Decision Number 4


April 29, 1940

Tenure of Central Conference Bishops


Paragraph 462, Discipline 1939, providing for election by Central Conferences of Bishops for a limited term, is constitutional.

Statement of Facts

This case comes before the Judicial Council upon an appeal of a majority of the Council of Bishops, and is stated in the following form:

Whereas, the Uniting Conference enacted Paragraph 462, to wit:

"A Central Conference shall have power to fix the tenure of Bishops elected by said Central Conference; provided that such tenure shall not be for a term longer than that in force at the time for Bishops elected by the Jurisdictional Conferences."

"We submit to the Judicial Council the question as to the power of the Uniting Conference under the present Constitution, to authorize the election of a Bishop for a limited tenure."


The Plan of Union by Paragraph 43, Article 11, Section 1, gives to the Judicial Council power "to determine the constitutionality of any act of the General Conference upon an appeal of a majority of the Council of Bishops." The General Conference has taken action re-enacting all of the Discipline of 1939. (See Page 94, D. C. A., 1940.) Therefore the section under review is an act of this General Conference and consequently the Judicial Council may assume jurisdiction.

The Second Restrictive Rule says: "The General Conference shall not change or alter any part or rule of our Government so as to do away with Episcopacy, or destroy the plan of our itinerant General Superintendency."

The questions which must first be determined are: (1) Of what does our Episcopacy consist? (2) What is the plan of our itinerant General Superintendency?

Fortunately the same instrument which contains our Restrictive Rules contains provisions also for Bishops elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and Bishops elected by Central Conferences. (See Section IV and Section V of the Plan of Union.) These sections clearly show that there are two kinds of Bishops, those elected by Jurisdictional Conferences and those elected by Central Conferences. There are limitations on the powers of Central Conference Bishops which are not on those elected by Jurisdictional Conferences, but however much they may differ as to power, each is a part of our Episcopacy and a part of the plan of our itinerant General Superintendency.

We are here construing the Second Restrictive Rule in the light of the identical Constitution which contains it. Our Episcopacy and the plan of our itinerant General Superintendency are described in other Paragraphs of equal force and validity. So far, therefore, we can find no provisions making term tenure for Central Conference Bishops unconstitutional.

If unconstitutionality be inferred by appealing to "our historic Episcopacy" we must state that we are dealing with our present Episcopacy and our present plan of itinerant General Superintendency, and must insist that there is a distinction between General Superintendents and Central Conference Superintendents.

In the former Methodist Episcopal Church, in order to provide for Central Conference Bishops, it was decided that the Restrictive Rule with which we are dealing must be changed by constitutional process and it was accordingly amended. What was there secured by such constitutional process is now secured in other parts of the present Constitution. This has a special point here because in construing the powers of the General Conference under this amended Restrictive Rule, it was held that Central Conferences could elect Bishops for a limited term in The Methodist Episcopal Church. (Paragraph 101, Section 57, Discipline Methodist Episcopal Church, 1936.) Hence permission to Central Conferences to elect Bishops for a limited term became a part of the plan of the itinerant General Superintendency of The Methodist Episcopal Church.

The pertinence of the foregoing to this decision will be seen by references to Division Three, "Episcopacy," Paragraph 34, Article 1, "There shall be an Episcopacy in The Methodist Church of like plan, powers, privileges, and duties as now exist in The Methodist Episcopal Church and The Methodist Episcopal Church, South." Therefore, since in the Methodist Episcopal Church it was a part of the plan of the Episcopacy to allow Central Conference Bishops to be elected for a limited term at the option of any Central Conference, it is, now a part of the plan of the Episcopacy of The Methodist Church.

We determine therefore that the second section of Paragraph 462 is constitutional.

All members of the Council concur, and J. S. French files the following concurring opinion:

"While unable to follow the reasoning of the majority, by another line of reasoning I reach the same conclusion and concur in the opinion that Paragraph 462 is constitutional."

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