Decision Number 544
Constitutionality of Par. 402.2, 1984 Discipline which Prohibits the Ordination and Appointment of Self-avowed Practicing Homosexual Persons.
Par. 402.2 of the 1984 Discipline is constitutional. It is within the authority of the General Conference to establish minimum standards for the ministry of the church. Par. 15 of the 1984 Discipline provides that power and authority over matters distinctively connectional which includes the ordained ministry. The Annual Conferences must make any determination which would effect a change in ministerial standing. The prohibition of an appointment must be exercised in compliance with the rights of all persons who are in full membership.
Statement of Facts
At the 1984 sessions of the General Conference, the following legislation was adopted, as Par. 402.2 of the 1984 Discipline:
While such persons set apart by the church for the ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards represented by the practice of fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.
The first sentence of the above paragraph was adopted as Calendar Item No. 510 on May 9, 1984. The seven words, "Fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" were added to Pars. 404.5, 414.7c(2), 420, 423.6g and 431.6 (1980 Discipline). Following its adoption, the question of whether or not that language prohibits the ordination and appointment of a self-avowed practicing homosexual person was referred to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision. Decision No. 542 was given on May 10, 1984 stating that neither ordination nor appointment was precluded by the addition of those seven words. It ruled that "The Annual Conferences have the authority to decide whether candidates for ordination meet the disciplinary requirements."
The General Conference then voted to reconsider Calendar Item 510, with the second sentence of Par. 402.2 being added. The Judicial Council was asked to rule on the constitutionality of Par. 402.2 in the light of Par. 36 of the Constitution.
Briefs were received from the California-Nevada Annual Conference (a majority and minority one), from the Southeastern Jurisdictional Association of Boards of the Ordained Ministry, from the New York Annual Conference, and from Good News, a Forum for Scriptural Christianity, Inc. An open hearing on the matter was held on October 26, 1984 at the Garrett-Evangelical Seminary in Evanston with testimony provided by the Rev. William Powell of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, Mr. Mark Pruner and Dr. John Moore of the California-Nevada Annual Conference and the Rev. John Collins and the Rev. Richard Parker of the New York Annual Conference.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2607.1 of the 1984 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The issue at hand is one of the constitutionality of a new paragraph of the Discipline. Although the paragraph under consideration relates to homosexuality, the question presently before the Judicial Council is not restricted to that particular issue. The matter before this body is one of the connectional system within The United Methodist Church and the relationship of the ministry to both the General and Annual Conferences.
The Constitution, Par. 15, gives the General Conference the power to fix the basic requirements for ministry, while it becomes the responsibility of the Annual Conference, as set forth in Par. 36, to measure, evaluate, and vote upon candidates, as regards the minimum standards enacted by the General Conference. Ordination in The United Methodist Church is not local, nor provincial, but worldwide. While each Annual Conference is a door through which one may enter the ministry of the entire church, the Annual Conference cannot reduce nor avoid stipulations established by the General Conference which must be met by the church's ministry everywhere. An Annual Conference might set specific qualifications for its ministerial members, but does not have the authority to legislate in contradiction to a General Conference mandate or requirement.
Judicial Council Decisions 313, 318, 325, and 513 speak to the authority of the General Conference, under Par. 15 of the Constitution, to establish standards, conditions, and qualifications for admission to the ministry. In Decision 536, we held that "An Annual Conference may not subtract from the disciplinary requirements for conference membership, but it may under certain circumstances adopt additional requirements not in conflict with disciplinary provisions or their spirit or intent."
This was again underscored in Decision 542 at the May 1984 General Conference. "Under Paragraph 37 of the Constitution, however, it is the Annual Conference, as the basic body of the church, that decides whether those standards have been met."
The phrase "or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church" is related to the powers and duties of the episcopacy. In this there may be a conflict between the prohibition of appointment and the rights of a minister in good standing in the conference to receive an appointment. There is a process in the Discipline by which ministers are suspended or removed from membership in annual conferences. It would be necessary to follow the correct procedure before the bishop could refuse to appoint.
Because the legislation lacks specific definition regarding avowal and practice of homosexuality, and because of Methodism's long-standing and continuing principle that ministerial members of an Annual Conference shall receive an annual appointment (Par. 422, 1984 Discipline), care must be taken in applying Par. 402.2 to follow due process, protecting the rights of ministerial members. The Annual Conference must make any determination which would effect a change in ministerial standing.
Par. 402.2 of the 1984 Discipline is constitutional. It is within the authority of the General Conference to establish minimum standards for the ministry of the church. Par. 15 of the 1984 Discipline provides that power and authority over matters distinctively connectional which includes the ordained ministry. The Annual Conference must make any determination which would effect a change in ministerial standing. The prohibition of an appointment must be exercised in compliance with the rights of all persons who are in full membership.
While the wisdom of the action taken by the General Conference may be debated and its possible unconstitutional application theorized, I concur with the majority that on its face Par. 402.2 is constitutional. I write this concurrence to emphasize that Par. 402.2 is not directed to the status of being homosexual and does not violate Par. 15.14 of the Constitution.
Par. 15.14 provides:
The General Conference shall have fall legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: ... 14. to secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status.
While, arguably, to be homosexual is to be within a protected "status" under Par. 15.14, I do not read Par. 402.2 to be directed toward that characteristic. It does not per se bar homosexual persons from the ordained ministry of The United Methodist Church. Rather Par. 402.2 is directed toward those persons who are "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," which is an entirely different matter.
I further note that the decision in this matter does not attempt to define the term "self-avowed practicing homosexual" nor does it limit the judgment to be exercised by an annual conference as to its understanding of the term and its application of the term in a specific case.
James M. Dolliver
Joining in the concurrence Tom Matheny