Decision Number 454
Request of the Council of Bishops for a Declaratory Decision Regarding the Procedure by which an Autonomous or Affiliated Autonomous Church can Become Part of The United Methodist Church.
Under the Constitution and the existing legislative provisions for declaratory decisions, the authority and jurisdiction of the Judicial Council are limited to rulings as to the constitutionality, meaning, application or effect of the Discipline or any act or legislation of a General Conference or as to the constitutionality of proposed legislation. The instant request does not meet any of those requirements so the Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction.
Statement of Facts
The Secretary of the Council of Bishops transmitted a request that the Judicial Council ". . . make a declaratory decision on the legality of the following matter:
Can an Autonomous or Affiliated Autonomous Church become a part of The United Methodist Church through the following or similar actions, to be effective when all four have been completed:
1. The Autonomous/Affiliated Autonomous Church declares its own constitution and church order null and void;
2. Said church accepts and approves the Discipline of The United Methodist Church as Discipline of that church;
3. Said church applies for membership in a Central Conference, such application to be approved by that Central Conference and/or the General Conference through the Commission on Central Conference Affairs (Section 2202);
4. The General Conference approves legislation authorizing the necessary adjustments in the organization of the Central Conference involved."
The letter from the Secretary of the Council of Bishops states that the request is submitted in accordance with Par. 2515 of the Discipline. That paragraph authorizes us to make declaratory decisions only as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference. The request does not refer to any portion of the Discipline or legislation of a General Conference. Our attention has not been called to any provision of the Constitution or other part of the Discipline or any act of a General Conference governing the procedure by which an Autonomous or Affiliated Autonomous Church can become part of The United Methodist Church. Our own research indicates that the General Conference has not yet defined that procedure. Hence there is nothing that we may properly interpret or upon which we can make a ruling under the limited authority granted to us by Par. 2515.
If the General Conference hereafter provides a method for one or more other churches, whether or not of the Wesleyan tradition, to merge with The United Methodist Church and one or more of its Central or Jurisdictional Conferences, we would have the authority to interpret or rule upon the constitutionality of such specific legislation upon motion of the General Conference or petition of one of the agencies authorized by Par. 2515.
As was said in Decision No. 29:
"Under the Declaratory Decision Act of 1944, the Judicial Council may not assume jurisdiction, unless jurisdiction has been clearly vested in the Council. To this extent the Declaratory Decision Act in the same manner as the Declaratory Judgment Acts of the State Legislatures, should be strictly construed."
In Decision 255 we said:
"For us to view this matter otherwise would require a sharp departure from our long established policy of construing our jurisdiction strictly and with restraint."
Although the request was submitted to us under Par. 2515, we have considered whether we could take jurisdiction under Par. 2507 which authorizes us to determine the constitutionality of any proposed legislation upon request of the General Conference or the Council of Bishops. We cannot deduce from the letter received that the rough outline of procedure contained therein constitutes legislation that has been proposed. It speaks of "the following or similar actions."
The fourth paragraph similarly speaks of legislation authorizing necessary adjustments without specifying what the legislation may provide or what adjustments may be considered necessary. We are not advised that even the substance of the letter or any other plan has been proposed to the General Conference for adoption, let alone the specific wording in legislative form. It appears that we have before us at most a hypothetical question. Under these circumstances we are unable to find that on the present petition we have authority to proceed under Par. 2507.
Whether considered under Par. 2515 or under Par. 2507, the Judicial Council does not have jurisdiction of this request of the Council of Bishops.