Decision Number 104
The Restoration of Credentials to a Minister Who Was Permitted to Withdraw From the Conference Under Charges
After a lapse of two years since the charges were lodged by the Investigating Committee and when the application is accompanied by the proper recommendations and other requirements of the Discipline have been met, no trial is necessary on the old charges in order to have a preacher's credentials restored according to Paragraph 993 of the 1952 Discipline.
The Annual Conference determines for itself whether there has been complete amendment of life on the part of the applicant and what Committee shall present the recommendation to the Annual Conference.
Statement of Facts
At the meeting of the Council of Bishops held at Sea Island, Georgia, on Thursday, December 10, 1953, the Council voted to request a Declaratory Decision of the Judicial Council, covering the following questions submitted by Bishop Garber. This request was made after reading Paragraphs 348, 991, 992, and 993, Discipline 1952.
"A preacher in the North Carolina Conference withdrew under charges five years ago. The Committee of Investigation had already voted that a trial was necessary, but when the preacher withdrew and surrendered his credentials rather than stand trial, the records of the North Carolina Conference show that he withdrew under charges. Now this same preacher desires to be Re-admitted to the North Carolina Conference. The question is whether he must stand trial since the Committee on Investigation had voted that a trial was necessary five years ago or can he be Re-admitted under Paragraph 993 of the Discipline of 1952 without standing trial under the old charges? In what manner can a Conference be assured that there has been a complete amendment of life on the part of the former holder of the credentials? What Committee of the Conference should make such a recommendation to the Conference."
Paragraph 914 of the 1952 Discipline states:
"When the General Conference shall have passed any act of legislation that appears to be subject to more than one interpretation, or when any Paragraph or Paragraphs of the Discipline seem to be of doubtful meaning or application, the Judicial Council on petition as hereinafter provided, shall have jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a Declaratory Decision as to the meaning, application and effect of such act, legislation, or Paragraph or Paragraphs of the Discipline; and the Decision of the Judicial Council thereon shall be as binding and effectual as a Decision made by the Judicial Council on appeal under the law relating to appeals to the Judicial Council."
"The following bodies in The Methodist Church are hereby authorized to make such petitions to the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision:
(1) The Council of Bishops, etc.
"The Judicial Council shall determine from the facts in connection with each such petition whether or not it has jurisdiction to hear and determine the same."
From the above quotations it is apparent that on the questions submitted by Bishop Garber and referred to the Judicial Council by the Council of Bishops for a Declaratory Decision, the Judicial Council is authorized to take jurisdiction.
Analysis and Rationale
In the case presented to us there are three questions raised for our consideration:
1. Can the former holder of credentials who has withdrawn under charges be Re-admitted to the Conference under Paragraph 993 of the Discipline of 1952 without standing trial under the old charges?
2. In what manner can the Conference "be assured that there has been a complete amendment of life on the part of the former holder of the credentials?"
3. What Committee of the Conference should make such recommendations to the Conference?
In giving consideration to these questions there are several things that should be kept in mind.
(1) Membership in the Annual Conference and ordination are not necessarily in the same category. Laymen are members of the Annual Conference being elected by their local church. Persons also are ordained Local Deacons and Elders without becoming members of the Conference. Ministers who are located voluntarily according to Paragraph 375 or involuntarily according to Paragraph 377 retain their credentials but are no longer members of the Annual Conference.
(2) Paragraph 993 of the 1952 Discipline deals only with the Restoration of Credentials and not with Re-admission to the Annual Conference.
(3) The Investigating Committee of an Annual Conference is not a Trial Committee. Its function is to determine for the Annual Conference whether there are "reasonable grounds" for a trial. The accused is not guilty just because he surrenders his credentials. He may prefer to do so rather than go through the ordeal of a trial. Consequently, the Conference can hold a man guilty only when he confesses his guilt or is tried by the Conference Trial Committee and proven guilty. However, Paragraphs 952 and 953 of the 1952 Discipline state that "withdrawn under complaints" or "withdrawn under charges means that "his status shall be the same as if he had been expelled." We take it that "status" refers to his relation to the Conference and has no reference to his character.
