Decision Number 359


April 27, 1972

Appeals on Constitutionality of Legislation Creating Council on Ministries


The General Conference has the authority to adopt an organizational provision for the General Council on Ministries which specifically denies the possibility of a bishop becoming an officer of the Council.

Statement of Facts

Incident to the General Conference enactment of legislation creating and empowering a "General Council on Ministries" two questions have been presented to the Judicial Council by two separate appeals.

One appeal comes from the General Conference on adoption, April 27, 1972, of the following motion:
"that . . . the act of the General Conference be referred to the Judicial Council, appealing for a declaratory decision as to its constitutionality: Action on Calendar Item 363, Report 16 of the Committee on Conferences.... Page 441 of the DCA, which specifically denies the possibility of a Bishop being an officer of the Council on Ministries, in the light of our Constitution . . . Paragraph 50 .... Paragraph 52, and Third Restrictive Rule (Paragraph 17)."

The second appeal comes from the Council of Bishops, dated April 27, 1972 as follows:

"The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church respectfully ask the Judicial Council of the Church to rule on the constitutionality of the said paragraph (829 of Calendar Item 343, DCA, 426) which seems to be a delegation of powers to the said Council on Ministries which the General Conference of the Church cannot give under its own constitutional powers."

The appeal of the General Conference was first considered by the Judicial Council at an announced open hearing for interested parties on the evening of April 27. The second appeal was received by the Judicial Council at its session the morning of April 28.


Jurisdiction of both appeals is accepted under the Constitution (Par. 61.1), Discipline Paragraphs 1707 and 1715.

Analysis and Rationale

Both of the matters before us refer to the legislation establishing the new General Council on Ministries. The first question from the General Conference concerns the organization of the new Council. The second question from the Council of Bishops concerns its functioning.

The two questions may well have bearing upon each other. The Judicial Council recognizes this even while it gives its attention in this decision to answering only the first question upon the narrow basis of the question itself:is the clause in the legislation setting forth the organization of the General Council on Ministries, which stipulates in the section on officers that none of them shall be a bishop, constitutional?

Paragraph 15 of the Constitution reads in part:

"Par. 15. Article IV.-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:

* * *

"5. To define and fix the powers, duties, and privileges of the episcopacy....

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

There are apparently two reasons for questioning the phrase, "none of whom shall be a bishop." The first is the contention that this is legislation directed against a class of persons on the basis of status. Such an argument has not much standing in this relationship where, historically, such legislation has been used to guarantee certain specific representation on the boards and agencies of the church, for instance, the legislation in the 1968 Discipline that, in the organization of certain boards, the chairman "shall be a bishop." It might have been argued that this was class legislation against lay persons and ministers. We believe, however, that it cannot be so determined. Whatever the wisdom of such restrictions, we believe they are within the authority of the General Conference to determine.

The other reason for questioning the inclusion of the phrase, "none of whom shall be a bishop," is the argument that it is contrary to the constitutionally required functions of the episcopacy in Paragraphs 50 and 52, and that it may be such a change in the nature of the episcopacy as to violate Restrictive Rule Ill.

This is a more serious matter. On the basis, however, of a very narrow interpretation of the question, namely, the power of a General Conference to set up and fix the organizational procedures of its boards and agencies with restrictive clauses concerning members and officers, we must conclude that the General Conference has such authority. Paragraph 15.5, 8 grants the General Conference full legislative power over all matters distinctly connectional, authorizes it specifically to fix the powers, duties, and privileges of the episcopacy, and to initiate connectional enterprises and provide boards for their promotion and administration.

We would point out that this is a narrowly construed question and answer. Any interpretation of this decision which would indicate that the functions of our historic episcopacy are not grounded in the Constitution or protected by Restrictive Rule III would be in error.

We must defer the second matter before the Judicial Council until a later date which will provide opportunity for hearings, for a careful study of General Conference actions, and a review of the constitutional relationships involved.


It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the General Conference had the authority to adopt an organizational procedure for the General Council on Ministries which denied the possibility of a bishop becoming an officer of the Council.

Decision on the appeal of the Council of Bishops is deferred to a later date.

Dissenting Opinion

I believe the decision of the Judicial Council is premature and involves piece-meal disposition of a major constitutional question. I would have preferred postponement to afford full hearing, the benefit of briefs and a more careful study than the limited time has permitted the majority to decide the case. The case is decided in isolation from the related appeal of the Council of Bishops, dated April 27, 1972, pertaining to Paragraph 829 (DCA P. 426) which is not to be considered until a later date.

The instant case tests the power of the General Conference to alter the "plan, powers, privileges and duties" of the Episcopacy guaranteed by Paragraph 50 of the Constitution in the extremely narrow frame of the proposed exclusion of bishops from the offices of the Council on Ministries (DCA P. 441). While the base on which the case is decided is most limited, the underlying constitutional issue concerning the future role of the Episcopacy is of broad concern and of great importance to the Church.

By necessity resolution of the issue in the instant case must be influenced by the later outcome of the appeal of the Council of Bishops challenging the delegation of interim legislative powers to the Council of Ministries and particularly the proposed power of that Council to change the internal structure of Boards and to transfer functions among them. (Par. 829, DCA P. 426)

It is argued that the pendency of the present case casts a cloud over the pending legislation. I submit no less a cloud has arisen by reason of the serious constitutional issues raised in the appeal of the Council of Bishops. Therefore, I can see no reason for a piece-meal, hurried and partial disposition of the important constitutional questions posed by the two integrally related paragraphs of the proposed legislation.


United Methodist Communications is an agency of The United Methodist Church

©2023 United Methodist Communications. All Rights Reserved