Decision Number 542
Whether Ordination and Appointment of Self-avowed and Practicing Homosexuals is Precluded by Amendment of Pars. 404, 414, 420, 423, and 431 of the Discipline.
The Annual Conferences have the authority to decide whether candidates for ordination meet the disciplinary qualifications.- The addition of the words "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" to Pars. 404, 414, 420, 423 and 431 does not establish absolute requirements nor affect the right to appointment of ministerial members in good standing.
Statement of Facts
On May 9, 1984 the General Conference adopted the following motion:
I move that the action of the General Conference on Calendar items 0510, 0511, and 0512 which deal with "New" Par. 404.5; and, also, footnote to Par. 404 where the words "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness", etc. also occur, shall be referred to the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision as to whether the words in our action are such as to preclude the ordination and appointment of self-avowed and practicing homosexuals in our church.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2514.1 and .2(a).
Analysis and Rationale
Only Par. 404 of the Discipline is specified in the request for decision as to whether the words "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" preclude ordination and appointment of self-avowed and practicing homosexuals. Par. 404 does not relate to ordination or appointment except insofar as certification of a candidate for ordained ministry is the first step in the process leading toward eventual ordination.
It is our policy to guard against extending our jurisdiction beyond that clearly granted, and not to go beyond what is necessary to answer the question properly before us. In this instance, however, we believe the manifest intention of the General Conference was to ask for our interpretation of the effect upon ordination and appointment of the addition of the specified words in the five paragraphs amended by Calendar Item 510.
Reference was also made to Calendar Items 511 and 512. Neither was adopted so we consider them only to the extent that the decision of the General Conference not to substitute either of them for Item 510 throws some light on the legislative intention of the conference in adopting 510.
None of the five paragraphs affected by Calendar 510 deals with appointment. They govern five steps toward conference membership and ordination and we look at them in turn as amended by Item 510.
Calendar Item 510 dealt not only with Par. 404, but also with 414 (election to probationary membership), 420 (associate membership), 423 (full membership) and 431 (ordination).
Par. 404 requires persons seeking to become certified candidates for ordained ministry to agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and the knowledge and love of God.
Par. 414 requires a candidate for probationary membership to be examined in written form with respect, among other specified matters, to willingness "to agree to exercise responsible self-control etc. . . ." The General Conference here, and in the other paragraphs, has added and emphasized an additional factor to the many others specified which are to be considered when the conference evaluates a candidate. An unsatisfactory response to any portion of the examination may be the basis for rejection. The Annual Conference and its Board of Ordained Ministry will doubtless take into consideration the answers given to this, and all the other many questions, when the Board decides whether to recommend and the conference decides whether to elect the candidate to probationary membership.
Under Par. 420 a candidate for associate membership must express the same agreement required of one applying to become a certified candidate.
Par. 424 requires a candidate for full membership to respond to a written or oral doctrinal examination. It is the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Annual Conference which decide whether the responses to the entire examination and to all of the questions are satisfactory and whether to recommend and vote full membership.
Of the paragraphs amended by Calendar Item 510 , only Par. 431 deals directly with ordination. In pertinent part it now reads:
It is expected that persons to be ordained shall . . . be willing to make a complete dedication of himself/herself to the highest ideals of the Christian life; and to this end agree to exercise responsible self-control etc. . .
When the conference asks the candidate about willingness to agree, it is the conference that decides whether the response is in good faith and satisfactory and whether or not to ordain.
As we have said in Decisions 313, 318 and 513, the General Conference under Par. 15 of the Constitution has the power to establish standards, conditions and qualifications for admission to the ministry. Under Par. 37 of the Constitution, however, it is the Annual Conference, as the basic body of the church, that decides whether those standards have been met. Reserved to it is the right to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members and on the ordination of ministers.
Calendar Item 510 did not relate to appointments. The situation with respect to appointment is the same as it was at the time of Decision 462. As held in that case, and as required by Par. 436 of the present Discipline, "All ministerial members who are in good standing in an Annual Conference shall receive annually appointment by the Bishop. . ." See also Decision No. 492.
Neither ordination nor appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals is necessarily precluded by the words "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" as added to Pars. 404, 414, 420, 423, and 431 of the Discipline. The Annual Conferences have the authority to decide whether candidates for ordination meet the disciplinary requirements.