Decision Number 215
Request of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas for a Declaratory Decision Concerning the Necessity for a Constitutional Amendment to Remove the Word CUBA from Paragraph 26, Article I, of the Constitution of The Methodist Church and Regarding the Source of Authority for Granting Autonomy to a Church Requesting the Same
1. While the Cuba Annual Conference may be removed from the Southeastern Jurisdiction by processes other than a constitutional amendment, the word CUBA could be removed from the constitution only by constitutional amendment.
2. Only the General Conference has the power to grant autonomy to an Annual Conference, Provisional Annual Conference, Central Conference or a Provisional Central Conference.
Statement of Facts
On May 4, 1964 the Secretary of the Judicial Council received the following communication:
"TO THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF THE METHODIST CHURCH:
This is to certify that the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas requests a declaratory opinion: if it is necessary for a constitutionalamendment to remove the word, CUBA, from Paragraph 26, Article 1, of the Constitution of THE METHODIST CHURCH, as found in the listing of those conferences in the Southeastern Jurisdiction and further who can authorize autonomy for a church requesting the same?
Respectfully yours, (s) Leon T. Moore Leon T. Moore, Secretary"
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this matter under the provisions of Paragraph 914.2 of the 1960 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
This request for a declaratory decision coming from the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas presents for our consideration two questions, namely:
(1) Is a constitutional amendment required to remove the word CUBA from Division Two, Section VIII, Boundaries, Article I, of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, Paragraph 26, 1960 Discipline, which is included within the boundary of the Southeastern Jurisdiction?
(2) Who can authorize autonomy for a church requesting the same?
An examination of the Section in the Constitution, referred to in question (1) above, reveals clearly that the republic of CUBA was made an integral part of the Southeastern Jurisdiction when the jurisdictional system was adopted by the Uniting Conference in 1939. This fact is verified in Paragraph 2037, 1960 Discipline, which lists the geographic area comprising the jurisdiction. However, Cuba is recognized as one of the Annual Conferences which is related to the Division of World Missions, General Board of Missions, The Methodist Church.
Paragraph 8, 1960 Discipline, says: "The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of said powers shall have authority as follows: . . ." Then follow fourteen subparagraphs, of which Paragraph 8.12 states: "To change the number and the boundaries of Jurisdictional Conferences upon the consent of a majority of the Annual Conference in each Jurisdictional Conference involved."
Paragraph 28, 1960 Discipline, also a part of the Constitution of The Methodist Church, reads as follows:
"Changes in the number, names, and boundaries of the Jurisdictional Conferences may be effected by the General Conference upon the consent of a majority of the Annual Conferences of each of the Jurisdictional Conferences involved."
Amendment IX to the Constitution of The Methodist Church provides specific procedures for the transfer of an Annual Conference from one Jurisdiction to another. In the instant case, however, the provisions of Amendment IX are not applicable since there is no desire on the part of petitioner to transfer Cuba from the Southeastern Jurisdiction to another Jurisdiction. It is the understanding of the Judicial Council that petitioner desires to assist the Cuba Annual Conference in becoming an autonomous Methodist Church.
From the first question before the Judicial Council, it appears that the intent of petitioner is to determine the legal process by which the Cuba Annual Conference may be dissociated from the Southeastern Jurisdiction in order that the Cuba Annual Conference may be free to move toward autonomy. It should be noted, however, that this dissociation would not thereby make the Cuba Annual Conference an autonomous church but it would remain as Annual Conference associated with the mission field of The Methodist Church until such time as the General Conference grants autonomy.
It has been held by the Judicial Council, in Decision Number 56, that "the General Conference may change the boundaries of Jurisdictional Conferences only by consent of a majority of the Annual Conferences in each jurisdiction" as prescribed in the Constitution. "Accordingly any legislation attempted by General Conference without complying with these provisions is invalid."
In its Decision Number 55, the Judicial Council held that action of the General Conference in changing the boundary of a jurisdiction, following the specific approval of the proposed action by a majority of the Annual Conferences involved, was valid.
The Judicial Council, after careful consideration of the foregoing and all other relevant matters, is of the opinion that a constitutional amendment is not required to remove the Cuba Annual Conference from the Southeastern Jurisdiction. However, the Judicial Council holds that legislative action by the General Conference for the purpose of removing the Cuba Annual Conference can legally take effect only after a majority of the Annual Conferences of the Southeastern Jurisdiction have voted approval. Further, the Judicial Council holds that the word CUBA may be removed from the Constitution of The Methodist Church only by constitutional amendment.
The second question before the Judicial Council for consideration asks "Who can authorize autonomy for a church requesting the same?"
From additional information received with regard to the petition, the Judicial Council is of the opinion that the information desired in this case is related to overseas conferences. Specifically, it appears that the actual question is concerned with a determination as to what body may grant autonomy to an Annual Conference, a Provisional Annual Conference, a Central Conference, or a Provisional Central Conference outside of the United States of America, which has from its inception been a part of The Methodist Church and related directly through the General Board of Missions.
An examination of the Constitution of The Methodist Church and the law contained in the Discipline fails to reveal any reference to the question at hand. This matter is without precedent as no action has been taken by The Methodist Church, since unification in 1939, granting autonomy to any of the aforementioned bodies. It should be observed, however, that broad legislative powers are granted to the General Conference in the Constitution, with Paragraph 8.14 indicating that the said conference shall have authority "To enact such other legislation as may be necessary, subject to the limitations and restrictions of the Constitution of the church," and Paragraph 8.4 confers power "To provide for the organization, promotion, and administration of the work of the church outside the United States of America."
The broad terms of the Constitution quoted above, as interpreted in Judicial Council Decision Number 147, clearly indicate that the General Conference of The Methodist Church is the legislative body of the church. There is no other legislative body in the church. . . . The General Conference cannot delegate its legislative powers or transfer to others the essential legislative functions with which it has been vested under the Constitution of The Methodist Church. This principle is well established in the civil law. Undoubtedly, legislation must often be adapted to complex conditions involving a host of details with which the legislative body cannot deal directly."
Therefore, it appears to the Judicial Council that the General Conference of The Methodist Church is the only body of The Methodist Church that has the power to grant autonomy to an overseas Annual Conference, Provisional Annual Conference, Central Conference or Provisional Central Conference that has been historically an integral part of The Methodist Church. Further, it is the opinion of the Judicial Council that such autonomy can be granted only through enabling legislation enacted by the General Conference of The Methodist Church setting forth such terms and conditions as the General Conference deems to be appropriate, so long as such legislation is in harmony with the constitutional power vested in the General Conference.
It is, therefore, the decision of the Judicial Council that:
1. The Cuba Annual Conference may be removed from the Southeastern Jurisdiction through the processes specifically set forth in the Constitution of The Methodist Church without a constitutional amendment. However, the word CUBA may be removed from the Constitution only by constitutional amendment.
2. Only the General Conference of The Methodist Church is vested with power to grant autonomy to an overseas Annual Conference, Provisional Annual Conference, Central Conference or Provisional Central Conference which has been historically an integral part of The Methodist Church.