THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF THE REV. DR. ROBERT L. SHUFORD No.2

DECISION No. 2021-42 

This matter is before The Judicial Council by a petition filed by The Rev. Robert Shuford. (hereinafter referred to as Petitioner), a member in good and regular standing in the Central Alabama Annual Conference of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, seeking a declaratory judgment clarifying the church law regarding budgetary and financial matters. 

 

JURISDICTION

 

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

 

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 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 by the General Conference. The Discipline, ¶ 344, Art. III (b), 2016.

FACTS OF THE CASE AS ALLEGED BY THE PETITIONER

 

Petitioner, an ordained Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church was the Pastor of Butler Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church, Greenville, Alabama, on the Greenville District, South Alabama Annual Conference. Petitioner is now a member of the Central Alabama Annual Conference, however, the issues he raises are ripe for a declaratory judgment. 

Petitioner alleges that South Alabama Annual Conference under the Presiding Prelate, Bishop Seth O. Lartey, never considered or passed an annual budget according to the Church Discipline.  He maintains that the Budget and/or Finance Committee of each Annual Conference shall develop an Annual Conference Budget to be approved by said conference before the collection of receipt of any funds.  According to Petitioner, this is not being done.  He further claims,  

 

[E]ach Conference shall develop a budget for Annual Conference operations within 60 days of the close of each Annual Conference, the Annual Conference Audit Committee Shall be required to inspect the records of the budget, finance committee, and the treasurer. The above-mentioned committee's records shall include all financial transactions for the entire conference year.  

(a) At each Annual Conference, the Pastors, Delegates, and other registered persons will receive an itemized financial statement from all financial committees including receipts and all expenditure prior to its reading; and  

(b) All financial committee reports are to include the itemization of unallocated and allocated funds in its entirety.  The Discipline, ¶147.3. (2016). 

 

According to the Petitioner, the failure of a Bishop to cause an annual budget to be presented to and approved by the annual conference is a violation of The Discipline and has been hurtful to the church, the Annual Conference, and caused suspicion by the members of the Annual Conference and members of The A.M. E. Zion Church. 

Petitioner also alleges that failure to give the required 60-day Notice prior to reassigning pastors to a new charge is hurtful to the pastors and the church.  He claims that the Bishop received funds from the Annual Conference, from check-up meetings, institutes, and special meetings held by the conference in violation of The Discipline and is hurtful to the financial stability of the conference. 

Petitioner further asserts that the Episcopal District failed to elect a treasurer, secretary, and chairman of finance to be responsible for an actual accounting process and practice.  He claims that the appointed committee failed to implement an accounting process or practice. Also, there has been no audited record of the Episcopal District provided to Presiding Elders, Pastors, traveling ministers and lay delegates. Consequently, unauthorized expenditures have been made by the Bishop, thus, hurting the Conference and the General Church. 

Finally, Petitioner claims that at the 2016 General Conference, the conference directed The Bishop to produce a certified audit of the finances of Lomax-Hannon. The Bishop has failed to produce or cause an audit of the finances of Lomax-Hannon. It appears The Bishop has utilized money belonging to Lomax-Hannon to support projects of the Episcopal District. The Petitioner alleges that this is a violation of The Discipline and the Charter and By-laws of Lomax-Hannon. He further claims that the annual appropriation has been used by The Presiding Prelate to support projects of the Episcopal District, and special meetings of the General Church. The Petitioner contends that the Lomax-Hannon funds have been all but depleted. As a consequence of the improper use of Lomax-Hannon money by the Bishop, the board has been unable to implement needed renovations to revive and restore Lomax Hannon as a school. These actions by the Bishop are in violation of the Discipline and the Charter and By-laws of Lomax-Hannon. 

Petitioner states that the allegations in this complaint compel the Board of Bishops to consider this complaint and open an investigation into the allegations herein, and thereafter, commission a certified audit of all funds collected and expended by the Episcopal District and audit the finances of Lomax-Hannon. 

 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

 

Issue1.   Whether the budget and/or finance Committee of each Annual Conference develop an annual conference Budget. 

 

Issue 2.  Whether the bishop should issue a 60-Day Notice to a pastor prior to moving him/her to a new charge.   

