THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF FOREST KELLY 

DECISION No. 2019-40

This matter is before The Judicial Council by petition of Forest Kelly, a member in good standing at the John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church, Washington District, Philadelphia and Baltimore Annual Conference requesting clarification and declaratory judgment regarding due process pursuant to the Act passed by 1988 General Conference and in accordance with the Rules of the Judicial Council, (as amended) which reads in part as follows:

 

JURISDICTION

 

The Judicial Council shall not have original jurisdiction, since decisions are declaratory and final in the interim of the General Conference. (Paragraph 343, Article II, Para. B.) The Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (2016) (hereinafter referred to as “The Discipline”)

 

DUTIES

 

To hear and make declaratory judgments when petitioned to do so when any law is subject to more than one interpretation or any paragraph in The Book of Discipline is of doubtful meaning.   Any person in good and regular standing in The A.M.E. Zion Church can petition The Judicial Council for such a judgment.  The Council's decision is final unless revised or reversed by the General Conference. (Paragraph 344, Article III, Para. b.) (The Discipline, 2016)  

 

NOTE:  The basic reference for The Discipline is “Paragraph”.  Some Article and Paragraph Numbers may have changed.

 

FACTS OF THE CASE

 

The Judicial Council investigated this matter and found that on Sunday, March 3, 2019, immediately after morning worship and Communion Service ended, a verbal altercation occurred between Mr. Forest Kelly, Petitioner, and Mr. Darin Kent, an Independent Contractor, at John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church (John Wesley). This incident was witnessed by a number of members of John Wesley, who have provided written responses to inquiries directed to them by The Judicial Council. The Judicial Council received more than 12 written responses from various witnesses from John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church. The Judicial Council also received and reviewed written statements from various other persons that were attached to an email the Judicial Council received from Rev. Dr. Christopher Zacharias, Pastor of John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church. Dr. Zacharias, also provided The Judicial Council with responses to the Judicial Council’s inquiries directed to him, copies of the suspension letters to both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent, and other documentation pertaining to this matter. The documentation from Dr. Zacharias and statements from a number of witnesses, support the fact that tension between Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent has apparently been building since sometime in 2018, with the Pastor and officers attempting to address this issue to the best interest of everyone.  The Judicial Council finds that Rev. Dr. Christopher Zacharias did an outstanding job in investigating the matter and attempting to resolve it.

The evidence presented before The Judicial Council support the fact that Mr. Kent is not a member of John Wesley. He is an independent contractor, hired to primarily livestream weekly Worship Services. 

According to responses to Dr. Zacharias from individuals who witnessed the March 3, 2019 incident, that were sent to the Judicial Council, there was no actual physical contact between Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent due to intervention by officers and members of John Wesley. The incident in questions, however, was a cause of concern for the safety and welfare of the members and guest of John Wesley. On Sunday, March 3, 2019 the Chairman of the Trustee Board contacted the local police department to report the incident and to seek advice on how to resolve the matter and keep members safe. the Presiding Elder and the Presiding Bishop were also made aware of the incident.  

Dr. Zacharias was not at church at the time of the incident but upon his return for an afternoon program on Sunday, March 3, 2019, he spoke with some members and officers regarding the incident. Dr. Zacharias on the date of the incident spoke with Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent to hear their accounts. After hearing all accounts and additional accounts from other members, Pastor Zacharias met via conference call with the John Wesley Executive Council and the entire Trustee ministry. At the time of the conference call, neither Mr. Kelly or Mr. Kent were apprised of the call or involved in the call. On March 3, 2019, it was recommended and voted on by both groups to suspend both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent from all John Wesley properties for the safety of the church members. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent were notified of their suspensions by written correspondences dated March 7, 2019. The suspensions of Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kent were for an indefinite period of time.

Mr. Kelly showed up at John Wesley Church on Sunday, March 31, 2019, for Worship.  The pastor reminded him of the meeting that needed to take place with him prior to him returning to regular worship.

In a letter dated April 1, 2019, Dr. Zacharias requested a meeting with Mr. Kelly to occur on April 6, 2019.  That meeting never took place because Mr. Kelly refused to attend. Also, Mr. Kelly continued to attend worship service at Joh Wesley without consent of church officials.

