Decision Number 567


October 23, 1986

The Interpretation and Application of ¶¶ 813, 1006.15, 814, and 15.14 of the 1984 Discipline Concerning the Process for Election of General Secretaries.


The procedure for the election of General Secretaries as provided for in ¶ 1006.15 of the Discipline is valid.

Par. 814.1 which limits the terms of office of General Secretaries who are members of the clergy is in violation of the Constitution, ¶15.14, which guarantees equality of status.

Statement of Facts

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry filed a request with the Judicial Council, dated March 10, 1986, suggesting that ¶ 813, 1006.15, and 814.1 are invalid. At the April 1986 meeting of the Council, a request was made by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry that publication requirements be waived and that the case be heard at that meeting. The Council did not waive the requirements of ¶ 2615 (see Memorandum No. 566) but agreed that jurisdiction could be accepted when that requirement was fulfilled and the matter would be placed on the October 1986 docket. President Tom Matheny wrote to parties involved on April 21, 1986 reporting this and urging "open and candid communication between the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the General Council on Ministries."

Correspondence related to this matter has been received from numerous boards, agencies, and leaders across the Church. Oral hearings were held on October 23 at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Appearing at those hearings were Bishop F. Herbert Skeete, president of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and Bishop James S. Thomas, president of the General Council on Ministries.


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2615 of the 1984 Discipline

Analysis and Rationale

The matters at hand are really two: the election of general secretaries and the limited term of clergy members in those positions. For purposes of clarification, they will be treated as two separate items.

Regarding the election of general secretaries by the General Council on Ministries (GCOM), it can be traced to the Structure Study Commission established in 1968 and voted upon by the 1972 General Conference. A discussion of their election has been addressed in some form at each of the General Conferences since then, in 1976, 1980, and 1984. The matter of giving full responsibility to the agencies without the GCOM requirement has been considered. As recently as the 1984 session, this has been rejected (see Calendar Item 1129, DCA, pp. 795-796). Four General Conferences have given the GCOM this responsibility. While questions may be raised, as they have been, regarding the administrative efficiency of this arrangement (the right to hire vs. the right to dismiss) and ultimate matters of fiduciary responsibility, it is clear that the General Conference has consistently expressed its preference with regard to such elections. Pars. 813 and 1006.15 are not in opposition to the church's constitution and, while it may be argued that certain administrative problems are presented, changes must be sought through the vehicle of the General Conference legislation.

Par. 814.1 presents a totally different issue when it states that "No elected clergy staff shall hold the same position more than twelve years." At question here is whether or not a twelve year limit may be placed on a general secretary who is a member of the clergy. It is true that clergy, like laity, is a "class" and certain rules may pertain to that class. The candidates for positions as bishop and district superintendent must be clergy; therefore, it is proper to place upon this entire class eligibility and tenure requirements. We do not find this to be the case with general secretary positions. These positions may be filled by either clergy or lay persons. Par. 814.1 places a term limitation only upon those persons who serve in that office who are clergy. This legislation discriminates against persons on the basis on status since one set of rules applies to clergy and another to laity who are in the same class-namely General Secretaries. This legislation violates ¶ 15.14 of the Constitution and is, therefore, unconstitutional.



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