ICJ Number 5


April 30, 1968

The request of the Uniting Conference for a Declaratory Decision to determine the constitutionality of the establishment and composition of the Commission on Religion and Race as approved by the Uniting Conference in the adoption of Report No. 7 of the Committee on Conferences.


Provisions for the composition of a General Conference commission mandating membership by racial and ethnic group classifications constitute improper structuring on racial lines in violation of Paragraph 4 and 15.14 of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. Accordingly, the composition of the Commission on Religion and Race established by the Uniting Conference is improper and violative of the Constitution.

Statement of Facts

The Secretary of the Uniting Conference informed the Interim Judicial Council that Report No. 9 of the Committee on Conferences, requesting a Declaratory Decision, had been adopted by the Uniting Conference as follows:

"It is hereby requested that the Interim Judicial Council determine the constitutionality of the establishment and composition of the Commission on Religion and Race, [and] render to this Uniting Conference in session at the earliest possible date and not later than such time as will permit the enacting of corrective legislation if such should be judged necessary." (D.C.A. 227).

Report No. 7 of the Committee on Conferences, entitled "Commission on Religion and Race" was adopted by the Uniting Conference. It reads in part as follows:

"The General Conference of The United Methodist Church hereby establishes for this next quadrennium the Commission on Religion and Race.

This Commission will be composed of two Bishops appointed by the Council of Bishops plus five persons from each jurisdiction to be elected by the Jurisdictional Conferences, at least two of whom shall be Negroes and at least one of whom shall be of another racial or ethnic minority group; and seven members at large to be elected by the Commission, at least three of whom shall be Negroes and least one of whom shall be of another racial or ethnic minority group.

The Commission will assume general church responsibility for such matters: . ." (D.C.A. 226).

There follows a nine-point program designed to develop a racially inclusive church.


Jurisdiction is based upon the creation of the Interim Judicial Council and the grant of authority given to it by the Uniting Conference (Daily Christian Advocate, 190-192) ; and upon request to the Council by the Uniting Conference for an advisory opinion on matters herein discussed (D.C.A. 193-210, Calendar items 50, 52, pp. 226-227). 


While the action of the Uniting Conference in establishing the Commission on Religion and Race was within the constitutional authority and power of the Uniting Conference, the mandated structuring of the composition of said Commission so that membership thereon is conditioned on race, color, or ethnic group relationship violated the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

May 1, 1968

PAUL R. ERVIN, President

Interim Judicial Council


Interim Judicial Council

Dissenting Opinion

We are in full accord with and concur in the majority opinion that the Uniting Conference of The United Methodist Church has constitutional authority and legislative power under Article IV-Division Two (Par. 15.13) to establish the Commission on Religion and Race for the purposes and to implement the programs defined in the legislation.

It is with the rationale and judgment of the majority opinion that the composition of this Commission is unconstitutional as violative of Article IV-Division One (Par. 4) of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church that we sharply disagree and vigorously dissent.

In preface to the burden of our dissent, we believe the Judicial Council, given the awesome power to render final decisions as to the law of the Church, should exercise that power with restraint. It should diligently avoid substituting its wisdom for the judgment of the broadly representative legislative body of the Church. Particularly, should this restraint be manifest when judicial wisdom is based on the interpretation of words and there is not a clear disparate departure from the constitutional language and purpose.

The purpose of Paragraph 4 of the Constitution and the basis for its language must be found in the history of the Church and its determination to rid itself of racial discrimination in the form of racially separated worship, churches, conferences, or other organizational units. The term "organizational unit" must refer to the structures into which the Church is constitutionally organized as set forth in Division Two, namely Conferences (General, Jurisdictional, Central, Annual, District, and Charge), the Episcopacy, and the Judiciary. It may not be applied to special purpose agencies. This distinction is supported by the definition of general agencies in the Methodist Church Discipline (Par. 1071) and Part IV of The United Methodist Church (Par. 702) approved in principle. It is therein provided that general agencies of The United Methodist Church do not include "boards of trustees, inter-agency committees, such commissions and committees as are created by the General Conference to fulfill a special function within the ensuing quadrennium, ecumenical groups on which The United Methodist Church is represented, or committees related to the quadrennial sessions of the General Conference."

(Emphasis added)

Thus, it is our view that the ideal and objective of a racially inclusive and racially blind church is devoutly to be sought and worked toward as set forth in Par. 4. But the prohibition contained therein that "no conference or other organizational unit of the church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the church because of race, color, national origin, or economic condition," does not bar or foreclose the General Conference from giving consideration to race in making certain that ethnic, national, and other groups are included in the work of achieving an inclusive color blind church. (Emphasis added). This principle was recognized and established in Decision No. 232.

The drafters of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church recognized this important fact by granting to the General Conference full legislative power "to secure the rights and privileges of membership in all agencies, programs, and institutions in The United Methodist Church regardless of race or status." (Par. 15.14).

Therefore, Paragraphs 4 and 15.14 must be construed together, the constitutional powers should be accorded liberal interpretation, and the integrity of legislative purpose recognized until or unless that purpose is patently contrary to or subverts the Constitution. It is not realistic to conclude that, by the written declaration of the ideal of a racially inclusive church and a prohibition against exclusion, the result will be accomplished without positive, and in some instances, special action to correct the racial exclusion and separation historically created and currently existent in some aspects of the Church's life. That power and discretion are reserved to the legislative body of the Church-namely the General Conference.

The legislative history pertaining to the establishment of the Commission on Religion and Race, as recommended by the Commission on Interjurisdictional Relations, clearly indicates the intent to establish a commission for the special purposes of completing the work of eliminating racial separateness and fostering racial inclusiveness during the ensuing quadrennium. When the present racially defined Annual Conferences have been merged with the overlapping geographical Annual Conferences of The United Methodist Church-which is a major objective of the new commission-or when the inhibiting effect of the Enabling Legislation on Par. 4 of the Constitution has ended, whichever occurs first, for the first time, Pars. 4 and 15.14 will come into full effect. Thus, if all Annual Conferences of the former Central Jurisdiction of the former The Methodist Church shall have been merged with non-Negro Annual Conferences by the time of the 1972 General Conference, the General Conference might terminate or continue the existence of a Commission on Religion and Race for another quadrennium. In such event the use of a benign quota for composition of its membership would be of doubtful legality.

Thus it is a reasonable assumption that the General Conference of 1972, upon reviewing the required report of this Commission, may well determine that its purposes have been accomplished and terminate the Commission. This, too, is a power reserved to the General Conference and not to be preempted or anticipated by judicial decree. In order to make the Commission effective for its present mission the legislative judgment may well have determined that a larger number of racially identified members were essential to demonstrate by example and to quicken the conscience and pace for inclusion and participation of all minorities in the work of the Church.

There is an increasing public recognition and a growing body of authority for the position (1) that there is an obligation to overcome the present effects of past discrimination; (2) that this obligation exists even if the discrimination was not illegal and was accepted at the time it was committed; and (3) that the effects may and should be overcome despite hardship to innocent parties. Equality is too significant to be outbalanced by efficiency or comfort. Those who have suffered discrimination over a long period need special evidence that they are being treated as full equals; while those who have benefited by the advantage of discrimination may be brought to understanding and compassion.

The right, power, and authority of the General Conference to correct racial separateness in the Church is clear and should not be impaired. The opinion of the majority in our judgment is in serious error. 


We concur in the conclusion of the dissenting opinion, but do not necessarily agree with all of the argument. 



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