Decision Number 362
Request from the North Mississippi Annual
The requirement in the proposed merger plan for the North Mississippi and Upper Mississippi Annual Conferences that membership on boards, agencies and staff must be from both of the merging conferences is one means of attempting to assure equitability within the merged conference. It is therefore constitutional.
Statement of Facts
The North Mississippi Annual Conference in session June 10, 1972, passed and forwarded to the Judicial Council the following resolution:
"WHEREAS, questions of the constitutionality of the proposal (sic) plan of merger have arisen upon which there are divergent opinions;
"Whereas, under the Constitution of the United Methodist Church the Judicial Council is vested with exclusive jurisdiction to determine such questions upon proper procedure by advisory opinion;
"Whereas, as a result of the action of this North Mississippi Annual Conference it is expedient that all such questions be finally determined;
"Therefore Be It Resolved by North Mississippi Annual Conference that advisory opinion of the Judicial Council be requested as the following:
"Considering that portion of paragraph I, sub paragraph 2 of the proposed merger plan which provides that:
'. . . the boards and agencies of the merged conference shall be composed of members of both of the former conferences.'
and that portion of paragraph II, sub paragraph 3 of the proposed merger plan which provides that:
'3. The staff and members at large of the Program Council and the membership of its constituent boards and agencies of the successor conference shall be composed of representatives from both of the former Annual Conferences.' * * *
"It is requested that you consider the attached merger plan and advise:
" (1) Whether the above provisions are constitutional with regard to structure of boards, commissions and agencies; and
" (2) If the above quoted provisions are held to be unconstitutional does that render the balance of the merger plan unconstitutional."
The Upper and the North Mississippi Annual Conferences created conference merger committees to prepare a plan of merger for these two conferences. The geographical boundaries of the two conferences are essentially conterminous. The merger of these two conferences is essential to the completion of the process of making The United Methodist Church a racially inclusive church and to comply with the constitutional requirement that:
"In The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, or economic condition." (Par. 4)
Prior to union with The Evangelical United Brethren Church, The Methodist Church set 1972 as a target date by which time all of its conferences of the former Central Jurisdiction should, on a voluntary basis, be merged with the geographical Jurisdictional Conferences. This merger procedure moved forward in a very commendable manner so that at the time of the meeting of the 1972 General Conference there were only four mergers which remained to be completed. One of these is in northern Mississippi.
The 1972 General Conference passed legislation requiring that the remaining mergers be completed by the time of the 1973 sessions of the conferences involved and prescribing a mandatory procedure to accomplish the merger of any that have not completed their mergers on a voluntary basis by that time. It is the purpose of the two conferences in northern Mississippi to consummate merger on a voluntary basis within the time limit prescribed by the General Conference.
The two conference merger committees have worked long and diligently and prepared a proposed plan of merger which was presented to the two Annual Conferences at their respective 1972 annual sessions. The plan was passed by the Upper Mississippi conference. The North Mississippi conference adopted a "resolution of intent" and passed a second resolution requesting the Judicial Council to give a ruling on the constitutionality of the paragraphs listed above. The letter of transmission of this resolution to the Judicial Council also states that Bishop Stokes has called a special session of the North Mississippi Annual Conference for November 27, 1972, to act upon merger plans in light of the Judicial decision.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1515 of the 1972 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
A wide variety of questions and issues regarding the implications of the racially inclusive, and non-discriminatory sections of the Constitution and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church have been raised. Before the new denomination was really launched, the Interim Judicial Council was asked to rule on such issues. (I.J.C. Decisions No. 4, 5) During the 1968-72 quadrennium additional questions have come to the Judicial Council. (Decisions No. 340, 357)
The Constitution of The United Methodist Church speaks to racial issues with sufficient clarity that there should be no shadow of doubt regarding its intent. The intent is that the Church shall, in all its structure, program and activity, be a full and complete expression of the fact that "God made of one blood all nations." Its intent is that race consciousness shall be non-existent within the Church. There can be no special rights, privileges or obligations established in any way because of race, color, or national origin. This is binding for all, minority as well as majority groups. The basic rights, privileges and obligations of all individuals within the Church are established by the fact that each is a child of God, created in His image. There dare be no subterfuge to circumvent the full application of this truth in any Church structure or program.
This is the position which has been taken consistently by the Judicial Council in its decisions. Guidelines were established in Decision No. 5 of the Interim Judicial Council. The position is spelled out quite specifically in Decision No. 357 which relates to Annual Conference merger. In the analysis of that decision, the Council stated:
"Annual Conference structure or voting quotas cannot be based on race or color, even when done for the protection of a minority. The Church may not be structured biracially. It must be color blind.
"This is more than a matter of semantics. It cannot be circumvented by the substitution of general language which obscures the fact that the legislation will be dealing with the merger of four Negro Annual Conferences with their white counterparts. When they come together they must do so as a single entity, in which neither structure nor vote is controlled by former conference affiliation. Merger of Annual Conferences connotes equitable attitudes in matters of representation in subordinate bodies of the merged conferences." (emphasis added)
Decision No. 357 was issued in response to a petition from the General Conference seeking an advisory opinion as to the Constitutionality of proposed legislation by which the General Conference would mandate a specified quota of representation from former Negro Annual Conferences on the boards and agencies of conferences into which they would be merged. The Judicial Council held such proposed legislation to be unconstitutional because it is based on race.
In the instant case the proposed plan of merger simply requires that the boards and agencies of the merged conference shall have representatives from both former conferences. There are no quotas. The basis for this requirement is, of course, that there can be no merger of two conferences into a new conference unless both of those conferences are represented in the board and agency structure of that new conference. Persons come into their positions in the merged conference on the basis of their qualifications for those positions. In most instances these qualifications are best demonstrated by their training and experience in the Annual Conferences from which they come into the merger. That some of these persons may be white, some black and some have other distinguishing racial or ethnic characteristics is purely incidental. It is not the qualifying criterion by which they are selected. The qualifying criterion is a functional one for the effective and equitable structuring of the new conference into which the program and activities of both former conferences are merged.
It is then evident that the paragraphs in the proposed plan of merger of the two conferences in northern Mississippi which require that membership of boards, agencies, and staff be based on membership in their former conferences meets the requirement of "equitable attitudes in matters of representation in subordinate bodies of the merged conferences" and are therefore constitutional.
We would call attention of these conferences, and their committees on merger quite emphatically to the fact that in their merger structure and program procedures they travel a two-way street. It is incumbent upon the merging conferences to see to it that the merged conference structure does in fact show "equitable attitudes in matters of representation in subordinate bodies of the merged conferences." We cannot stress too strongly that de facto exclusion is no more acceptable than de jure inclusion. If any merged conference or its boards and agencies should be so structured that it can in fact be demonstrated that equitable attitudes in matters of representation have not been observed and the resulting structure is in reality inequitable, that structure would be unconstitutional.
In conference mergers the membership of boards, agencies and staff in the merged conference must demonstrate that equitable attitudes have obtained in their selection to such membership. One criterion for determining such equitability would be the experience of these persons in the conferences which are being merged. The requirement in the proposed merger plan for the North Mississippi and Upper Mississippi Annual Conferences, that membership on boards, agencies and staff must be from both of the merging conferences is one means of attempting to assure such equitability. It is therefore constitutional.