Memorandum Number 1187


April 28, 2011

Request from the California-Pacific Annual Conference for the Judicial Council on Its Own Motion to Reconsider Judicial Council Decision 1032

The 2010 session of the New York Annual Conference adopted resolution # 2010-305 declaring a new conference policy regarding the ability of all clergy members of the Annual Conference to marry at their own discretion. The text of the resolution and policy included in the request for a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision is as follows:

RESOLUTION #2010-305

In its 2010 session, the California-Pacific Annual Conference adopted Resolution 10-5 that presents a "request that the Judicial Council on its own motion, and pursuant to its standing Rules of Practice, reconsider Decision 1032, issue a new finding that Decision 1032 is null and void, and direct that any prospective members denied membership as a result of Decision 1032 be offered admission into membership in The United Methodist Church."

On numerous occasions, the Judicial Council has received requests to reconsider Decision 1032. Responses have been issued in Memorandum 1041 and Memorandum 1158.

The Judicial Council is under no obligation to respond to every request for reconsideration of Decision 1032 "on its own motion." Our Rules of Practice and Procedure clearly specify that it remains within the discretion of the Judicial Council to choose whether or not to reconsider a matter. Rule IX. A. says the Judicial Council "may, by majority vote, reconsider any ruling or action taken by it." (Emphasis added.)

Any reconsideration, should the Judicial Council choose to undertake it, must involve not only the parties to the action and the documents relevant to it but also the language of the Discipline and the Constitution at the time the matter was originally considered. In some situations, such as this request for reconsideration of 1032, reconsideration would be limited to the legislative and constitutional provisions which were in place under the 2004 Discipline. While such efforts are theoretically possible, they may be irrelevant if the Constitution and Discipline have changed since 2004 in ways that are pertinent to the case.

For example, one of the disciplinary paragraphs at issue in Decision 1032 was ¶ 225 of the 2004 Discipline. It said that "A member in good standing in any Christian denomination who has been baptized and who desires to unite with The United Methodist Church may be received as either a baptized or a professing member." Decision 1032 inferred that the word "may" was an indication of pastoral authority to decide whether or not to effect the transfer. However, in 2008, the General Conference amended ¶ 225 by adopting the mandatory word "shall" to specify that the only person or body with the authority to exercise discernment and judgment in the decision about transferring membership from another denomination is the individual who seeks to transfer as a member.

Hence, any reconsideration of Decision 1032 would be moot and irrelevant on this point, for the only thing that could be considered is the language in the 2004 Discipline. And action by the 2008 General Conference has superseded it.

The Judicial Council is aware, of course, that some persons in the church operate on the basis of legislation from a Discipline in a prior period or in a prior construction of an antecedent body which is now incorporated within The United Methodist Church. Yet, the Judicial Council can only address matters of constitutionality and church law by reaching decisions based on the current language in the Constitution and current Discipline. On that point, published historical research has unassailably demonstrated that absolute pastoral authority over matters of church membership did explicitly appear in the Discipline of The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, from 1866 to 1939 and in the Discipline of The Methodist Church from 1939 to 1968. But it does not appear explicitly in the 2008 Discipline of The United Methodist Church, and it has not appeared in any Discipline of The United Methodist Church since the formation of the denomination in 1968.


Notwithstanding the apparent eagerness of The United Methodist Church to continue discussing the topics that were at issue in Decision 1032, reconsideration of the Decision itself is moot. We cannot make a determination about the constitutionality or legitimacy of legislative language on which the 2008 Discipline is silent.

Concurring Opinion

Since Decision 1032 was decided, the Judicial Council has been asked to review or reconsider the case holding no less than ten previous times. See Decisions 1052, 1120, 1178 and 1179. See also Memoranda 1041, 1102, 1118, 1155, 1158 and 1160. In many instances, the requests were presented without factual context and without the prerequisites necessary to confer jurisdiction. The holding of all of the previous cases has been consistent. Under ¶ 16 of the Constitution, the General Conference has full legislative power over all other matters distinctively connectional and has the authority to fix and define the conditions, privileges and duties of Church membership which shall in every case be without regard to race or status. The Judicial Council has no authority to sit as a Council of Revision or to confer on itself the power to re-write portions of the Discipline at the request of anyone who prefers different provisions. Under our system of checks and balances, the General Conference is the only appropriate body authorized to fix and define the conditions, privileges, and duties of Church membership.

Jon R. Gray

We join in this concurring opinion:

Angela Brown

Susan T. Henry-Crowe

Katherine Austin Mahle

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