Issue 3.  Whether a Bishop can legally receive funds from an Episcopal District, Annual Conference, any check-up meeting, any institute, or any other special meetings.   

Issue 4.  Whether an Episcopal district is to elect a treasurer, secretary, and chairman of finance.  

Issue 5:  Whether the Administrative Board of Trustees of Lomax-Hannon shall submit a budget to the Board of Christian Education for all expenses for salaries and other purposes at the annual meeting of the Board; that the President of Lomax-Hannon submit an annual budget to the Secretary of Christian Education who shall present to the annual meeting to the Board of Christian Education for approval.  

Issue 6:  Whether a bishop is obligated to keep the laws of our Discipline.   

 

DECISION

 

Issue 1- Decision.  The Judicial Council confirms that the Book of Discipline requires that the Budget and/or finance committee of each Annual Conference is to develop an annual conference budget.   Each Annual Conference budget must be audited of all its transactions within 60 days of the close of each Annual Conference.  The pastors, ministers and delegates should receive an itemized financial report from the financial committee(s), including receipts and all expenditures prior to its reading.  Specifically, The Discipline states: 

That in order to ensure accountability, each Annual Conference shall develop a budget for Annual Conference operations. Within 60 days of the close of each Annual Conference, the Annual Conference Audit Committee shall be required to inspect the records of the budget, finance committee, and the treasurer. The above-mentioned committee’s records shall include all financial transactions for the entire conference year.   

 

a. At each Annual Conference, the Pastors, Delegates, and other registered persons will receive an itemized financial statement from all financial committees including receipts and all expenditures prior to its reading.  

 

b. All financial committee reports are to include the itemization of unallocated and allocated funds in its entirety within 60 days. Chapter V, Paragraph 147, 3 a. b. 

We agree with Petitioner on this point. 

Issue 2- Decision. This issue raises the question of whether the bishop should issue a 60-Day Notice to a pastor prior to moving him/her to a new charge.  The simple answer is “Yes,” unless there are “extreme circumstances.”  In that this question has come before The Judicial Council and has been dealt with in three previous decisions, we will not address it again here.   We refer the reader to our decision in the, The Petition of The Rev. Robert L. Shuford, Decision No. 2021-41, April 20, 2021. 

Issue 3- Decision. Whether a Bishop can legally receive funds from an Episcopal District, Annual Conference, any check-up meeting, any institute, or any other special meetings.  At the onset, it should be noted that there are two provisions in The Discipline that set forth circumstances under which a Bishop may legally receive funds from an Episcopal District, Annual Conference, any check-up meeting, any institute, or any other special meetings.  Specifically:  Chapter IV of The Discipline under the provision of Denominational Funds, ¶ 468 states: 

 

The interest accumulating from said Fund shall be subject to the order of the General Conference for the following purposes: 1) To pay the expenses of the General Conference; 2) To pay the expenses of Delegations appointed by the General Conference to corresponding bodies; 3) To make up any deficiencies in the salaries of the Bishop; and 4) To relieve the necessities of the Superannuated Ministers, the widows, and children of those who have died in the work. 

 

In addition, The Discipline states that: 

 

A Bishop shall receive no funds of any kind from an Annual Conference over which they preside. There shall be only two exceptions to this rule: (1) that the Annual Conference shall provide through its budget for the Presiding Bishop's travel only when they are required to eulogize a member of the Annual Conference (Clergy or Lay). The Bishop shall provide a voucher/receipt for airfare and lodging and the Annual Conference shall provide only the actual cost. (2) An Annual Conference shall have the privilege to give, at the end of a Quadrennial, a banquet or other observance for the Presiding Bishop. At such time an honorarium, not to exceed an amount representing 7% of one year's connectional assessment of the Annual Conference may be offered (or gifted). 

1. There shall be no other provisions for the Presiding Bishop of an Annual Conference to receive funds for check-up meetings, workshops, institutes, or any other special meetings of the Annual Conference or local District Conference.  

2. There shall be provided in the Annual Conference Budget an item for a visiting or Associate Bishop to the Annual Conference. This amount shall include travel, lodging, and honorarium to be paid only to the visiting/Associate Bishop.  

