Decision Number 411


May 04, 1976

Request of General Conference for a Declara- tory Decision as to the Constitutionality of Calen- dar Item No. 251, Paragraph 705.1


Paragraph 705.1 states:

"The Annual Conference shall determine the desirability of Conference Boards of Church and Society, Discipleship, Higher Education and Ministry, and Global Ministries with appropriate divisions to have liaison with and responsibility for the functions and concerns of the divisions of all of the respective general boards. If a conference should determine not to create any one of the boards or divisions thereof, it shall specifically assign the liaison functions and responsibilities of each such board or division to another agency in the conference. (See Paragraphs 1201 ff, 1301 ff, 1501 ff and 1601 ff)

The Judicial Council is unable to bring a decision until legislation has been completed by the 1976 General Conference. Therefore we issue this memorandum for advisory purposes in an attempt to clarify the constitutional question concerning Paragraph 705.1 at this moment in the midst of continuing General Conference legislation.

The Constitution clearly provides that the principle of connectionalism should be always primary in any organizational structure of The United Methodist Church. Article IV, Paragraph 15 of the Constitution reads:

"The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows:

* * *

"3. To define and fix the powers and duties of Annual Conferences, Provisional Annual Conferences, Missionary Conferences and Missions, and of Central Conferences, District Conferences, Charge Conferences, and Congregational Meetings.

* * *

"8. To initiate and to direct all connectional enterprises of the Church and to provide boards for their promotion and administration."

In Decision 339 the Judicial Council warned against the undercutting of the connectional system at the Annual Conference level, where mandated connectional programs are not promoted, administered and channeled as the General Conference orders.

There is apparently in the Church a movement toward freedom in Annual Conference structures. The General Conference has the authority to grant a reasonable amount of flexibility in such structures.

We would remind the General Conference, however, about its constitutional mandate to use its authority to maintain the working relationships of a connectional church. When the General Conference initiates connectional enterprises and provides boards for their promotion and administration, the functioning of such boards must reach to every level in the life of the Church, from the General Board to the Charge Conference. If the General Conference legislation concerning Annual Conference structures is either so confusing or so permissive that the liaison functions do not reach through the Annual Conference to District and local church levels, the General Conference has not properly exercised its constitutional mandate.

In the specific question before us the Judicial Council is of the opinion that Paragraph 705.1 as written in Calendar Item 251 is constitutional as it stands alone without reference to other legislation proposed concerning the conference boards referred to in Paragraph 705.1.

The Judicial Council has dealt with the issue of Annual Conference structures in Decisions 314 and 339. In these we said that the Annual Conference may not disregard the mandatory structure of organization as legislated by the General Conference. Again in Decision 409 (DCA, p. 197) we reaffirmed the position of the Judicial Council on this particular issue of constitutionality. We held in 409 that it is an impermissible delegation of power by the General Conference to "make some provisions mandatory and then empower an Annual Conference to ignore them."

It is certainly the right of the General Conference to designate any board or agency of an Annual Conference as mandatory. Should the General Conference exercise this legislative power "over all matters distinctively connectional," and pass legislation making mandatory any of the boards named in Paragraph 705.1, then the permissive option of Paragraph 705.1 would become unconstitutional.

The Judicial Council retains jurisdiction over this petition.

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