Decision Number 338
Rights of a Minority of a Central Conference to Invoke a Right of Appeal to the Judicial Council Under Paragraph 1708
Twenty per cent of the members of a Central Conference have a right to move referral of an issue to the Judicial Council and this right is not lost by the refusal of the presiding officer to let the motion come to a vote.
An extra session of the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia is not prevented by constitutional limitation from voting on a plan of union with another church.
Other issues are referred to the Judicial Court of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia for an advisory opinion.
Statement of Facts
The Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia formally requested, at its session held on February 10-11, 1967, the General Conference of 1968 "to authorize the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to consummate Church Union as provided for in the Plan of Church Union in North India and Pakistan (Fourth Edition, 1965 ... ) when the following conditions have been met:
" (1) A 2/3 affirmative vote by the 1968-69 Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia for the said Plan, followed by-
"(2) A 2/3 affirmative vote of the members present and voting of the several (constituent) Annual Conferences. . .-and
"(3) Such other requirements as established by the General Conference...., in order to provide for continued co-operation between the Methodist Church and the new church in such matters as reciprocal recognition of ministers and members, finances, personnel and so forth . . ."
The 1968 General Conference of The United Methodist Church adopted the requested legislation.
The Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia met in Bangalore December 30, 1968-January 5, 1969. Among other actions it:
"(1) Resolved that the Central Conference commend the Fourth Edition of the Plan of Church Union in North India to the eleven Annual Conferences of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia for their "Yes" or "No" vote. "(2) Resolved that in case the Plan is accepted by the two-thirds majority of the members of the Annual Conferences present and voting, the Bishops, with the concurrence of the Executive Board, shall call a special Session of the Central Conference, in order to do the business necessary for a smooth transition into the Church of North India.
"(d) Take necessary action for the continuation of the Executive Board to (take) care of the property and other matters.
"The report was adopted by vote of 122 for and 5 against. . . ."
The proposition to enter the Church Union was then submitted to the Annual Conferences which, as certified by the Secretary of the Executive Board, voted approval: 662 votes for and 298 votes against, or 22 votes more than the required 2/3 majority.
The Secretary of the Executive Board reported that the Plan of Union had been approved. The Chairman of the Commission on Church Union and Structure of Methodism in India notified the Chairman of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas to the same effect. United Methodist Information issued a special release on November 18, 1969, reporting:
"In an historic decision . . . the 600,000 member Southern Asia (India) Central Conference has voted to go into church union. . . ."
Subsequently some persons raised a question as to the meaning of the word "commend" in Item (1) quoted above. Also the question arose whether the prospective session which the bishops were now empowered to call would be an extra session, a special session or a regular session. The point may have been considered important since the Constitution of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia contains the following article:
This constitution may be amended by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting in a regular session of the Central Conference."
The Executive Board requested the Judicial Court of the Central Conference "for a Declaratory Decision whether the Central Conference scheduled to be called in August 6-9, 1970 at Delhi should be a Regular Session or an Extra Session or a Special Session of the Central Conference."
The Judicial Court of the Central Conference meeting on April 15, 1970 handed down the following decision:
"The Central Conference of M.C.S.A. proposed to meet from August 6-9, 1970 at Delhi, as per action of the Executive Board of M.C.S.A. No. 34-70/c is an Extra Session of the Central Conference of M.C.S.A."
The Extra Session of the Central Conference when it convened received a motion "to accept the Plan of Union in North India, Fourth Revised Edition, 1965." After lengthy debate a motion to put the previous question was made, put before the house and voted, 118 for and 15 against.
The official minutes of the Central Conference read-
"Calvin C. Master then raised a point of order, and asked for the (presiding) Bishop's ruling on (1) whether this extra session of the Central Conference is competent to vote on constitutional matters, and (2) whether voting on church union is a constitutional matter. The Chair stated he could not give the ruling, but the house might give the ruling. After further devate, Calvin C. Master again rose to a point of order. The chair asked him if he had a resolution to present. Mr. Master then read a resolution questioning the constitutionality of the vote being taken on Church Union in this session of the Central Conference, and asking the Conference to seek a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on whether the requirements of the Enabling Act have been met by the actions of the Central Conference, meeting in Bangalore, 1968-69, and by the votes taken by the Annual Conferences on church union. As the resolution was long and involved, the Chair asked Mr. Master to have the resolution mimeographed (distributed and discussed) at a later session."
The Conference then proceeded to vote on the question of church union and voted it down: 48 for union and 106 against. When the conference reconvened the Chair called on Calvin C. Master to read his resolution which, the minutes show, "had been signed by 36 members of the Central Conference."
After discussion, a point of order was raised that this resolution could not be entertained unless there were a 2/3 vote for reconsideration. The Chair then ruled the resolution out of order. Adjournment followed. At the following session, the same afternoon, Calvin C. Master challenged the ruling. But the then presiding bishop ruled that the challenge should have been made at the time the ruling was originally given, so that the bishop could have given his reason for the ruling. Mr. Master then requested that his challenge be recorded in the minutes of the conference session and this was done. Subsequently Mr. Master sent his appeal and the resolution directly to the Judicial Council.
At its session of October 29-31, 1970 the Judicial Council received the appeal and adopted Memorandum No. 335, noting a provisional determination that it had jurisdiction in the matter. Since that time the legitimacy of the signers as members of the Central Conference has been validated and a more complete record of jurisdictional facts is at hand. The various parties to the case were asked to submit briefs and were notified that there would be a hearing on April 22, 1971 on the question of the Judicial Council's jurisdiction in the matter and, if this appears to be established, on related issues.
