Memorandum Number 588


October 22, 1987

A Review of a Ruling By Bishop David J. Lawson in the Wisconsin Conference Relating to the Constitutionality of the Conference's Ministerial Housing Policy. A Review of a Ruling by Bishop Jack Tuell in the California-Pacific Conference Declaring Constitutional an Action of the Annual Conference Which Sought to Define "Adequate Housing" as it Relates to Clergy Couples.


At a session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference on May 29, 1987, Bishop David J. Lawson was asked for an episcopal ruling on the following question of law:
Which housing policy, ours, which says 'All pastors serving full time in local churches ... shall be provided either a parsonage or housing allowance,' or Discipline 256.3(f) which says, 'Housing shall not be considered as part of compensation or remuneration,' is constitutional under Discipline 15.14, which says, 'The General Conference ... shall have authority to secure the rights and privileges of all members ... regardless of race or status?

Bishop Lawson ruled that "Judicial Council Decisions No. 547 and 562 are correct in declaring 256.3(f) does not violate the United Methodist Constitution, and thereby are to be considered binding upon the Annual Conferences and their policies." He then ruled that the part of the Annual Conference housing policy cited in the request for ruling "is in violation of 256.3(f) and is declared out of order."

We find no contradiction at all between Discipline 256.3(f) which states:

Housing shall not be considered as part of compensation or remuneration, but shall be considered as a means provided by the local church, and for the convenience of the local church, to enable its ministry and the itinerant ministry of the Annual Conference.

And P.5.25, Point B.1 of the Wisconsin Annual Conference Guidelines for Housing which states:
All pastors serving full-time in local churches, and all conference staff members and district superintendents shall be provided either a parsonage or housing allowance.

Therefore, to the extent that the Bishop ruled that the Wisconsin Guideline is "out of order" he is overruled in that there is no contradiction between the two.

Meanwhile. at a session of the California-Pacific Conference on June 22, 1987, Bishop Jack Tuell was asked for a ruling of law on "whether the portion of the legislation passed by this Annual Conference setting forth a separate definition of 'adequate housing' for clergy couples constitutes an impermissible discrimination on the basis of marital status, as prohibited under our Constitution in 15.14."

The appeal referred to Recommendation 3 of the Equitable Salary Commission adopted by the Conference in an effort to apply the 1984 (General Conference) legislation concerning the noncompensatory nature of pastors' housing (256.3(f)) to the particular question of housing of clergy who happen to be married to each other.

Bishop Tuell ruled that "inasmuch as Recommendation 3 uses the standard of adequate housing in providing for the housing of clergy couples, which is the standard for all clergy, it does not constitute discrimination on the basis of marital status, and does not violate 15.14 of the Constitution."

Bishop Tuell added, "But if the rule is applied to allow for only one parsonage or one housing allowance in any situation where distance or other factors make housing in two locations advisable in order to provide 'adequate housing,' this would be unconstitutionally discriminatory and invalid."

The issue of housing rights for clergy couples has come to the Judicial Council on three previous occasions. In Decision 510, (October 1982) we ruled on a petition concerning a clergy couple with one minister appointed to a local church and one under special appointment. For that specific case because of circumstances attending it, we ruled that the clergy couple member under special appointment could not, in this instance, be deprived of a housing allowance which the conference agency employing him had previously included in the "compensation package."

In Decision 547, (October 1984) we ruled constitutional a General Conference (1984) action declaring housing for pastors is not to be considered part of compensation or remuneration. In that Decision (in the analysis) we stated, "There is nothing in Calendar Item 602 to indicate that ministers may not negotiate for more compensation if they are not going to use the housing."

In Decision 562 (April 1986) we declared, "An annual conference may not adopt legislation which would permit contravention of the provisions of 256.3(f) by making it compulsory to provide each member of the clergy with individual housing as a matter of right whether or not the spouse was also being provided housing."

Since nothing has changed since the General Conference action and our Decision 562, the arguments presented at the previous sessions on this issue and those presented to us in connection with the rulings of the two bishops add nothing new in terms of information or convincing argument.

We do want to point out again that the issue hinges on a definition of "adequate housing." Those who argue the case for clergy couples each to receive individual housing or housing allowances, maintain that 256.3(f) would be discriminatory. We are not convinced by such argument. More convincing to us is the argument that it is housing and not compensation that is to be provided under 256.3(f). Therefore, if a clergy couple can be satisfactorily housed in the parsonage provided by one of the appointments, then the annual conference and the local church (s) have made "adequate provision." Additional housing allowance, unless provided as additional compensation after negotiation, would then be reverse discrimination of the minister who is not married to a clergy spouse. However, we concur with Bishop Tuell's exception "in which distance or other factors make housing in two locations necessary in order to provide 'adequate housing'."

Since the General Conference has declared housing is not compensation (except as provided in the church's Pension Program for income tax and self-employment tax purposes as defined by the Internal Revenue Service) we affirm our previous decisions which uphold 256.3(f) as constitutional.

Further, we repeat from our Decision 547, "There is nothing ... to indicate that ministers may not negotiate for more compensation if they are not going to use the housing." We add, however, that the result of such negotiations is compensation and not housing.

The constitutionality of Discipline 256.3(f) is reaffirmed. The ruling of Bishop David J. Lawson concerning the housing policy of the Wisconsin Annual Conference (P.5.25 Point B.1) as constitutional is affirmed except as stated above.

The ruling of Bishop Jack Tuell is affirmed declaring Recommendation 3 of the Equitable Salary Commission as adopted by the California-Pacific Annual Conference is constitutional except in instances where applied to allow for only one parsonage or one housing allowance for clergy couples where distances or other factors make housing in two locations necessary.

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