Decision Number 426


April 22, 1977

A Petiton from the General Board of Global Ministries for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality, Meaning,Application and Effect of the Requirement that "Executive Staffs of all General Boards and Agencies shall be Members of The United Methodist Church" as found in Paragraph 809.1 of the 1976 Discipline.


Paragraph 809.1 of the 1976 Discipline is constitutional. The General Conference has the power to require that executive staff of the General Board and Agencies shall be members of The United Methodist Church.

Statement of Facts

The General Conference of 1976 passed legislation requiring that members and executive staff of all general boards and agencies be members of The United Methodist Church except where otherwise specified in the Discipline. (Par. 809.1 of the 1976 Discipline; Par. 2419 and Par. 2445 also.)

The General Board of Global Ministries, upon recommendation of its Division of Ecumenical and Interreligious Concerns, requested a Declaratory Decision from the Judicial Council on the grounds that the General Conference action violated the ecumenical stance of the denomination. Such stance has been established through statements in the Constitution (Preamble, Art. 5) and various resolutions adopted by the General Conferences (esp. 1968 and 1976).

A brief was sent to the Council members. Representatives of the Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church made further statements at the open hearing of the Judicial Council on April 21, 1977, at Perkins School of Theology, Dallas, Texas.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 2515.2 of the 1976 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

The basic question asked of the Judicial Council is: Does the Constitutiongive to the General Conference the authority to fix membership in The United Methodist Church as one requirement for the executive staff of the general boards of The United Methodist Church?

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church establishes the General Conference as the highest legislative body of the Church and defines its powers and duties.

Paragraph 15. Article IV. states:
"The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: (Emphasis added)

8. To initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration.

(Emphasis added)

The general boards are connectional enterprises of The United Methodist Church, and their work relates to matters distinctively connectional.

It is important to distinguish between "stance" as expressed attitude and aspiration and the specific action relating to internal administrative or organizational responsibilities. That the attitude of the United Methodist Church is one of ecumenical concern and openness is clear. That the General Conference has the power to place limitations upon any of its general agencies is also clear.

The argument has been made that Paragraph 809.1 is in opposition to the stated ecumenical stance of the Constitution, both Preamble and Division 1 Article V, and the adopted resolutions on mutual recognition of membership, and that Paragraph 809.1 places potential barriers to the ecumenical strategies and programs of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Concerns Division and other boards and agencies of the Church. The establishment and maintenance of an "ecumenical stance" does not require the relinquishment of the integrity of internal organization and administration of the denomination. The General Conference was within its constitutional right to adopt and impose the restrictions required in Paragraph 809. 1.

The requirement of Paragraph 809.1 might be interpreted, as has been argued, as being exclusive and non-ecumenical but it can also be presented as an insistence on hiring only executives who are, as members of the United Methodist Church, commited to carrying out a specific ecumenical mission as defined in the Constitution and in statements adopted by the General Conference. While the advisability of the action in Paragraph 809.1 is questioned by some, the right of the General Conference to take such action is unmistakable. The 1976 General Conference was acting under its constitutional authority in adopting the legislation of Paragraph 809.1.

The meaning of Paragraph 809.1 is that all members and executive staff of all general boards and agencies shall be members of The United Methodist Church unless otherwise specified in the Discipline. Any or all incumbents, at the time the legislation became effective, are excluded from the membership requirement during current employment.


The General Conference acted within its constitutional authority in adopting Paragraph 809.1 of the 1976 Discipline.

TOM MATHENY, President


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