and ordination.

Paragraph 16 gives General Conference “full legislative power over all matters distinctly connectional,” the decision said, and Paragraph 16.2 gives General Conference the authority to “define and fix the powers and duties” of ordained, licensed and certified ministers.”

Paragraph 33 says the annual conference has the right to vote “on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members and on the ordination of clergy.”

The council said it had addressed this concern “in multiple decisions through the years,” citing Decisions 7, 536 and 823.

The two previous decisions the council was asked to review – Decisions 542 and 544 – also are not in conflict, Judicial Council ruled.

In Decision 544, the council ruled that the 1984 General Conference had the authority to add language to the Book of Discipline that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve.”

In Decision 542, the council ruled that annual conferences “have the authority to decide whether candidates for ordination meet the disciplinary qualifications.”

“Seen in isolation from the longer history of the Judicial Council jurisprudence, these decisions may appear to be conflicting,” the decision said. “But seen in the full history of numerous Judicial Council decisions on these constitutional matters, it is clear that no conflict exists either within the constitution or between the two aforementioned decisions of the Judicial Council.”

Decision 1321 also cited two “legitimate legislative enactments of the General Conference” – Paragraphs 304 and 2702. Paragraph 304 gives annual conferences “responsibility…regarding admission to the ministry of the clergy” while Paragraph 2702 assigns annual conferences “responsibility for handling complaints and charges filed against clergy.”

The council pointed out that Paragraph 33 grants annual conferences “such other rights as have not been delegated to the General Conference under the constitution.” Legislative authority is delegated only to General Conference, the decision said.

“The annual conferences have clear authority under the constitution,” the decision said. “But that authority does not and constitutionally cannot intrude into the authority of the General Conference.”

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

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