LIFTING APPOINTMENTS

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF EZRA T. MAIZE

DECISION No. 2011-27

This case comes before the Council by a petition for declaratory judgment filed by Rev. Ezra T. Maize, an ordained Elder (Tennessee Conference) and a member in good standing in The A.M.E. Zion Church, pursuant to the Rules of the Judicial Council in accordance with the Act passed by the 1988 General Conference (as amended by The Book of Discipline of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, (2008) (hereinafter referred to as The Discipline) which reads:

 

JURISDICTION

 

“Par. 360. 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.

 

d  The Council is amenable to the General Conference, and any decision of the Council may be reversed or modified by the General Conference in regular or special session.”

 

“Par. 361. ARTICLE III - DUTIES

 

b)  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.”

 

FACTS OF THE CASE

 

The petitioner requests a declaratory judgment on the legal authority and power granted to an African Methodist Episcopal Zion bishop, by the Constitution and The Discipline, to “lift the appointment” of a Pastor-in-Charge during the interim of the Annual Conference, in the absence of a judgment by an investigating /trial committee. Oral testimony was not presented to the Council nor a hearing requested, as neither were needed to render a Declaratory Judgment. 

 

The facts of the petition do not state a specific claim. The petitioner alleges, however, that the “lifting of an appointment” of a Pastor-in-Charge in the interim of the Annual Conference by a bishop in the absence of due process, is an ever increasing problem in some Episcopal Districts throughout the denomination. 

 

Thus the petitioner raises the following questions when a bishop lifts an appointment in the absence of a judgment by an investigating/trial committee: (1) Is that action contrary to The Discipline. (2) Does the bishop violate the pastor’s right to due process, and if so has the bishop illegally terminated the pastor’s employment with the church? (3) Does the bishop violate his/her vows of consecration of the Office of Bishop, and if so does this rise to the level of malfeasance of the Office of Bishop? And (4) Does the bishop of the conference who lifted the appointment have the authority to refuse  a request for a transfer to another conference or Episcopal District by a pastor, whose appointment was lifted and yet remains a member in good standing in the conference where the appointment was lifted?

 

QUESTIONS TO BE DECIDED

 

            After thoroughly reviewing the Petition, the Council has decided to render a decision for the following three questions.

 

  1. Does a bishop have the authority to “lift the appointment” of a Pastor-in-Charge during the interim of an Annual Conference?

 

  1. Does a Pastor-in-Charge have a right to due process in the lifting of his/her appointment during the interim of an Annual Conference?

 

  1. Can a Pastor-in-Charge whose appointment has been lifted but is otherwise in “good standing” in his/her Annual Conference be denied a transfer?

 

DECISION

 

Question No. 1 and 2

 

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church reveres both the “itinerancy” and “due process” to the point of elevating both to the status of Restrictive Rules, protected by the Constitution of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, for the governance of the General Conference. Thus ensuring that not only the General Conference would not alter either, but also by implication that all sub-divisions of the Church and personnel amenable to the General Conference would be bound to uphold. The two Restrictive Rules germane to the case at hand are:

 

1. It shall not change or alter any rule of our government so as to do away     with the episcopacy, nor destroy the plan of our itinerancy.

 

                        2. It shall not do away with the privileges of our ministers and preachers

                            of trial by committee, and of appeal, neither shall it do away with the

                            privilege of our lay members of trial before the society or by committee,

                            and of appeal.

 

The Discipline, Paragraph 20 (2 and 3) at p. 5.

 

The right of a bishop over an Episcopal District to “lift the appointment” of a Pastor-in-Charge in the interval of the Annual Conference is legislated by law. The Discipline states that the duty of a bishop includes the right:

 

To change in the interim of the annual conference, the appointments of the preachers as necessity may require.

 

The Discipline, Paragraph 242 (4) at p. 83,

 

Although paragraph 20 (2) “restrictive rule on the itinerancy” gives paragraph 242 (4) “lifting appointments” its full weight of law, neither taken together or separately diminish the full weight of law of paragraph 20 (3) “restrictive rule of due process.”

 

The instant case before the Judicial Council presents a conflict between the right of a bishop to “lift an appointment” with the privilege of due process of a preacher whose pastoral appointment is to be “lifted.” Both are assured by the Restrictive Rules of our Church, as such one restrictive rule has no more weight than the other.

 

Given the conflictual nature of the practice of “lifting an appointment” in the absence of due process, as evident in the present petition, the Judicial Council accepts the claimant’s petition, notwithstanding The Discipline’s prohibition on the Judicial Council to render decision in matters of the itinerancy:

 

The Judicial Council shall not have the right to interfere, in any way, with the right of a bishop to appoint, assigns, transfer, or remove pastors as set forth in the book of the discipline nor with the right of a bishop to administer the discipline of the AME Zion Church. (Emphasis added).

 

The Discipline, Paragraph 361 (d) at pp. 124-25. The Judicial Council seeks, however, to advise the Church in the matter of an inconsistency in law, namely, between the Restrictive Rules of the “itinerancy” and “due process.”

