Court to Hear Delegate Election Issue

January 20, 2011

A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*

The United Methodist Judicial Council has called a Feb. 12 meeting to consider a request related to how clergy delegates are elected to the denomination's top legislative gathering.
 
Annual Conferences (regional groups) will elect representatives to the next General Conference, scheduled for 2012 in Tampa, Florida, during meetings this spring and summer. The nine-member Judicial Council typically meets during the spring and fall.
 
The United Methodist Council of Bishops has asked the church's top court to decide the "meaning, effect and application" of a section of the 2008 Book of Discipline regarding those elections.
 
A proposed amendment of Division Two, Section VI, Paragraph 35, Article IV was approved by the 2008 General Conference and later affirmed by a vote of the Annual Conferences.
 
Arkansas Area Bishop Charles Crutchfield (at left, below) said the council is not opposed to the amendment but is seeking clarity from the Judicial Council. "We all want to interpret it the same way," he explained.
 
As amended, Paragraph 35 reads: "The clergy delegates to the General Conference and to the jurisdictional or central conferences shall be elected from the clergy members in full connection and shall be elected by the clergy members of the annual conference or provisional annual conference who are deacons and elders in full connection, associate members, and those provisional members who have completed all of their educational requirements and local pastors who have completed course of study or an M.Div. degree and have served a minimum of two consecutive years under appointment immediately preceding the election."
 
The bishops want clarification about the voting eligibility requirements for local pastors as stated at the end of the paragraph, Crutchfield said. They particularly want an interpretation of "two consecutive years under appointment" and whether the requirements apply to provisional as well as full-time local pastors.
 
A ruling from the Judicial Council is needed before the election of 2012 General Conference clergy delegates begins so that the same standards are applied, Crutchfield pointed out. "We want everybody to be elected the same way," he said.
 
At its fall meeting, Judicial Council considered a different request related to General Conference delegates. The South Carolina Annual Conference sought an opinion on whether the secretary of the General Conference had the authority to determine the exact number of delegates to be elected by each Annual Conference within the established range of 600 to 1,000 delegates.
 
The council ruled that it has no jurisdiction in the matter because the South Carolina Conference had taken no action that affects the authority granted to the secretary of the General Conference. "In the absence of a specific action of the Annual Conference, a request for a declaratory decision is nothing more than an invitation to answer a moot and hypothetical question," the ruling said.
 
Anyone wanting to file a brief or comment on the Feb. 12 docket item must send one copy via e-mail to judicialcouncil@umc.org and ship 13 printed copies to the Rev. F. Belton Joyner Jr., Secretary of the Judicial Council, 1821 Hillandale Road, Suite 1B, PMB 334, Durham, NC 27705. The deadline is Jan. 31. Any questions may be directed to Joyner at judicialcouncil@umc.org.
 
The Feb. 12 docket item, along with previous Judicial Council decisions, can be found at umc.org.