With these facts before us, we turn to Paragraph 993 of the 1952 Discipline concerning which a Declaratory Decision is requested.
This Paragraph states:
"The Annual Conference to which credentials were surrendered as provided in Paragraphs 991-992 may restore the same at its discretion, if no charges or complaints against the minister have been lodged or were pending at the time of his surrender of said credentials; and if at the time of his request for the restoration of said credentials, he is a member in good standing in The Methodist Church and shall present from his Quarterly Conference a certificate of his character and a recommendation for the restoration of his credentials."
This means that if there are no charges or complaints lodged or pending, the Conference may restore his credentials at any time, providing he is a member in good standing of The Methodist Church and is recommended by his Quarterly Conference.
Then Paragraph 993 proceeds to state what can be done when there are charges or complaints lodged or pending as in the case of the brother from the North Carolina Conference.
"In cases of surrender of credentials under situations involving the character of the minister, the said credentials may be restored only after a lapse of at least two years and upon the following conditions:
(a) That the Conference holding the credentials shall be assured that there has been a complete amendment of life upon the part of the former holder of the credentials.
(b) That he shall have been Re-admitted on Trial into the Annual Conference from which he withdrew or admitted to another Annual Conference on Trial or has been licensed as a Local Preacher by some District or Quarterly Conference.
(c) That the Annual Conference which has admitted him on trial (if another than the one from which he withdrew) or the District or Quarterly Conference which licensed him shall present to the Annual Conference holding the credentials a certificate of his good character and a recommendation that his credentials be restored." This Paragraph makes it perfectly clear that the former holder of the credentials in order to have them restored must follow the steps taken by any layman who seeks ordination as a Methodist preacher. (See Judicial Decision No. 18 in Re: C. M. Tyndal.) Of course when he surrendered his credentials he did not surrender his scholastic credits or his college and seminary degrees, if any. These credits and degrees may be accepted in lieu of the required Courses of Study, but a trial on the old charges is not required.
Question number two above as to how "the Conference holding the credentials shall be assured that there has been a complete amendment of the life" is one which the Annual Conference itself must decide and cannot be answered by Judicial Decision. When Admission on Trial is a prerequisite to the restoration of credentials, the procedure of Admission, which involves a certificate of character from his Quarterly Conference and examination by the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications as to his fitness for the ministry, would be a partial answer to the question. (See Paragraph 993 (b) of 1952 Discipline.)
As to question number three above, viz.: "What Committee of the Conference should make such recommendation to the Conference?" Obviously "Such recommendation" refers to question number two concerning "complete amendment of life." Since the brother from the North Carolina Conference desires to be Re-admitted to the same Annual Conference to which he surrendered his credentials, and must be received on Trial by the same steps taken by any other candidate for the ministry, upon his Admission On Trial he may have his credentials restored under Paragraph 993 of the 1952 Discipline.
This Paragraph does not specify the Committee to which the question of restoration of credentials shall be referred. However, it would be appropriate for the Annual Conference to refer the case to the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications for further recommendation, or could under its Disciplinary power to govern its own procedure, refer it to some other regular or specially appointed Committee.
It is the Decision of the Judicial Council, therefore, that in the case
referred to the Judicial Council by the Council of Bishops:
1. The brother from the North Carolina Conference cannot be Re-admitted to the Annual Conference under Paragraph No. 993, but only through the regular procedure prescribed for Admission in Paragraph No. 321 of the Discipline.
In view of the fact that more than two years have elapsed since the charges were lodged by the Investigating Committee, and assuming that the minister comes to the Annual Conference with the proper recommendations as to his character and fitness for the ministry, no trial is necessary on the old charges presented by the Investigating Committee in order to have his credentials restored or to be Re-admitted to the Annual Conference.
2. The Annual Conference sets up its own standard of judgment on whether there has been a complete amendment of life on the part of the former holder of the Credentials.
3. The Annual Conference may receive the recommendation of the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications which has examined the brother for his fitness for Admission on Trial, or it may refer the case to some other regular or specially appointed Committee.