Jurisdiction is based on Paragraph 1708 of the Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The resolution of Calvin C. Master, quoted above, was one for referral to the Judicial Council of the legality of the vote on the Plan of Union for the Church of North India. Under Paragraph 1708 of the Discipline such a motion is entitled to prevail if twenty per cent of the members of a Central Conference vote to sustain it. The Master resolution was signed by 36 of 156 delegates in attendance at the session of the Central Conference. A vote on the resolution for referral was refused by the presiding bishop, apparently on the ground that it was a motion for reconsideration of the previous vote on approval or disapproval of the Plan of Union, and that such a motion for reconsideration required a two-thirds majority. Later in the same day Mr. Master appealed from the ruling of the Chair but the appeal was likewise ruled out of order.
These rulings were in error. A vote should have been permitted on the resolution of referral and this issue referred to the Judicial Council if twenty per cent of the voting members voted for referral. Now it is argued that the appeal of Calvin C. Master and the 35 other members of the Central Conference who joined him in the resolution and later in the appeal to the Judicial Council cannot be heard by the Judicial Council because the Central Conference did not vote referral. If we were to sustain this contention, it would effectively defeat the right of a minority in a Central Conference to appeal under Paragraph 1708. This right of minority appeal is too vital to permit it to be frustrated by the simple expedient of refusing to permit a vote on a resolution of referral. It can reasonably be assumed that the 36 members who have signed the petition of appeal and who signed the resolution for referral in the Central Conference would have voted for their own resolution in Conference session had they been given an opportunity to do so. Their votes would have been sufficient to bring about referral to the Judicial Council. Under such circumstances we recognize the appeal of this more than twenty per cent minority as the equivalent of a reference by the Central Conference pursuant to the favorable vote of these same members.
The issue thus brought before us is the legality of the vote taken at the extra session of the Central Conference on the resolution to approve the Plan of Union for the Church of North India. It is urged upon us that the Plan of Union is a constitutional issue that may only be voted on at a regular session of the Central Conference. We find no merit in this contention. The Constitution of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia provides in Article XI that "This Constitution may be amended by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting in a regular session of the Central Conference." A vote on the Plan of Union, however important or constitutional, does not involve an amendment of "this constitution."
There remain two subordinate issues:
1. Was the vote in the extra session permissible in view of the earlier action of the Central Conference at its regular session in commending the Plan of Union to the Annual Conferences for their "Yes" or "No" vote, and the consequent ratification by them?
2. Was it legal for the Executive Board of the Church to enlarge the agenda announced by the bishops of the Conference in their call for the extra session by adding thereto a vote on the approval or disapproval of the Plan of Union? There are ambiguities in these two issues to which the record before us does not furnish an answer. It is the view of the appellants that the original action of the Central Conference in commending the Plan of Union to the Annual Conferences constituted approval of the Plan by the Central Conference. If that be correct, the approval of the Annual Conferences completed the required consents and closed the matter. There is considerable circumstantial evidence to support this interpretation.
But the Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia does not now construe the referral of the Plan of Union to the Annual Conferences with commendation as the equivalent of approval by the Central Conference. They insist that the necessity for such Central Conference approval was overlooked when the issue was referred to the Annual Conferences and that the Central Conference intended to take no position on the matter.
Nor are we in a position to determine whether the Executive Board was authorized to enlarge upon the agenda announced by the bishops in calling the extra session.
We therefore refer these two matters to the Judicial Court of The Methodist Church in Southern Asia and respectfully request it to give us an advisory opinion on the issues of (1) whether the Central Conference meant to give approval of the Plan of Union by its commendation of that plan in submitting it to a vote of the Annual Conference, and (2) whether the Executive Board had the authority to broaden the agenda for the extra session by adding to the bishop's agenda a vote of approval or disapproval of the Plan of Union.
We make these referrals to the Judicial Court and respectfully request its advisory opinion on these matters because none of them are free from doubt on the record presented to us. We surmise that there may be Indian overtones or understandings on these matters of which we might be unaware without the help of an advisory opinion by the Judicial Court.
The voting procedures that are under review in this litigation are important precedents. We regard as basic the right of Conference minorities to invoke their rights of appeal under Paragraph 1708 of the Discipline. It may well be that the time has passed for us to make any meaningful disposition of the dispute which underlies these issues. This we can best determine in the light of the circumstances prevailing when we receive the advisory opinion that we request of the Judicial Court.
In the meantime we retain jurisdiction of this appeal and will carry it forward on our docket until we have received advisory help from the Judicial Court. At that time, either the petitioners or the Executive Board of The Methodist Church in Southern Asia may move for a disposition of the case on the record and circumstances then before us.
1. If there is an appeal from the ruling of a presiding officer and a motion for a referral of the matter to the Judicial Council, the Chair may not negate that appeal by ruling it to be out of order, but must permit it to come to a vote of the house to determine whether there is sufficient support to carry the appeal to the Judicial Council. Bishop Joseph R. Lance was therefore in error in ruling the motion of Calvin C. Master to be out of order.
2. There is no constitutional limitation on the authority of an extra session of the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to vote approval or disapproval of the Plan of Union of the Church of North India.
3. A declaratory decision is requested of the Judicial Court of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia (a) as to whether it was permissible for the Central Conference of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to vote on approval of the Plan of Union of the Church of North India in view of its earlier action in commending the plan to the Annual Conferences for their "Yes" or "No" vote, and the consequent ratification by the Conferences prior to the second vote by the Central Conference, and (b) as to whether it was legal for the Executive Board of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia to enlarge the agenda announced by the bishops of the Conference in their call for an extra session by adding thereto a vote of approval or disapproval of the Plan of Union.
4. Jurisdiction of this appeal is retained pending advice from the Judicial Court of the Methodist Church in Southern Asia.