By Jessica Connor
United Methodism’s top court has “no jurisdiction” to rule whether the General Conference secretary can decide the number of delegates to the legislative body’s quadrennial gathering.
The Judicial Council met Oct. 27-30 to decide on 31 docket items, including the above request, which was made by the Rev. Tim Rogers on behalf of the S.C. Conference.
Delegates to General Conference must be no fewer than 600 and no more than 1,000 (half clergy, half laity) per Paragraph 13 of the UM Constitution. Every annual conference is entitled to two delegates. Beyond that, conferences get a proportional number of delegates based on a formula established in Paragraph 502 of the Book of Discipline.
Rogers, S.C. conference secretary, said that for years, the formula has produced delegates that are more than the 1,000 maximum, so the GC secretary is allowed to adjust the number to bring it within constitutional limits.
But the question raised is whether that authority means the secretary can reduce the delegates (and hence the size of GC) more than is necessary to bring it within constitutional limits. According to Rogers, South Carolina could see its number of delegates as much as halved if so, given current issues such as reducing expenses and accommodating new Ivory Coast delegates.
In oral hearings at the council’s fall meeting, Rogers asked the council whether the secretary could do so – and possibly “become the single most powerful person in the denomination,” according to a UM News Service article by Linda Bloom.
The Rev. L. Fitzgerald Reist II, the current GC secretary, also spoke at the oral hearing.
But the council ruled it has no jurisdiction because, per Paragraph 2610 of the Discipline, the S.C. conference had taken no action affecting the authority granted to the GC secretary.
“In order to vest proper jurisdiction in the Judicial Council, the request submitted for a declaratory decision must have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the body submitting the petition,” the council ruled. “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 Judicial Council has consistently held that moot and hypothetical questions should not be answered.”
F. Belton Joyner Jr. wrote a dissenting option, stating that because all annual conferences are affected by decisions related to the size of the GC, he thinks the S.C. Conference consideration of the question conforms to the requirement for jurisdiction.
But at least for 2012 legislation, it seems Reist will not exert his authority unduly.
UMNS reports indicate that at the Nov. 5 Council of Bishops’ gathering in Panama, Reist announced the number of delegates for the 2012 GC will be near the 1,000-delegate limit, stating any significant reduction in the number of delegates should occur in concert with a more comprehensive look at the whole process.
“While I was disappointed by the decision of the Judicial Council, I am pleased to see that Rev. Reist has decided to keep the size of the General Conference at the size that it has historically been,” Rogers told the Advocate. “I simply believe that if the size of General Conference is going to be reduced, that decision should be made by General Conference itself.”
Also at the fall meeting, the court upheld a decision upholding the dismissal of a S.C. clergyman accused of having an ongoing affair with a married woman.
To view the full decisions from the fall meeting, visit the Judicial Council section of the United Methodist Church website (www.umc.org ), or directly at http://archives.umc.org/interior_judicial.asp?mid=263&SN=1100&EN=1180&JDMOD=VWL .