|Cote D'Ivoire Church not fully admitted, says Judicial Council
Nov. 6, 2006
|A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
2004, the Rev. Benjamin Boni (right) — later elected a bishop — and the
Rev. R. Randy Day announce the Protestant Methodist Church of Cote
d'Ivoire is joining the denomination.
By Neill Caldwell*
CINCINNATI (UMNS) — The top court
of the United Methodist Church has ruled that the 2004 General
Conference was within its authority to limit the United Methodist Church
of Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to two General Conference delegates.
Meeting Oct. 25-28, the Judicial Council
made it clear that the action by the 2004 General Conference "was not a
final act of admission" of the Methodist Church of Cote d'Ivoire into
the United Methodist Church. "By its terms, the legislation contemplated
that further action would be taken by the 2008 General Conference," the
council said in its ruling.
But the Judicial Council said that action
by the 2004 General Conference "has led the church into a veritable
no-man's land where the questions are many and the answers are few," and
would require additional legislative work in 2008 to complete the
The 2008 General Conference will meet April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The ruling cites Paragraph 502 of the Book of Discipline as authority for a General Conference to provide for the composition and allocation of its delegates.
The council also scolded the 2004 General Conference, saying its action "deviated" from the Discipline. "The General Conference cannot function effectively as a committee of the whole," the ruling said.
On the final morning of the 2004 General
Conference, delegates considered a recommendation from the Commission on
Central Conference Affairs proposing the addition of Cote d'Ivoire to
the West Africa Central Conference. The committee's recommendation was a
referral so that the West Africa Central Conference, the Commission on
Central Conference Affairs and the church's Board of Global Ministries
could work together on the entry of Cote d'Ivoire into the denomination.
a substitute motion was offered from the floor that included four
separate actions. Those included a measure "that Cote d'Ivoire be added
to the West Africa Central Conference and the West Africa Central
Conference is authorized to elect a bishop to serve as episcopal leader
in a new Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area."
"The Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area is
responsible to set up and fully fund its own episcopal fund during the
2005-2008 quadrennium with no funding from either GCFA (General Council
on Finance and Administration) or the Episcopal Fund of the United
Methodist Church," the substitute motion said.
"Further, the annual conference within
the Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area shall be represented at the 2008
General Conference with two delegates (one lay and one clergy).
"Finally, the Commission on Central
Conference Affairs, in consultation with the Council of Bishops and the
Connectional Table, shall bring enabling legislation to the 2008 General
Conference to include the Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area in the Episcopal
Fund of the United Methodist Church."
This substitute motion passed.
Not a full member
Both the 2004 and 2000 Disciplines set out the procedures by which churches may join the United Methodist Church, the Judicial Council said.
"The original resolutions contemplated following the provisions of Paragraph 537 of the 2000 Discipline. The substitute motion offered referred to Paragraph 535.3 of the 2000 Discipline.
The aftermath of the harried discussion and precipitous action on the
substitute motion has led many to believe that the Church of Cote
d'Ivoire has joined the United Methodist Church under the provisions of
Paragraph 575. Such a process has not been achieved. In fact, none of
the processes that lead to church affiliation were perfected by the
General Conference action. ...
"The substitute (motion) adopted
anticipates that the 2008 General Conference will consider further
legislative action to include Cote d'Ivoire into the Episcopal Fund,"
the council's ruling continues. "The remaining formalities of
affiliation or admission should be completed by the agencies to whom the
responsibility is assigned in time for presentation to and perfection
by the 2008 General Conference. Once the process of joining the United
Methodist Church is fully achieved, Cote d'Ivoire would have the right
to full representation in its delegations to the 2012 and succeeding
General Conference sessions."
In a signed dissent,
four council members — Rodolfo Beltran, Rev. Dennis Blackwell, the Rev.
Keith Boyette and Dr. James Holsinger — said they believed that the
action of 2004 General Conference was unconstitutional. "The General
Conference, and now this Judicial Council, has acted in a way which
substantially disenfranchises what statistically is the largest annual
conference in the United Methodist Church. And applying the logic of our
colleagues, it creates a situation where other annual conferences can
likewise be denied proportionate representation so long as they are
provided with the minimal representation of one lay and one clergy
delegate. This is a dangerous precedent and one which reflects
poorly upon the global nature of our church.
"Four of the seven
members of the Judicial Council present and voting (at) our fall 2006
session have voted to hold the action of the 2004 General Conference in
allocating two clergy delegates to the Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area
unconstitutional. Paragraph 2608 of the 2004 Discipline requires
that '(a)n affirmative vote of at least six members of the council shall
be necessary to declare any act of the General Conference
conclusion of the 2004 General Conference, the West Africa Central
Conference elected Rev. Benjamin Boni to the episcopacy of the United
Methodist Church, as it was authorized to do by the action of the 2004
General Conference and by Paragraph 543.2 of the 2004 Discipline.
The West Africa Central Conference then assigned Bishop Boni to the
Cote d'Ivoire Episcopal Area, composed of the Cote d'Ivoire Annual
Conference, as it was authorized to do by the action of the 2004 General
Conference and by Paragraphs 543.5 and 543.8 of the 2004 Discipline.
"As a result of the
action by the 2004 General Conference and the subsequent meeting of the
West Africa Central Conference, the Cote d'Ivoire Annual Conference came
into existence and was immediately entitled to all of the rights and
privileges of any annual conference in The United Methodist Church," the
In oral arguments for the case, Sam Dixon
of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries told council members
that the Methodist Church of Cote d'Ivoire is a strong church with a
long history that is "ready to fully participate in United Methodist
activities around the world." Cote d'Ivoire "should be brought into our
family with open arms," he said.
Dixon said the latest survey numbers sent
to the General Council on Finance and Administration by the Board of
Global Ministries tallied 579,000 members in the Methodist Church of
Cote d'Ivoire, but only 123 ordained clergy and around 500 local
pastors. Three districts there are involved in a civil war, making an
accurate count difficult, Dixon said.
Jim Allen, GCFA general counsel, said no
one is really sure how many members and pastors Cote d'Ivoire has and
that more research is needed.
Greg Stover of the Commission on
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns said that while getting
accurate information from central conferences is often a challenge, that
fact should not prevent representation. Central conferences are
regional units of the church in Africa, Asia and Europe.
Judicial Council members Mary A. Daffin and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent from the meeting.
*Caldwell covers the Judicial Council for United Methodist News Service and is editor of the Virginia Advocate of the Virginia Annual Conference in Richmond.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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