3. A Bishop shall be allowed to receive an honorarium when invited by special invitation to preach at an A. M. E. Zion Church, whether within their jurisdiction or other Episcopal Areas.  

4. The 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference directs that a retired Bishop's support shall be $50,000.00, of which $40,000.00 is for support and $10,000.00 is for rent exclusion. The total of $50,000.00, paid as retirement benefits, shall be paid in twelve equal monthly installments. The Connectional Budget Department, ¶432.   

Accordingly, we agree with Petitioner. 

Issue 4- Decision.   Whether an Episcopal district is to elect a treasurer, secretary, and chairman of finance. Petitioner states that the Episcopal District failed to elect a treasurer, secretary, and chairman of finance to be responsible for an actual accounting process and practice.  He claims that the appointed committee further failed to implement an accounting process or practice.  We agree with Petitioner that The Discipline, at ¶140.3 states: that the Episcopal District responsibility shall be to: “Elect a Treasurer, Secretary, and Chairman of Finance who shall be responsible for an actual accounting process and practice. These financial reports shall be forwarded annually to the General Secretary's office, and they shall be included (cumulative totals only) in the General Secretary's report.” Also, that the Episcopal District has not presented to the Presiding Elders, Pastors, traveling ministers and lay delegates, an audited record in violation of church law. This provision remains in effect and to ignore it is a violation of church law.   

 

Issue 5- Decision.  Whether the Administrative Board of Trustees of Lomax-Hannon shall submit a budget to the Board of Christian Education for all expenses for salaries and other purposes at the annual meeting of the Board; that the President of Lomax-Hannon submit an annual budget to the Secretary of Christian Education who shall present to the annual meeting to the Board of Christian Education for approval.  The Judicial Council concurs that The Discipline requires that “every president, except the President of Livingstone College shall submit an annual budget to the Secretary of Christian Education for approval.”  In that Lomax-Hannon has a Coordinator and not a President, this question becomes moot.  

Issue 6- Decision.  Whether a bishop is obligated to keep the laws of our Discipline.  This issue is without question.  Every member of The A.M.E. Zion Church is duty bound to obey the laws of the church.  The Discipline mandates such. 

The A.M.E. Zion Church as a functional member of the body of Christ, emphasizes the universal commission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to go into all the world and proclaim the Good News to everyone, everywhere, and make disciples of everyone and teach them to obey everything our Lord has commanded. Therefore, all persons, who give satisfactory evidence of their desire to flee from the wrath to come and to be saved from their sins, profess, and give satisfactory assurance of the correctness of their faith and willingness to observe and keep the rules and usages of The A.M.E. Zion Church and to conform to them, and show evidence of their desire for fellowship in The A.M.E. Zion Church, shall be eligible, when they have taken the appropriate vows as set forth in the Ritual of the Book of Discipline. 

The Constitution of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, ¶3, Article 4, Membership.  Not only are the bishops to obey the laws, but, as the executive branch of the denomination and leaders of the church, they are to enforce the laws.  The Discipline states that:  

There shall be a Board of Bishops composed of all of the Bishops of the Church. The Board shall meet at least once a year and plan for the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interest of the entire Church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations and responsibilities prescribed and enjoined by the General Conference. The Discipline, ¶35. Article III.  

 

 In addition, 

 

With a view to harmony and efficiency in the administration of the government of the church, the supreme body (The General Conference) has published from time to time, and a book style the “Doctrine and Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in America.” A code of rules and regulations for its government, and has chosen certain men [and women] to the office of bishop, and invested them with the power, and to enjoin them with the duty, to see that these rules are carried out; … (Emphasis added). Handbook of the Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Right Rev. S.T. Jones, DD, page 8.  

 

The bottom line is that no member of The A.M.E. Zion Church is above the church law. 

 

As to the question of whether a bishop is obligated to answer an inquiry of one of his/her constituents, he/she may not be obligated to personally answer each one.  However, for the sake of the society, good leadership suggests that he/she would designate someone to provide a response to an inquiry.  

 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL THIS 17th DAY OF May, 2021. 

 

All concur. 

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