Bishop Palmer's Decision of Law

During the West Ohio Annual Conference session June 4th, 2022, two requests for Rulings of Law were made by members of the Annual Conference.  Below you will find Bishop Palmer’s Decisions of Law in response to these two requests.  These Decisions have been sent to the Judicial Council for review. 

 

Bishop’s Decision of Law

Syllabus

 

  1. Paragraph 2548.2 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline (“Discipline”) is not a mechanism for disaffiliation or schism.

 

Request for Decision of Law

 

On Saturday, June 4, 2022, at the West Ohio Annual Conference’s virtual annual conference, Reverend John Edgar submitted the following written request for a decision of law:

In keeping with Paragraph 51, Article VII and Paragraph 2609.6 of the Book of Discipline, I request that presiding Bishop Palmer decide the following question of law:

Do any sections of Recommendation 8 violate portions of the Book of Discipline including Paragraphs 2548.2 and 2553?

Decision of Law

            On Saturday, June 4, 2022, during the legislative session of the West Ohio Annual Conference’s Annual Conference, Reverend John Edgar presented the above-referenced written request for a decision of law in connection with Recommendation #8 found on pages 106-108 of the Book of Reports.  Recommendation 8 concerns paragraph 2548.2 of the Discipline and is titled, “A Path for West Ohio Congregations Separating Under Paragraph 2548.2.”  After a brief recess, I ruled Recommendation 8 out of order and summarized my concerns.  What follows is my written decision of law.

Although the Conference in the past has expressed an openness to exploring paragraph 2548.2 as a mechanism for disaffiliation, the Council of Bishops has continued to examine the history, text and purpose of 2548.2 to discern whether it in fact presents a viable path of disaffiliation. This examination has yielded a number of questions and uncertainties, including whether the provision could be used to facilitate an en masse schism to a nascent movement that has not been recognized as an evangelical denomination by the United Methodist Church.  These and many other questions about the purpose and application of paragraph 2548.2 caused the Council of Bishops to request from the Judicial Council an expedited Declaratory Decision on a number of questions in connection with paragraph 2548.2. (Docket 0522-2.) 

As I have continued to examine the matter, including the history and intent behind paragraph 2548.2 as set forth in the Declaration of Lawrence E. Hillis, which was attached as Exhibit C to the Council of Bishop’s request for a declaratory decision and which is attached hereto as Exhibit A, as well as the arguments in the Council of Bishop’s Opening Brief, which is attached hereto as Exhibit B, I conclude that paragraph 2548.2 is not a mechanism for disaffiliation or schism.

With the above in mind, I now turn to Reverend Edgar’s question of law, which asks: “Do any sections of Recommendation 8 violate portions of the Book of Discipline including Paragraphs 2548.2 and 2553?” I note at the outset that Recommendation 8 makes every effort to be aspirational in nature by encouraging the Annual Conference to recognize paragraph 2548.2 as a mechanism of disaffiliation or schism and begin the process of implementing a pathway to those ends.  Although Annual Conferences are free to adopt aspirational legislation, such legislation cannot attempt to negate, ignore, or contradict the Discipline. (JCD 1052, 1262.) Because I have concluded that paragraph 2548.2 of the Discipline is not a mechanism for disaffiliation or schism, I must therefore further conclude that Recommendation 8 is out of order.  By encouraging the Annual Conference to recognize and use paragraph 2548.2 as mechanism for disaffiliation or schism, it encourages actions that negate, ignore, or contradict the Discipline.  Accordingly, it is out of order.

Having decided that Recommendation 8 violates paragraph 2548.2 of the Discipline, I conclude that the question of whether it also violates paragraph 2553 is moot.  However, to the extent that the question is not moot, I would hold that Recommendation 8 does not violate paragraph 2553, as paragraphs 2548.2 and 2553 concern different subject matters and do not overlap, much less conflict.

Respectfully Submitted,

 

Letter

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

                                                                        _____________________________

                                                            Gregory Vaughn Palmer, Bishop

                                                            The West Ohio Annual Conference

                                                            of the United Methodist Church

 

Bishop’s Decision of Law

Syllabus

  1.  Paragraphs 2553.4 and 2512.2 of the Discipline are not in    conflict.  (JCD 1371, 1420.)
  1. Paragraph 2553 of the Discipline is constitutional. (JCD 1379.)

 

Request for Decision of Law

On Saturday, June 4, 2022, at the West Ohio Annual Conference’s Annual Conference, Reverend Jeff Greenway submitted the following written request for a decision of law:

Bishop Palmer, I rise to respectfully request a decision of law:

The 2022 Session of the West Ohio Annual Conference heard the report of the Conference Trustees relating to their intended application of Paragraph 2553 as the avenue for disaffiliating congregations. Paragraph 2553.4 has been construed as expanding the Conference Trustees’ authority to include the disaffiliation of local churches, and specifically to set “the terms and conditions for that disaffiliation.” (JCD 1420) Further, Recommendation 8: A Path for West Oho Congregations Separating Under Paragraph 2548.2 was printed in the 2022 Book of Reports and forwarded to the annual conference as a regular item of business. Recommendation 8 encouraged the Conference Trustees to consider the use of Paragraph 2548.2 as an alternative avenue for disaffiliating or separation congregations. Consideration of the Recommendation was permitted to come before the annual conference only because it was deemed “aspirational,” and not directing or binding on the Trustees. This action was taken based on JCD 1420 and the prevailing understanding of it. Therefore, I pose the following questions of law:

  1. Does the annual conference have authority to direct the Conference Trustees?
  1. Is Paragraph 2553.4, which “expands” the authority of the Conference Trustees (JCD 1420) to set the terms and conditions of disaffiliation, in conflict with Paragraph 2512.2 which states in part, that the Board of Trustees “…. shall be amenable to the annual conference?” Does such an expansion of authority violate the principle of legality, result in an unconstitutional delegation of the authority of the annual conference, and violate the powers reserved to the annual conference under paragraph 33 of the Constitution? What is the meaning of “amenable” in paragraph 2512.2? Does Paragraph 2512.2 specify any exceptions to the amenability of the Trustees to the annual conference?
  1. When setting a general policy for the disaffiliation/separation of congregations must the Trustees seek and receive the approval of the annual conference for said policy?
  1. Paragraph 2553.4 makes no specific reference to an expansion of the authority of the Trustees, or an exception to the amenability of the Trustees to the annual conference. Does the general principle of amenability in Paragraph 2512.2 govern the applicability of the authority described in Paragraph 2553.4?
  1. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states the Trustees of a local church “shall always be subject to the direction of the charge conference (Paragraph 1529).” It also states District Trustees are subject to the district or annual conference (Paragraph 2518.1, 2). Is the authority extended by Paragraph 2553.4 to the Conference Trustees contrary to the general structure and consistency of United Methodist polity in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church?

Decision of Law

            For the purposes of this Decision of Law, I will presume that the above-questions relate to the terms and conditions of the disaffiliation under paragraph 2553 of the Discipline set forth in the report of the conference board of trustees on pages 35-41 of the Book of Reports.[1]  I will also extract the questions from the narrative that surrounds them.[2]

Question 1:

Does the annual conference have authority to direct the Conference Trustees?

Paragraph 2512.2 as interpreted by JCD 1371 provides that the conference board of trustees “acts at the direction of the annual conference and not as an initiator of action, except as The Discipline stipulates.”

Question 2:

Is Paragraph 2553.4, which “expands” the authority of the Conference Trustees (JCD 1420) to set the terms and conditions of disaffiliation, in conflict with Paragraph 2512.2 which states in part, that the Board of Trustees “…. shall be amenable to the annual conference?” Does such an expansion of authority violate the principle of legality, result in an unconstitutional delegation of the authority of the annual conference, and violate the powers reserved to the annual conference under paragraph 33 of the Constitution? What is the meaning of “amenable” in paragraph 2512.2? Does Paragraph 2512.2 specify any exceptions to the amenability of the Trustees to the annual conference?

Taking these questions in the order in which they are presented, I first note that paragraphs 2553.4 and 2512.2 of the Discipline do not conflict.  Paragraph 2512.2, as interpreted by JCD 1371 provides that the conference board of trustees “acts at the direction of the annual conference and not as an initiator of action, except as The Discipline stipulates.” Paragraph 2553.4 provides, and JCD 1420 has affirmed, that one exception to paragraph 2512.2 stipulated by the Discipline is that the conference board of trustees has exclusive authority in establishing the terms and conditions of a local church’s departure from The United Methodist Church under paragraph 2553 of the Discipline.

Next, I note that paragraph 2553 of the Discipline has been ruled constitutional. (JCD 1379.) Therefore, I do not find an unconstitutional abrogation of powers reserved to the annual conference under paragraph 33 of the Discipline.

Finally, the principle of amenability in connection with paragraph 2512.2 of the Discipline has been addressed above.

Question 3:

When setting a general policy for the disaffiliation/separation of congregations must the Trustees seek and receive the approval of the annual conference for said policy?

The conference board of trustees has exclusive authority in establishing the terms and conditions of a local church’s departure from The United Methodist Church under paragraph 2553 of the Discipline. (Discipline, paragraph 2553.4; JCD 1420.)  To the extent Question 3 seeks to address a different scenario, I would decline to issue decision of law on such matters as they would be hypothetical, speculative or advisory in nature. JCD 33, 131, 396, 651, 746, 762, 799.

Question 4:

Does the general principle of amenability in Paragraph 2512.2 govern the applicability of the authority described in Paragraph 2553.4?

            As noted above, the principle of amenability in paragraph 2512.2 of the Discipline is subject to exceptions stipulated by other provisions of the Discipline. (Discipline, paragraph 2553.4; JCD 1371, 1379, 1420.)  Paragraph 2553.4 of the Discipline is one such exception.

Question 5:

Is the authority extended by Paragraph 2553.4 to the Conference Trustees contrary to the general structure and consistency of United Methodist polity in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church?

This request does not relate to a specific action taken at the West Ohio Annual Conference. (JCD 799.)  Paragraph 2553 of the Discipline was ruled constitutional in JCD 1379 and I am bound thereby.

Respectfully Submitted,

                                                                        Letter

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

                                                                        _____________________________

                                                            Gregory Vaughn Palmer, Bishop

                                                            The West Ohio Annual Conference

                                                            of the United Methodist Church

 

[1] The pagination in the Book of Reports stops at page 34 to include the conference’s disaffiliation agreement template, which bears its own pagination, and then resumes on page 42.

 

[2] The request for a decision of law erroneously suggests that Recommendation 8, concerning separation under paragraph 2548.2 of the Discipline, was permitted to be included in the conference’s Book of Reports because it was “aspirational” in nature.  I respectfully disagree.  All proposed recommendations that are timely submitted the legislative committee and meeting the formal requirements for legislation are permitted to be printed in the Book of Reports.  Recommendation 8 was ultimately ruled out of order as premature and is the subject of a separate Decision of Law.