Decision Number 39
Request by the Council of Bishops for a Declaratory Decision as to the Legality of the Resolution Adopted by the General Conference of 1944, Relative to the Origin of The Methodist Church
A Resolution of the General Conference of 1944 "that in all official literature and pronouncements of The Methodist Church respecting the date of its-origin, it shall date from 1784," does not involve a constitutional question, and accordingly the Judicial Council will not take jurisdiction; but at the same time the Council holds that under Article V of the Declaration of Union the present organization of The Methodist Church began in 1939.
Statement of Facts
At a meeting of the Council of Bishops held at Atlantic City, N. J., on February 2, 1946, the following action was taken:
"The Council of Bishops of The Methodist Church hereby requests a Declaratory Decision, in accordance with the provision of Paragraph 914 of the 1944 Discipline.
"The question having been raised in various sections of the 'Marsh Resolution,' we request the Judicial Council to render a Declaratory of the following Resolution proposed by Daniel L. Marsh and adopted by the General Conference in 1944:
"Whereas, There is a growing tendency that dates The Methodist 1939, both in the General Church and in some of the Annual Conferences, as well as in certain local churches, and
"'Whereas, The Uniting Conference specifically declared that "The Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church are and shall be one United Church," and
"'Whereas, It is therefore a historical fact that The Methodist Church was organized in 1784 and that the achievement of 1939 was not the organization of a new Church but rather the healing of wounds in the Church that was organized in 1784; therefore be it
"'Resolved, That in all the official literature and pronouncements of The Methodist Church respecting the date of its origin, it shall date from 1784.' (See Proceedings of the General Conference, Page 15.)"
This case was reviewed by the Council at a session held May 7, 1946, and both oral arguments were heard and briefs submitted. There appeared before the Council attacking the legality of the Resolution, Bishop James H. Straughn, and Rev. O. L. Williams, of the North-East Ohio Conference; to sustain the Resolution, Dr. Daniel L. Marsh and Charles O. Loucks, Esq., of the Rock River Conference; all of whom submitted carefully prepared lengthy briefs. Also briefs were filed attacking the Resolution by Bishop John M. Moore, and Leverett J. Simpson, Esq., of the Genesee Conference.
Decision of the Judicial Council
It is clear to us that the present organization of The Methodist Church began in 1939. The Declaration of Union passed by the Uniting Conference in that year makes this fact indisputable and sets forth the relationship of The Methodist Church to the three uniting Churches. We quote from Article V of The Declaration of Union:
"The Methodist Church is the ecclesiastical and lawful successor of the three uniting Churches, in and through which the three Churches as one United Church shall continue to live and have their existence, continue their institutions, and hold and enjoy their property, exercise and perform their several trusts under and in accord with the Plan of Union and Discipline of the United Church."
It is clear also that organized Methodism in America goes back to 1784, while the Methodist Movement began years before 1784.
However, the Judicial Council is not convinced that any question of constitutionality is involved in the Resolution as passed by the General Conference which is now challenged as unconstitutional.
Therefore, the Judicial Council cannot take jurisdiction and must leave the whole matter to the next General Conference for clarification.
H. R. Van Deusen, Secretary of the Council, with the consent of the other members, filed a Concurring Opinion, which is as follows.
By requesting the Judicial Council to render a Declaratory Decision upon the legality (or constitutionality) of the Marsh Resolution of 1944, the Council is really asked for an answer to the following question: "Is The Methodist Church anew ecclesiastical organization created in 1939 by the union of three predecessor Church organizations, or is it a continuation, without legal or factual interruption, of the predecessor Church organizations, the oldest one of which dates from 1784?" There is no question but that organized Methodism in America began with the formation of The Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784. This is recognized by Article III of the Declaration of Union, adopted at the Uniting Conference of 1939, as the concluding step in the Plan of Unification, which says: "The Methodist Episcopal Church, The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, The Methodist Protestant Church, had their common origin in the organization of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America in 1784."
The Declaration of Union further states in Article V, "The Methodist Church is the ecclesiastical and lawful successor of the three Uniting Churches, in and through which the three Churches as one United Church shall continue to live and have their existence, continue their institutions, and hold and enjoy their property, exercise and perform their several trusts under and in accord with the Plan of Union and the Discipline of the United Church."
There can now be no doubt as to the legal result of this process of unification, particularly as it applies to property rights, as we have the authority of the courts wherever this matter has been litigatedee Purcell vs. Summers, 145 Fed. 2nd 979; and Smith vs. Board of Pensions, 54 Fed. Supp. 224. See also the following cases which have not as yet been reported in any law reports, i.e., Ninth Street Methodist Church vs. Case, in the Circuit Court, St. Joseph County, Michigan, and Hickey et al. vs. Detroit Annual Conference, Circuit Court, Saginaw County, Michigan. These cases have all conclusively established the claim of "The Methodist Church" to all property rights, present and future, of the three constituent organizations. The foregoing cases also render unnecessary any discussion of the legal principles involved in other cases decided by various courts as to other Church unions, such as in Hayes vs. Manning, 263 Mo. 1, 172 S. W. 897, or cases arising as a result of the organization of the United Church of Canada, where the facts differ materially from the Methodist unification.
The courts in discussing the various phases of unification of the three Methodist Church organizations have sometimes (as in similar cases) used the words "merger" and "consolidation" interchangeably without regard to the technical distinction between the two as applied to corporations, including both profit and non-profit corporations under our modern State statutes. But that is immaterial, as in a certain sense, this coming together of the three Churches was not exactly either a merger or a consolidation, although it partakes more of the features of a consolidation. What the courts have unanimously decided is that all property rights of the three constituent organizations are now vested in The Methodist Church and in its various subsidiary organizations subject to its control, to be held and administered under the provisions of the newly adopted Constitution and the Discipline as enacted from time to time.
While there may be some doubt as to whether or not the Marsh Resolution involves a constitutional question, over which the Judicial Council has jurisdiction, yet we can say definitely that the part of the resolution which states that The Methodist Church was organized in 1784, and that the achievement of 1939 was "not the organization of a new church" is both factually and legally incorrect. In other words, no Resolution now adopted by a General Conference can in any way change or modify the language adopted in the "Declaration of Union," and already construed by the civil courts, and in so far as the Resolution attempts any change or modification, it is a nullity. Whatever may be done in regard to dating and numbering should be done in accord with the principles laid down in the Declaration of Union.