Decision Number 403
Petition from the Commission on the General Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to Whether Paragraphs 603 and 648 of the Discipline Which Limit the Voting Rights, Privileges an Traveling Expenses of "Delegates" from Provisional Annual Conferences Overseas Are in Contradiction to Paragraphs 39 and 40 of the Constitution
Provisional Annual Conferences outside the United States are not entitled to elect delegates to the General Conference because of the exception from such entitlement stated in Paragraph 14 of the Constitution. The Discipline, under Paragraph 603, does authorize them to have "a designated member" at the General Conference with the restrictions indicated.
Statement of Facts
The secretary of the General Conference, J. B. Holt, on August 4, 1975, addressed a letter to the Judicial Council as follows:
"At the suggestion of Bishop Jack M. Tuell, the Commission on the General Conference is requesting a declaratory decision on 'Are Paragraphs 603 and 648 of the Book of Discipline which purport to limit the voting rights and privileges and traveling expenses of delegates from Provisional Annual Conferences Overseas to the General Conference in contradiction to Paragraphs 39 and 40 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church which gives Provisional Annual Conference delegates all the rights of Annual Conference Delegates?'"
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515.2c of The Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The concept of a Provisional Annual Conference in The United Methodist Church is that of an Annual Conference in the process of becoming. It is given certain rights, privileges and responsibilities of an Annual Conference, but it is also subject to certain restrictions because it has not yet attained the full stature of a regular Annual Conference. Achieving regular Annual Conference status is a growing process from the time of the creation of the Provisional Conference until it has developed into the full stature of an Annual Conference and the prefix "Provisional" is removed. So long, however, as the "Provisional" prefix remains certain restrictions also continue.
The Constitution and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church make some distinctions between Provisional Annual Conferences in the United States which are within the bounds of a Jurisdictional Conference and those Provisional Annual Conferences that are outside of the United States and within the bounds of a Central or Provisional Central Conference. One of the major distinctions between these Provisional Annual Conferences is exactly at the point of the question here raised by the Commission on the General Conference.
Paragraph 14 of the Constitution reads in part:
"The General Conference shall fix the ratio of representation in the General, Jurisdictional and Central Conferences from the Annual Conferences and the Provisional Annual Conferences, computed on a two-factor basis: ... provided that each Annual Conference or Provisional Annual Conference, except for the Provisional Annual Conferences of a Central Conference or a Provisional Central Conference, shall be entitled to at least one ministerial and one lay delegate in the General Conference and also in the Jurisdictional or Central Conference."
Paragraph 38 states:
"The Annual Conference shall elect ministerial and lay delegates to the General Conference and to its Jurisdictional or Central Conference in the manner provided in this section, Articles IV and V..."
Articles IV and V are Paragraphs 39 and 40 which are referred to in the petition of the Commission on the General Conference. These paragraphs relate to the election of delegates to the General Conference and to Jurisdictional or Central Conferences. Paragraph 39 relates to election of ministerial delegates and Paragraph 40 to lay delegates. Both paragraphs use the phrase "the Annual Conference or Provisional Annual Conference." This language is necessary since some Provisional Annual Conferences, that is those within the bounds of the Jurisdictional Conferences, do elect delegates to both the General Conference and the Jurisdictional Conferences.
However, this general language used in these two paragraphs in no way nullifies the exception of Provisional Annual Conferences within a Central or Provisional Central Conference made in Paragraph 14 of the Constitution. Thus the Constitution does not make any provision for delegates to the General Conference or to Central or Provisional Central Conferences from Provisional Annual Conferences within the bounds of Central or Provisional Central Conferences because of the exception placed in Paragraph 14.
Further, Paragraph 15 of the Constitution gives the General Conference full power to "define and fix the duties of ... Provisional Annual Conferences..." We would refer to Judicial Council Decision No. 354 in which we state:
"We respectfully advise the General Conference that it does not have this right. The powers of the General Conference are delegated to it by the Annual Conferences, the 'fundamental bodies of the Church' (Par. 10 of the Constitution). The limitations based upon those powers have a similar source. The constitutional authority with respect to the seating of delegates includes the limitations in Paragraph 40. Those limitations can only be changed by a constitutional amendment proposed by the General Conference and approved by the Annual Conferences.
"However, these constitutional limitations do not apply to delegates who are seated without the right to vote. Nothing we have decided in this decision or in Decision No. 346 would prevent the General Conference from seating the appellants as delegates at large with the right to speak, but not to vote, or from reimbursing them for such expenses as it might deem appropriate. Under the unusual circumstances now before us, there would be equity in such an action."
If such Provisional Conferences are to have "representation or delegates" at the General Conference or the Central or Provisional Central Conferences, the authority for such representation must come from some source other than the Constitution.
Consequently, the General Conference, in its wisdom, has decided that indeed these Provisional Annual Conferences should be represented in the General Conference and in their respective Central or Provisional Central Conferences. This representation for Central and Provisional Central Conferences is authorized in Paragraph 648 of the Discipline which reads in part:
"... A Provisional Annual Conference within the territory of a Central Conference or of a Provisional Central Conference may elect delegates to a Central Conference or a Provisional Central Conference on the same basis as an Annual Conference but may not elect delegates to a General Conference."
This gives these Provisional Annual Conferences delegates to their Central or Provisional Central Conferences on the same basis as the Provisional Annual Conferences in the United States have to their Jurisdictional Conferences. But at the same time it prohibits them from having delegates at the General Conference.
In order that such Provisional Annual Conferences as well as Missionary Conferences outside the United States might have some representation to care for their interests in the General Conference, the General Conference enacted Paragraph 603 of the Discipline which states:
"Each Provisional Annual Conference and Missionary Conference outside the United States may designate a member to meet with the standing committees and have the privileges of the floor of the General Conference on matters affecting the interest of the member's conference, but without vote and without expense to the General Conference except for the per diem during its sessions."
Since the overseas Provisional Annual Conferences are not authorized by the Constitution to elect delegates to the General Conference, Paragraphs 603 and 648 are not in conflict with the Constitution. Paragraphs 39 and 40 of the Constitution must be read in the light of the exception which relates to the Provisional Annual Conferences as stated in Paragraph 14.
Provisional Annual Conferences outside the United States which are within the territory of a Central or Provisional Central Conference are not entitled to elect delegates to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The Discipline in Paragraph 603 does authorize them to have a "designated member" at the General Conference with the restriction indicated.