Decision Number 892
Request From the South Carolina Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality, Meaning, Application and Effect of ¶ 406.1 of the 1996 Discipline as It Relates to the Current Practice of Nominating Candidates for the Episcopacy
Par. 406.1 of the 1996 Discipline is constitutional.
Statement of Facts
On Tuesday, May 30, 2000, a clergy member of the South Carolina Annual Conference presented a petition to the Annual Conference requesting the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision concerning "the constitutionality, meaning, application and effect" (Â¶ 2616.1) of Â¶ 406.1 of the 1996 Discipline entitled "Elections" and subtitled "Nominations" as it relates to the current practice of nominating candidates for bishop.
There were no questions regarding the motion and the session approved the request for a declaratory decision without a dissenting vote.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Â¶ 2616 of the 1996 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The petition lists eight reasons why the restrictive phrase in Â¶ 406.1, ". . . [i]n the session immediately prior to the next regular session of the jurisdictional or central conference," should be declared unconstitutional.
The eight points are:
1. Most General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegate's [sic] name nominees before General Conference convenes.
2. The delegates have assumed the power to nominate without the authority of The [sic] Discipline thereby assuming powers granted to the annual conference.
3. Now General Conference provides a forum for introducing and questioning each delegation's nominees before any has been nominated or rejected by her/his annual conference as to his/her position on issues facing the church.
4. To wait until the annual conference convenes in its session immediately preceding jurisdictional conference, which is about two months later, almost insures the defeat of the candidate who has strictly observed the provisions of Paragraph 406.1. Since United Methodists are Armenian [sic] and not Calvinistic in theology, we believe that the election of bishops has more to do with human freedom to choose than it does to be divinely selected via predestination.
5. The delegates have assumed powers which are not constitutional nor of The [sic] Discipline, but simply by de facto prerogative.
6. A nominee cannot be a legitimate candidate for bishop unless he/she is democratically elected by the annual conference members representing the local churches rather than an oligarchy's selection by a few. The Discipline gives the annul [sic] conference the option to nominate and not the delegation. (Paragraph 406.1)
7. The current practice of nominating candidates for bishop by the General Conference and Jurisdictional Conference delegates denies the right given to the annual conference my [sic] imposing unrealistic time constraints.
8. Since the restrictive phrase in Paragraph 406.1 eliminates the annual conference in its right to "name the nominees for episcopal election" mainly because of time constraints, the South Carolina Annual Conference requests that the Judicial Council declare the restrictive phrase to be (1) unconstitutional in that delegations preempt the annual conference's right to nominate and select candidates for the episcopacy; (2) the time restraints are meaningless in that they prohibit annual conference members from doing what the delegations immediately do after their elections, i.e. name their candidate; (3) sets up unrealistic application to the nominating process which The [sic] Discipline does not recognize or regulate; (4) has the effect of selecting candidates whose theological and political platforms (or no platform at all) have been critiqued by only a few rather than the majority.
The petition raises several issues. However, the Judicial Council believes the substance of the issues can be reduced to two questions. First, does Â¶ 406.1 grant to the annual conference the sole authority to nominate episcopal candidates? It is the council's decision that it does not. The authority to nominate persons for episcopal election is not granted to annual conferences by the Constitution. An examination of the relevant constitutional paragraphs, Article IV, Â¶ 15.10; Article V, Â¶ 25.2; and Â¶ 29.2, reveal that all three paragraphs are silent on the specifics of election. For example, the process of nomination, the method of dissemination of information about candidates and the procedures for balloting are not mentioned. All details of the process are left for the designated bodies, jurisdictional conferences and central conferences, to determine.
The same is true of Â¶ 406.1. If the General Conference wanted annual conferences to have the sole authority to nominate episcopal candidates, it would have specifically stated this in mandatory language. The language in Â¶ 406.1 is clearly permissive. It says: "An annual conference, in the session immediately prior to the next regular session of the jurisdictional or central conference, may name one or more nominees for episcopal election." (Emphasis added) To emphasize that the annual conference does not have the sole authority to nominate persons for episcopal election, Â¶ 406.1 goes on to say, ". . .[b]alloting at jurisdictional and central conferences shall not be limited to nominees of annual conferences nor shall any jurisdictional or central conference delegate be bound to vote for any specific nominee. . . ." Therefore, since the annual conference does not have sole authority to nominate persons for episcopal election, general and jurisdictional delegates in nominating persons for episcopal election have not usurped the permissive authority granted to annual conferences. In fact, it can be argued that the nominations by an annual conference give weight to the nominations made by the general and jurisdictional delegates or caucuses, while at the same time making it possible for an annual conference to nominate persons other than those nominated by the general and jurisdictional delegates and/or caucuses.
The second question raised by this petition is should the restrictive phrase, ". . . in the session immediately prior to the next regular session of the jurisdictional or central conference,. . ." be declared unconstitutional because its restrictive time line does not support the current practice of the early nomination of persons for episcopal elections?
The Judicial Council's judgment is that the restrictive phrase is constitutional since it is clear that the annual conference nomination of persons for episcopal elections is only one means of nominating persons for the episcopal office.
It is the Judicial Council's decision that Â¶ 406.1 is constitutional.
Par. 406.1 of the 1996 Discipline is constitutional.