Decision Number 232
Petitions of the Advisory Council on Interjurisdictional Affairs of the Southeastern Jurisdiction and the Committee of Five of the Central Jurisdiction, on Behalf of Their Respective Jurisdictions, for a Declaratory Decision on the Legislative Authority of the General Conference in the Matter of Racial Inclusiveness, and the Relationship of That Authority to the Authority of Jurisdictional Conferences Over Annual Conference Boundaries
The General Conference has full legislative power concerning the racial inclusiveness of the church, this being a "distinctively connectional matter." (Constitution, Article IV of Section 1, Division One - Discipline 8) Whether a legislative enactment pursuant to such power would conflict with the authority of Jurisdictional Conferences under the Constitution (Article V of Section IV, Division Two and Article IV of Section VIII, Division Two - Discipline, 15.4 and 29) over number, names, and boundaries of Annual Conferences cannot be determined until such legislation is pending before, or has been adopted by, the General Conference.
Statement of Facts
Following the publication of Judicial Council Memorandum Order 220, the Committee of Five of the Central Jurisdictional Conference presented a petition and brief under date of January 15, 1965. The question propounded reads as follows:
"May the General Conference enact appropriate legislation under the powers granted to it in Division Two, Section I, Article IV (Par. 8 of the 1964 Discipline), to insure the elimination of racially segregated Annual Conferences transferred from the Central Jurisdictional Conference into regional Jurisdictional Conferences pursuant to Division Two, Section VIII, Article V of the Constitution (Amendment IX)?"
Also following Memorandum Order 220, the Advisory Council on Interjurisdictional Affairs of the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference filed a petition and brief under date of March 12, 1965, propounding the following questions:
"1. Does the General Conference have the power under the Constitution of The Methodist Church to enact legislation changing or requiring the change of the boundaries of Annual Conferences which may transfer from the Central Jurisdiction into regional Jurisdictions pursuant to Division Two, Section VIII, Articles I and V (which include Amendment IX) of the Constitution of The Methodist Church?
"2. Is the transfer of local churches (whether one or more or all of the churches within an Annual Conference) from one Annual Conference to another Annual Conference within which it is geographically located governed solely by Division Two, Section VIII, Article V (Amendment IX) of the Constitution or can this be accomplished or required by action of the General Conference?
"3. Does the General Conference have the power to enact legislation under Division Two, Section 1, Article IV (Par. 8 of the 1964 Discipline) or other provision of the Constitution requiring the elimination of racially segregated Annual Conferences transferred from the Central Jurisdictional Conference into regional Jurisdictional Conferences pursuant to Division Two, Section VIII, Article V of the Constitution (Amendment IX) ?"
The Advisory Council also requested a ruling on the validity of the plan recommended by the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference to its Annual Conferences, under date of July 11, 1964, which plan is the subject of Decision No. 234.
Counsel for the Committee of Five and for the Advisory Council appeared before the Judicial Council on October 21, 1965, and presented oral arguments and briefs in support of their respective positions. We commend all counsel for an exceedingly well prepared and helpful presentation.
The petitions for declaratory decisions are properly before the Judicial Council under 914 of the 1964 Discipline. Both petitioners are recognized as "bodies" of their respective Jurisdictional Conferences charged with duties which directly relate to the questions raised.
Analysis and Rationale
The issues propounded raise questions of interpretation under two constitutional provisions: 1) Article IV of Section I, Division Two ( 8 of theDiscipline), dealing with the powers of the General Conference, and 2) Amendment IX ( 47 of the Discipline) concerned with the transfer of churches from one Annual Conference to another, and with the transfer of Annual Conferences from one jurisdiction to another.
Paragraph 8 provides in part:
"8. Art. IV - The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of said powers shall have authority as follows:
(14) To enact such other legislation as may be necessary, subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the church."
It has been held in many decisions that the quoted language confers full legislative power over all matters "distinctively connectional," including, but not limited to, the subject matter enumerated in the succeeding paragraphs, but within the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the church (For example, Judicial Council Decisions Nos. 7, 83, 84, 137 and 215). In the words of Decision No. 7:
"It must be conceded that the General Conference is the supreme legislative body of The Methodist Church and has been specifically empowered to legislate on all matters distinctively connectional. The Constitution specifically enumerates many items over which the General Conference shall have such authority in legislating, so as to make all such matters uniform throughout the Church."
Whether a matter is "distinctively connectional" is a question of fact which can only be determined in the light of the facts and circumstances of each particular situation. We have no doubt that the creation of a racially inclusive church is now a matter "distinctively connectional." The issue has largely dominated the last three General Conferences; and evidences of the concern of the church with the achievement of this objective are found in Amendment IX and the Plan of Action recommended by the Commission on Interjurisdictional Relations, as amended and adopted by the 1964 General Conference (Discipline 1813). Further enactments adopted by the 1964 General Conference in the same field are found in 106.1; 156; 233.1; 322.5 (6) ; 432.1; 527; 634; 1105.2, footnote 5; 1195; 1351.5 and 1401.4 of the Discipline as well as the commissions created by predecessor General Conferences to deal with the same issue. The importance of interracial relationships in both national and world affairs further emphasizes the connectional concern of the church with this matter. The church cannot be effective under today's conditions if it sponsors or permits contradictory policies on race in different sections of the church. Racial inclusiveness is clearly a connectional matter and, consequently, an appropriate subject of General Conference legislation.
Any such legislation will necessarily be subject to the limitations and restrictions imposed by the Constitution of the church. We should not attempt to anticipate the nature of this legislation or what specific limitations or restrictions of the Constitution may be applicable as limitations upon such legislation. Consequently, we must decline to attempt a further answer to the questions propounded to us until specific legislation is before the General Conference or has been adopted by it. To speculate upon the nature or scope of the legislation that the General Conference might consider appropriate to deal with a set of facts not yet known would be to pass upon purely hypothetical questions without the benefit of facts which might well be decisive of our answer. We have consistently followed the policy of making declaratory decisions only when the legislation and the circumstances surrounding it were known.
The subject of racial inclusiveness in The Methodist Church is a matter which is distinctively connectional, and therefore a subject within the legislative competence of a General Conference. However, this power must be exercised within the context and limitations of the various provisions of the Constitution. Paragraphs 15.4 and 29 of the Discipline relate to the right of a Jurisdictional Conference to determine Annual Conference boundaries, as well as their names and number. Amendment IX has established procedures by which churches may transfer from one Annual Conference to another, and by which Annual Conferences may transfer from one jurisdiction to another. The petitions now under consideration present no justiciable issue or conflict between 15.4 or 29 and Amendment IX, although we conclude from the petitions before us that there is some apprehension such a conflict may arise. If in the future conflict arises between these or other portions of the Constitution, and legislation adopted by the General Conference pursuant to 8 of the Discipline, it will be appropriately reviewed and dealt with by the Judicial Council when such issue arises.