CRIMINAL COMPLAINT PROCESS

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF REV. DR. VENUS LONGMIRE

DECISION No. 1995-009

This matter is before the Judicial Council by letter of Rev. Dr. Venus Longmire requesting clarification and declaratory judgment regarding seven (7) questions concerning the application and/or interpretation of provisions of the Book of Discipline of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

 

ARTICLE II - JURISDICTION

 

a)     The Council shall have appellate function.

 

b)    The Council shall not have original jurisdiction, since decisions are declaratory and final in the interim of the General Conference. Par. 308.  

 

ARTICLE III - DUTIES

 

A)   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. Par. 309.  

 

FACTS:

 

The only facts before the Judicial Council are those included in the letter from Rev. Dr. Venus Longmire (hereinafter referred to as "Petitioner").  In summary the Petitioner states that a fire occurred on September 17, 1994 at the Antioch A.M.E. Zion Church, Montgomery, Alabama, which she pastored.  Subsequent to the fire a member of the church filed a criminal complaint for arson, alleging that Petitioner had set the fire.  A Complaint  and Warrant were issued against the Petitioner under the criminal laws of the State of Alabama.  The matter came before the Annual Conference, but not as a formal charge.  It was referred to as "ACLZD."  Presiding Bishop Richard K. Thompson referred the matter to an Investigative Committee.  The Committee did not call Petitioner, nor complainant to testify, both of whom were at the conference; and did not render a report to the Annual Conference.  The Judicial Council has been informed that the criminal charge against the Petitioner has been dismissed, and it is unlikely that it will be re-opened. 

 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED:

 

1.     Was it a violation of Par. 232 and 234 of the Book of Discipline for a matter of a local church to file a criminal complaint in the courts against their pastor, the Petitioner herein, alleging a crime involving damage to the church building and contents?

 

2.     What recourse does the Petitioner have under church law against member who files a criminal charge against her involving alleged damage to church property?

 

3.     Whether an Annual Conference has the authority to conduct investigations, render and enforce decisions regarding an incident where a member of a local church has filed a criminal complaint against their pastor, the Petitioner herein, alleging a crime involving damage to church property?

 

4.     Does a Bishop holding an Annual Conference have the authoritative to appoint an Investigative Committee to investigate an incident where a member of a local church has filed a criminal complaint against their pastor, a member of the Annual Conference, the Petitioner herein, allegedly a crime involving damage to church property?

 

5.     Whether the Petitioner has a right to have this matter which concerns an incident where a member of a local church has filed a criminal complaint against her alleging a crime involving damage to church property, deposed of under the laws of the A.M.E. Zion Church?

 

6.     Whether the Petitioner has been aggrieved as a result of the application or lack of application of any provision of the Book of Discipline?

 

7.     Whether there has been a violation of Par. 293 of the Book of Discipline in handling of the ACLZD matters.

 

DECISION

 

            The following discussion will attempt to address each question separately.  Due to the overlapping nature of the questions and the limited facts available the discussion and decision will be brief and concise.

 

Question #1.  Was it a violation of Par. 232 and 234 of the Book of Discipline for a member of the local church to file a criminal complaint in the court against their pastor, the Petitioner herein, alleging a crime involving damage to church building and contents?

 

Pars. 232 and 234 of the Book of Discipline are entitled, "imprudent and unchristian conduct" and "Sowing Discord", respectively.  The Paragraphs are found in the chapter entitled, "Trial of an Accused Member."  The procedure for filing a charge against a member is outlined in Par. 228 et. al. of the Book of Discipline.  Filing a criminal complaint against anyone is a serious matter.  Filing a false complaint is a crime itself.  The Book of Discipline does not specifically prohibit a member from filing a criminal charge with the civil authority against anyone, since the crime is a violation of a penal code.  If the matter is solely a church dispute, which does not involve criminal conduct, then the filing of a false criminal complaint against a pastor, or another member could be considered imprudent and unchristian conduct and sowing discord, and could be the subject of a charge against the perpetrator under church law.

 

Question #2.  What recourse does the Petitioner have under church law against a member who files a criminal charge against her involving alleged damage to church property?

 

Question #3.  Whether an Annual Conference has the authority to conduct investigations, render and enforce decisions regarding an incident where a member of a local church has filed a criminal complaint against their pastor, the Petitioner herein, alleging a crime involving damage to church property?

 

The authority for an Annual Conference to hear and dispose of complaints against its members is found in Par. 104 of the Book of Discipline.  Par. 98 of that The Book of Discipline defines the members of an Annual Conference as follows: "the Annual Conference shall be composed of a Bishop and all the Traveling Ministers and Preachers, both in Full Connection and those on trial within the bounds of the Conference, and such Lay Delegates as may have been legally elected by that body."

 

The facts presented by the Petitioner who is a member of the Annual Conference, do not state that formal charges, pursuant to Par. 254 of the Book of Discipline, were filed against her.  The facts presented do not reveal whether the complainant was a member of the Annual Conference.  It can be inferred that she is not.  Accordingly, a charge against her under Par. 104 of the Book of Discipline would be improper.  A charge against a member of the church must be commenced under Par. 228 et. al. of the Book of Discipline.  Nevertheless, the Bishop presiding over the Annual Conference has the authority under Par. 278 of the Book of Discipline to appoint an Investigating Committee to investigate controversial matters which come to the attention of the Annual Conference.  It appears that this is what occurred in the present matter.  An Investigating Committee appointed under these circumstances is not the same as a "Select Number" committee created under Par. 262, Sec. 2 of the Book of Discipline.

 

Question # 4.  Does a Bishop holding an Annual Conference have the authoritative to appoint an Investigative Committee to investigate an incident where a member of a local church has filed a criminal complaint against their pastor, a member of the Annual Conference, the Petitioner herein, allegedly a crime involving damage to church property?

Question # 5.  Whether the Petitioner has a right to have this matter which concerns an incident where a member of a local church has filed a criminal complaint against her alleging a crime involving damage to church property, deposed of under the laws of the A.M.E. Zion Church?

 

It appears that an effort to address the matter under church law has been attempted on an informal basis.  (See Discussion and Decision to Question 3).  Petitioner has a right to file a charge under church law as discussed in the Discussion and Decision to Questions # 1 and 3.

 

Question #6.  Whether the Petitioner has been aggrieved as a result of the application or lack of application of any provision of the Book of Discipline?

 

It is the opinion of the Judicial Council that no church law has been violated in regards to the handling of the ACLZD matter presented in the Petition.  The Petitioner has not been aggrieved as a result of the application or lack of application of any provision of the Book of Discipline sense no formal charge has been commenced against her under Par. 254 of the Book of Discipline.  Further the Petitioner has the right to file charge against a member under church law as described the Discussion and Decision to Questions #1 and 3.

 

Question #7.   Whether there has been a violation of Par. 293 of the Book of Discipline in handling of the ACLZD tells the matters.

 

There has not been a violation of Par. 293 of the Book of Discipline in the handling of the ACLZD matter (See Discussion and Decision Question #3).

 

The foregoing application interpretation of the above mentioned provisions of The Book of Discipline of the A.M.E. Zion Church represents the

 

 ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL THIS 14th DAY OF DECEMBER, 1995.

ALL CONCURRING

Star of Zion March 7, 1996

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