Decision Number 486
Request of the General Conference for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality of Discipline Par. 2623.3(c), Dealing with Suspension by a Bishop of a Local Pastor or Ministerial Member of an Annual Conference Pending Investigation.
Par. 2623.3(c) is unconstitutional as it applies to a ministerial member of an Annual Conference. The presiding bishop may, however, suspend a local pastor under the conditions specified therein.
Statement of Facts
The 1980 General Conference adopted the following legislation: "In the best interests of the ministerial member or local pastor, in exceptional circumstances, the presiding bishop may, with the unanimous concurrence of the district superintendents, suspend the accused from all ministerial responsibilities pending investigation." This provision was placed in the 1980 Discipline as Par. 2623.3(c). On Friday morning, April 25, the General Conference voted to refer this item to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision as to its constitutionality. (DCA, Page 982)
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2515 of the 1976 Discipline (Par. 2615 of the 1980 Discipline.)
Analysis and Rationale
The process for dealing with a ministerial member of an Annual Conference who has been accused of any of the chargeable offenses enumerated in Par. 2621 follows an orderly course from accusation to investigation to charges to trial to exoneration or conviction, with right of appeal.
Fundamental to the entire process is the clear statement in Par. 2620: "The innocence of the accused is assumed unless and until the facts of the case prove otherwise." Basic in the case of ministerial members of the Annual Conference are the rights guaranteed those members, specifically in Pars. 423 and 438.
Also included is the right to have one's character and conference membership subject to evaluation and action by the Annual Conference, rather than by any other group or individual. The Constitution in Paragraph 37, explicitly grants to the ministerial members of the Annual Conference the right to vote "on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members." At no place in the Constitution is this power given to the bishop. Suspension is not defined in the Discipline. However, it seems clear that suspension "from all ministerial responsibilities" would of necessity include the "duties of a pastor, as listed in Par. 438.2, as well as any other ministerial responsibilities. If one is not permitted to perform any ministerial functions, then clearly that person is no longer in good standing in the Annual Conference.
Authority over conference relations rests squarely with the ministerial members of the Annual Conference rather than with the bishop. Therefore, Par. 2623.3(c) is unconstitutional as it applies to ministerial members of an Annual Conference.
A similar problem may arise with reference to Pars. 449.l(b) and 2623.3(e) in the 1980 Discipline, though there is doubt that Par. 449.l(b) was in fact adopted by the 1980 General Conference. (See Judicial Council Decision No. 485.)
As it applies to local pastors, the section under consideration is constitutional since local pastors are not included in the provisions of Par. 37 of the Constitution.
Par. 2623.3(c) is unconstitutional as it applies to a ministerial member of an Annual Conference. The Presiding bishop may, however, suspend a local pastor under the conditions specified therein.