 

Seemingly the clause “as necessity may require (The Discipline, Paragraph 242 (4), at p. 83,)” gives the bishop absolute authority to lift an appointment in the interim of the Annual Conference without regard for the preacher’s privilege to due process. The clause in itself seems firstly to suggest an urgency to remove the Pastor-in-Charge from his/her pastorate. And secondly, given the gravity or sensitivity of the issue(s) pertaining to “lifting an appointment,” the bishop deems it necessary and expedient to do so based on evidence received from his/her own investigation, with neither consultation nor advisement of a trial committee. Perhaps the matter in dispute is of such a nature deferring to immediately lift the appointment by the bishop could prove perilous for the congregation or Conference, in one way or another. Possibly the bishop may need to lift the appointment without consultation to avoid an embarrassing situation either for the pastor, congregation or the Conference. Nevertheless, the lifting of an appointment is both embarrassing to the pastor and damaging to the pastor’s vocation and vocational choices. We might be inclined to ask, “Is lifting an appointment the only means of temporarily relieving a pastor from his/her ecclesial functions in order to satisfy the needs of a congregation or Conference?” However it may be, given the gravity and implications of having one’s pastoral appointment lifted, should not a pastor whose appointment is subject to being revoked be entitled to due process? The Discipline, according to paragraph 20 (3) “due process,” suggests an affirmative answer. 

 

Due process is “a course of legal proceedings carried out regularly and in accordance with established rules and principles.” A. Merriam–Webster,  Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam Co., Springfield, Massachusetts, at p. 352, (1977). Webster goes further to say that this is “due process of law.” This elaboration provides some clarity to the definition of “due process,” which is greatly needed because individual rights are involved.

 

Due process of law implies the right of the person affected thereby to be present before the tribunal, which pronounces judgment upon the question of life, liberty, or property, in its most comprehensive sense; to be heard, by testimony or otherwise, and you have the right of controverting, by proof, every material fact which bears on the question of right in the matter involved. If any question of fact or liability be conclusively presumed against him, this is not due process of law.

 

Black’s Law Dictionary, With Pronunciations, Fifth Edition, St. Paul, at p. 449 (1979). 

 

            The first part of this definition addresses legal proceedings. A legal proceeding would be some form of tribunal of which the accused would go before to be heard and to be judged. Whenever a person’s rights are at stake due process requires that fairness and justice be the order of the day. In the matter of a bishop lifting an appointment in the interim of the Annual Conference in the absence of formal charges or a forum giving the pastor a chance to be heard is not consistent with due process. The second Part of the definition of due process of law shows that an accused has a right to expect fairness and justice. If a minister has done something wrong that warrants the removal from his/her pastorate, there should be some charge(s) brought against him/her, an investigation of the complaint against him/her, a chance to review the evidence against him/her and to offer evidence on his/her behalf. The third part of the definition simply states that if the questions of facts or liability against the accused are conclusively presumptive, then due process has been nullified. 

 

To remove a pastor from the charge given him/her at the Annual Conference, in the interim of that Annual Conference, suggests that that pastor has done something wrong -- some immoral, imprudent, or unchristian conduct, etc. Such a removal is detrimental to that pastor in that his/her character is at issue. Under such circumstances, informal charges against a pastor whose appointment is subject to being revoked without a formal opportunity to be heard violates the letter and spirit of paragraph 20 (3) “due process.” 

 

Petitioner asserts that when a bishop “lifts the appointment” of a Pastor-in-Charge, the bishop is surreptitiously suspending the pastor without due process. The removal of a pastor from a charge does not necessarily mean that the pastor’s privileges as a member of that Conference have also been rescinded. Other assignments may be available for him/her. However, the lifting of an appointment is serious enough that fairness and justice require that the pastor be given an opportunity to have the matter investigated and to trial by committee

 

The “as necessity may require” clause in the lifting of an appointment as practiced seems to usurp the pastor’s privilege of due process. The Discipline is, however, intentional about safeguarding both the “rule of the itinerancy” and the “rule of due process” to the point of enacting both as Restrictive Rules. Apparently the General Conference did not foresee the conflicting nature inherent in these two very different but intricately related Restrictive Rules in cases involving paragraph 242 (4) “lifting an appointment.” Assuring due process in cases that require relieving a pastor from his/her ecclesial functions does not necessarily weaken our form of itinerancy. Zion may

 invariably strengthen our form of itinerancy by guaranteeing due process in such cases.   

 

QUESTION NO. 3.

 

Can a Pastor-in-Charge whose appointment has been lifted but is otherwise in good standing in his/her Annual Conference be denied a transfer?

 

            This question deals with the duties of a bishop in the matter of transferring preachers according to law. Question 3 can be answered simply by referring to The Book of Discipline. One of the delineated duties of a bishop is:

 

To receive and transfer preachers according to law he/she shall not transfer a preacher from one conference to another without his/her consent.

 

The Discipline, Paragraph 242.5, at 83.  Although this provision does not specifically address the question, it does make known that a preacher cannot be transferred to another Conference without consenting. The prevalent question is Can a Bishop deny a minister’s request for a transfer? Our church law is very clear on this matter.  It provides that:

 

After a minister has become a member of an annual conference, the bishop or Conference may transfer him/her to any other Conference/district in the Connection, with his/her consent; provided further that no bishop shall refuse to grant a transfer to any minister applying for the same, when in good standing according to the discipline.  The bishop shall give him/her a transfer …

 

The Discipline, Paragraph 225, at 78.

 

                  When a pastor requests a transfer to another Conference after having had their pastoral appointment lifted in the interim of their Annual Conference, the bishop of the Conference that lifted the appointment has only to decide whether or not the traveling minister retains the status of being a member in good standing. If such a minister retains their privileges as a member of the Conference, after having their pastoral appointment lifted in the same Conference, it can rightfully be interpreted that such minister is still a member in good standing.  Accordingly the traveling minister is entitled to a transfer upon request. Although having a pastoral appointment lifted may suggest the revocation of their status as a member in good standing, rescinding this status is dubious in the absence of formal charges and a trial by committee.

 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL. THIS 12th DAY OF June 2011.

 

Justice William McKenith for the Council

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