Decision Number 193
Request of the Central Conference of Southern Asia for a Declaratory Decision as to the Powers of Said Conference to Act Under a Possible Future Enabling Act of the General Conference Not Yet Passed or Granted.
Under existing constitutional and legislative provisions for declaratory decisions, the Judicial Council has no authority to render a declaratory decision at the request of a Central Conference to interpret the meaning or effect of possible future legislation of t General Conference, or to determine the powers of a Central Conference thereunder.
Statement of Facts
During the meeting of the Central Conference of Southern Asia held at Hyderabad, India, commencing on the 31st of December, 1960, and on the 5th day of January, 1961, the following resolution was adopted:
"WHEREAS, the question of Church Union in North India is under consideration in the Central Conference of the Methodist Church Southern Asia; and
"WHEREAS, if there be a two-third majority of the members of Annual Conferences present and voting in favour, the Executive Board shall memorialize the General Conference of 1964 for an enabling act to permit the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to enter into the Union on the basis of the Plan for Union; and
"WHEREAS, the question has been raised as to whether the Central Conference has the power to do other than to accept the Plan when acting on the said enabling act:
"Be it hereby resolved:
"That the question be referred to the Judicial Council as to what powers the Central Conference has in order to act on an enabling act granted by the General Conference in such a situation as this."
The plan of union referred to in the resolution is the plan of church union, prepared, after three years of negotiation, by the Negotiating Committee for Church Union in North India and Pakistan, consisting of representatives of The Council of The Baptist Churches in Northern India, The Church of the Brethren in India, The Disciples of Christ, The Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, The Methodist Church (British and Australasian Conferences), The Methodist Church in Southern Asia and The United Church of Northern India. The plan of church union thus prepared will, by action of the Central Conference of Southern Asia, be submitted to the Annual Conferences within its boundaries for approval or disapproval, and if two-thirds of all the members present and voting in the various Annual Conferences approve, then, and in such event, the Executive Board of the Central Conference is to memorialize the General Conference of The Methodist Church to be held in 1964 for an enabling act authorizing the consummation of the plan of union.
Such an enabling act has not, as yet, been requested by said Central Conference or by its Executive Board and, of course, none has been passed or granted by the General Conference.
The Analysis sets forth the reasons the Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction in this case.
Analysis and Rationale
It is clear from the resolution of the Central Conference that no request has been made by or on behalf of said Conference for an act enabling The Methodist Church in Southern Asia to enter into union with other Protestant denominations in India and that it is entirely possible that none will be made. In any event, no such action has been taken by the General Conference and it may be that no such action will ever be taken.
The request of the Central Conference for a declaratory decision in this case is, in the final analysis, a request for an interpretation of the meaning and effect of possible future or proposed legislation and a declaration of the powers of the Central Conference thereunder. It is impossible to know whether such an enabling act will be sought by the Central Conference or granted by the General Conference, and, if granted, what the terms and conditions thereof will be.
There is no provision in the law of the Church which authorizes the Judicial Council to consider, for any purpose, proposed or possible future legislation or to render a declaratory decision in connection therewith, except the provision of Paragraph 904.2 of the 1960 Discipline. This paragraph empowers the Judicial Council "to pass upon the constitutionality of any proposed legislation when such declaratory decision is requested by the General Conference. . . ." (Emphasis added.)
The Judicial Council in its Decision No. 177 made a clear distinction between proposed legislation and possible future legislation. They held that: "The statement that a future General Conference might wish to pass legislation involving the interpretation and application of the constitutional paragraphs is hypothetical and does not afford sufficient basis for the Council to accept jurisdiction under the power granted in Pars. 43 (1) and 904 (2) of the 1960 Discipline. (Emphasis added.)
It will be noted that the remedy provided in Paragraph 904.2 is available only to the General Conference and is restricted to the question of constitutionality. There is no provision in the Constitution or Discipline of the Church which authorizes the Judicial Council to consider either proposed or possible future legislation for the purpose of declaring its meaning, application or effect, or to determine the powers which may be granted an agency of the Church thereunder.
The question submitted in this case by the Central Conference of Southern Asia relates to legislation which may or may not be requested and which, if requested, may or may not be enacted by the General Conference and the terms and conditions of which, if enacted, are now a matter of conjecture.
The Judicial Council will not render decisions that are merely advisory or that decide abstract or uncertain questions based upon hypothetical facts.
Under existing constitutional and legislative provisions for declaratory decisions, the Judicial Council is without authority to take jurisdiction in this matter.