Decision Number 495
Unconstitutionality of Restrictions Placed by an Annual Conference on Eligibility for Election of Lay Members of Annual Conference.
Eligibility for election as a lay member of an Annual Conference is prescribed by Par. 36 of the Constitution. An Annual Conference may not impose additional requirements. The limitation of two consecutive four-year terms imposed by Par. 809.3 on members of a general agency may not be applied to lay membership in an Annual Conference.
Statement of Facts
On June 21, 1980 in a session of the California-Nevada Annual Conference a motion was presented to add the following paragraph to the Standing Rules of the Conference:
No person shall be elected by a local church as a lay member to Annual Conference if that person has served two consecutive quadrennia as a lay member to Annual Conference.
Reference was made to the tenure rule, Discipline Par. 809, as a basis for limiting the terms of lay members of the Annual Conference.
A motion was then adopted to refer the matter to the Judicial Council for a ruling on the legality of an Annual Conference determining the length of terms of its lay members.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2615.
Analysis and Rationale
Par. 36 of the Constitution governs eligibility for election as a lay member of an Annual Conference and reads in pertinent part:
. . . . The lay members shall have been for the two years next preceding their election members of The United Methodist Church and shall have been active participants in The United Methodist Church for at least four years next preceding their election ...
In Decision No. 469 we dealt with a proposal that an Annual Conference enact a qualification for holding office in a local church, District or Conference and for delegates to the General or Central Conference, in addition to those set forth by General Conference action. We held that since the General Conference is charged with setting the qualifications for membership and officers in the local church, District, and Annual Conference, an Annual Conference may not add to nor subtract from those qualifications. When, as here, the qualifications are set forth in the Constitution, an Annual Conference's lack of authority to add to or to subtract from such qualifications is all the more clear and fundamental.
Since the Constitution does not define the qualifications of members of general boards and agencies, the General Conference has authority to do so as in Par. 809.3.
Eligibility for election as a lay member of an Annual Conference is prescribed by Par. 36 of the Constitution. An Annual Conference may not impose additional requirements. The limitation of two consecutive four-year terms imposed by Discipline Par. 809.3 on members of a general agency may not be applied to lay membership in an Annual Conference.
We agree with the foregoing decision which disposes of the narrow question submitted to us regarding the right of an Annual Conference to impose on lay membership in the Conference a limitation of two consecutive four-year terms. We found such a proposed rule invalid because the requirements for lay membership are covered by the Constitution and hence cannot be varied by an Annual Conference. In the course of our consideration, we also found the proposed limitation in conflict with General Conference legislation set forth in Par. 250.2 of the Discipline. Since there are several significant differences between the constitutional provisions and the General Conference legislation, we feel it appropriate, and we hope it will be helpful, for us to discuss briefly the variance.
Never since the formation of the United Methodist Church has the Gen Conference legislation regarding eligibility for lay membership in the Annual Conferences been in conformity with the Constitution. From 1968 to 1970 the Constitution imposed only two requirements, age of at least twenty-one years and membership for four years preceding election in one of the constituent churches or of the United Methodist Church. In Par. 146.1 of the 1968 Discipline, which remained unchanged (except for renumbering in 1976) until rewritten and renumbered in 1980 as Par. 250.2, the General Conference attempted to add three additional provisions:
1. It was stated that if the charge's lay representative should cease to be a member of the charge an alternate member should serve in his place.
2. It was stated that the lay members and alternates must be members of the local church from which they were elected for at least one year.
3. It was stated that an exception could be made in a newly organized church which should have the privilege of representation at the Annual Conference. It is not entirely clear as to whether the representative of a newly organized church was free only of the requirement for one year's membership in the local church or whether he was also free of the requirement of four years membership in the United Methodist Church or one of its predecessors. That question need not be determined, for the Constitution has never made any exception for newly organized churches.
In 1970 Par. 36 of the Constitution was amended to eliminate the age requirement and to add a requirement of one year's membership in the charge (not the local church) the member was to represent.
The 1976 General Conference voted to amend Par. 36 of the Constitution and the amendment was subsequently confirmed and ratified by the Annual Conferences, so that the paragraph now stands as printed in the 1980 Discipline. The amendment reduced the requirement for membership in the United Methodist Church from four years to two years, but provided there must have been active participation in the United Methodist Church for at least four years. Any requirement for membership in the charge was eliminated. No exception was made for newly organized churches.
The 1980 General Conference, by an "omnibus" motion, and without bringing the matter specifically to the floor, amended former Par. 244.1 of the Discipline to read as set forth in present Par. 250.2 (Daily Christian Advocate page 354, Calendar 471). Although this legislation contains an editorial reference to Par. 36 of the Constitution, it differs from the constitutional provisions in at least five respects:
1. It requires only one year of membership in the United Methodist Church rather than the constitutional two years.
2. It omits the constitutional requirement of four years of active participation in the United Methodist Church.
3. Unlike the Constitution, it requires at least one year of membership in the local church.
4. Unlike the Constitution, it would replace with an alternate a charge's lay representative upon termination of membership in the charge.
5. It could be construed to waive, in the case of a newly organized church, one or both of the constitutional requirements.
In the foregoing unanimous decision we held that the General Conference has authority to define the qualifications of members of general boards and agencies since the subject is not covered by the Constitution. In the case of lay membership in the Annual Conferences, however, the Constitution has specifically set forth two requirements. Consequently, neither the Annual Conference nor the General Conference may change or add to the provisions of the Constitution governing eligibility for lay membership in Annual Conferences.
Eligibility is governed solely by Par. 36 of the Constitution, not by Par. 250.2 of the 1980 Discipline.
April 24, 1981 Alvin J. Lindgren
Leonard D. Slutz