Decision Number 231


October 21, 1965

Ruling of Bishop James K. Mathews Concerning the Right of Local Churches to Determine Who May Attend Their Services of Worship


The rulings of Bishop Mathews, that the questions put to him concerning the right of local churches to determine who may attend their services of worship are moot in view of Judicial Council Decision No. 226, are affirmed.

Statement of Facts

At the session of the New England Southern Annual Conference held at Norton, Massachusetts, June 16-20, 1965, DeWitt Clemens, a member of the conference, presented two questions to the presiding bishop, James K. Mathews, for his ruling. These questions were:

(1) On October 20, 1963, Mr. John B. Garner, Rev. Joseph Buckles, Rev. Elmer Dickson, and Miss Joyce Ladner, an interracial group, were denied permission by ushers and members of the Official Board of Galloway Memorial Methodist Church, Jackson, Mississippi, to attend a Sunday school class because the said church had an operative policy of excluding Negro and interracial groups from participating in its activities. Was this denial legal under Paragraphs 8.26, 45 (IX), 87, 94, 102, 103, 105, 107, 108, 110, 165, 174, 215.5, 215.6, 222.8, and others of the 1960 Discipline which was in effect at that time?

(2) If a question of Methodist Law is moot in the sense that under a previous Discipline the answer to the question is unclear but under the present Discipline it is clear, and if the answer to the question under the previous Discipline is relevant to the Prosecution of a member or members of The Methodist Church in civil court, and if it is clear that the civil court will base their decision on The Methodist Church's answer to this question; then is a Bishop required to rule to clarify the ambiguity under the previous Discipline when asked to do so under the procedure outlined in paragraph 40 of the 1964 Discipline? In particular, from the point of view of mootness does Bishop Mathews have to answer the legality of the denial of permission to attend Sunday school to the interracial group at Galloway Memorial Methodist Church on October 20, 1963?"

The propounder of these questions stated that John B. Garner is an affiliate member of Mathewson Street Methodist Church, Providence, Rhode Island, of the New England Southern Annual Conference and that the questions were propounded under the procedure set forth in Paragraph 40 of the 1964 Discipline.

Bishop Mathews ruled as follows on the questions put to him:

"Ruling on Question (1): This question, as a question of church law, must beregarded as moot or hypothetical. The circumstances, as reported, occurred in 1963 and in 1964 prior to the session of the 1964 General Conference; in other words, at a time when the 1960 Discipline was in force. This question is raised at a time when that Discipline is no longer in effect (cf. Par. 574, 1964 Discipline). From the standpoint of church law the right of all persons to worship in any local church has now been clearly established by the Methodist Council at the 1964 General Conference.

Judicial Council Decision No. 189 makes it clear that it will not render a declaratory decision on a moot or academic question. Decision No. 33 specifically applies this same principle to requests for rulings by a bishop at an Annual Conference session. Moreover, Decision No. 225 is addressed directly to the issue now under consideration and the question has already been declared moot by the Judicial Council. In view of these facts and the fact also that my ruling must be reviewed by the same Judicial Council, it is not possible to rule otherwise.

Ruling on Question (2): No, on the ground that this question is essentially the same as the previous one and must therefore also be declared moot. The civil law aspects of the problem obviously lie outside the competence of a Methodist bishop who is asked to rule on a question of law, which surely must mean church law (Para. 40)."

The questions propounded and the answers of the Bishop thereupon were duly forwarded by the Bishop to the Judicial Council for review in keeping with the provisions of Paragraph 40 of the Discipline.

The Judicial Council also received a brief from John B. Garner.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this matter under the provisions of Paragraph 40 of the Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

The questions submitted to Bishop Mathews and answered by him have been previously passed upon by the Judicial Council in Decision No. 225 handed down by the Judicial Council on April 23, 1965. Bishop Mathews correctly answered the questions put to him.


The rulings given by Bishop Mathews to the questions propounded to him and set forth above are hereby affirmed.

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