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May 4, 2000         GC-014

Judicial Council tells delegates not to act on unconstitutional rules

CLEVELAND (UMNS) – A United Methodist Judicial Council decision delivered May 3 warns delegates of the denomination’s highest legislative assembly not to work on specific rules, procedures and policies that were previously ruled to be in violation of the church’s constitution.

Almost 1,000 delegates have gathered May 2-12 to consider the denomination’s policies and practices. The revisions will be compiled along with other General Conference actions into a new Book of Discipline, which will be binding for the next four years, beginning Jan. 1, 2001. The book contains the denomination’s rules, regulations, historical documents such as the church’s constitution, and other items.

As the delegates at this General Conference began their consideration of more than 2,000 different changes in the current text, the conference Committee on Correlation and Editorial Revision asked the Judicial Council for guidance regarding language previously declared unconstitutional.

In particular, the committee was concerned about how one of the General Conference’s 10 legislative committees could handle petitions related to specific passages in the 1996 Book of Discipline. These particular paragraphs had been nullified by the Judicial Council, the church’s supreme court, at its fall 1997 session.

At that time, an annual (regional) conference had asked the Judicial Council several questions about how membership was to be reported under rules created by the 1996 General Conference to accompany the adoption of a policy statement about baptism. In its response, the Judicial Council voided several paragraphs of the 1996 Discipline and reinstituted the comparable areas of the 1992 edition. Those passages are still in effect.

The council observed that the fourth paragraph of the church’s constitution says that people become members “when they take the appropriate vows.” However, newer paragraphs in the Discipline said membership began at baptism. The council ruled that language conferring membership on individuals who could not speak for themselves was banned by the church’s constitution.

This week, in response to the correlation committee’s question, the council ruled that all petitions seeking to amend paragraphs that have been declared unconstitutional “are out of order and shall not be considered by the 2000 General Conference.”

The council further said that the 2000 General Conference shall not re-adopt any paragraphs of the 1996 Discipline that have been declared unconstitutional under Paragraph 4. Council members further reiterated, “Paragraph 4 of the [church] constitution requires every individual personally to take the appropriate vows to become a member of a local church.”

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-- Joretta Purdue


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