 

QUESTION(S) TO BE DECIDED

 

1. What is due process?

2. What grounds call for suspension?

3. Does Petitioner have the right to trial?

4. What penalties can be imposed?

5. Will the other party be treated differently?

 

DECISION

 

1.  What is due process?

 

Petitioner raises the question as to "what is due process?" There are two types of due process: (1) procedural due process; and (2) substantive due process. Procedural due process is "a course of formal proceedings (such as legal proceedings) carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles;" whereas, substantive due process is "a judicial requirement that enacted laws may not contain provisions that result in the unfair, arbitrary, or unreasonable treatment of an individual." The concern in this case at bar involves procedural due process which requires that notice and the right to a fair hearing be accorded prior to a deprivation. In the present case, the petitioner alleges that he was suspended without due process. 

 

No one shall be "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." The Discipline, ¶308, provides that, "No member can be deprived of their membership without a trial by a committee and due process of law." It is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution of the United States and our Book of Discipline that no member can be deprived of their membership without a trial by committee and due process of law. In this case and in subsequent cases, as The Judicial Council, it is our inherent duty to see that we always protect due process rights of members of the A.M.E. Zion Church. Even in this instance, where the petitioner did not avail himself of meetings with the pastor, according to our discipline attending said meetings is not a prerequisite for a due process hearing. The petitioner, whether he showed up for a scheduled meeting, or missed the hearing, does not waive his due process right to a hearing. The petitioner must have a hearing regardless, because of his fundamental right to due process of law and rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and our Book of Discipline. It is our opinion that this case is governed by Section 322 of the Book of Discipline, as the petitioner’s offense is of a minor nature (The altercation was stopped before it became physical) so that the pastor was within his right to take action for the safety concerns of his flock. In the exigency of the circumstances, the Pastor, Rev. Dr. Christopher Zacharias, acted swiftly to resolve the conflict. Although the Pastor’s actions were reasonable under the circumstance, there should have been a Trial Committee appointed. The suspension was for an indefinite period of time.  

 

For minor offenses, persons may be suspended for three or six months. Such person shall be deprived of all church privileges except attendance upon means of grace. But no person shall be deprived of membership or put back without due trial (except those who absent themselves until the matter is investigated.) 

 

The Discipline, ¶322.  In the instant case, the petitioner is being deprived of membership without due process.

 

The other argument is that the petitioner was suspended indefinitely, contrary to ¶322, which limits the suspension to three or six months.  Also, the Petitioner cannot be put back on the rolls of the church without due trial except those who absent themselves until the matter is investigated. Id. This matter cannot be fully investigated without an investigating committee in conjunction with a trial committee. Therefore, it is our decision that this matter be remanded to the local church for action consistent with the above cited section of The Discipline.

 

2.  What grounds call for suspension?  

 

Whenever the conduct of a member in good standing or a minister in good standing of The A.M.E. Zion Church is of such an egregious nature that it warrants the temporary removal of that person from the church, it is done through a suspension after due process is afforded.  Paragraph 322 in The Discipline states:

 

For minor offenses, persons may be suspended for three or six months. Such persons shall be deprived of all church privileges except attendance upon means of grace. But no person shall be deprived of membership or put back without due trial (except those who absent themselves until the matter is investigated).     

 

3.  Does he have the right to trial?  

 

Yes.  The Discipline, at Paragraph ¶308, states that: "No member can be deprived of their membership without a trial by a committee and due process of law."  While a suspension is not a total deprivation of one’s membership, it does deprive them of it on a temporary basis. Such deprivation, however small, must satisfy the requirements of due process. After a trial, if the accused believes that justice has not been done, he or she may appeal to the ensuing Quarterly Conference, which is the end of the process for layperson.

 

4. What penalties can be imposed? 

 

There is no set penalty for unchristian-like conduct. However, the trial committee can recommend acquittal, suspension, or expulsion.  Paragraph 322 in The Discipline states:

 

For minor offenses, persons may be suspended for three or six months. Such persons shall be deprived of all church privileges except attendance upon means of grace. But no person shall be deprived of membership or put back without due trial (except those who absent themselves until the matter is investigated).     

 

5.  Was the other party treated differently?  

 

No.  The fundamental notion of equality requires that justice have blinders on. All persons should be treated equally and fairly.  In this case, both parties were treated fairly.

 

In that the exigency of the matter had subsided, the petitioner was entitled to due process. Therefore, this case is remanded to the local church to be consistent with this decision.

 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL, THIS 8th DAY OF AUGUST, 2019.

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