AUTHORITY OF THE PASTOR

THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL OF

THE AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL ZION CHURCH

IN THE MATTER OF

THE PETITION OF DORIS P. JONES, ET AL.

DECISION No. 2011-28

This case comes before the Council by a petition for declaratory judgment filed by  Doris P. Jones, Willie C. Jones, Jr., Joan P. Polite, Johnny E. Polite, Sr., Edna Rogers, John Steele and Betty Stephens, (hereinafter referred to as “Petitioners”) members in good and regular standing of the Faith A.M.E. Zion Church, Atlanta District, Georgia Conference, South Atlantic Episcopal District, 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:

 

“Par. 360. ARTICLE II – JURISDICTION

 

a)  The Council shall have appellate function.

 

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

 

c)  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 Petitioners raise questions concerning the authority and power of the Pastor, Board of Trustees, and Quarterly Conference in that, in a conference meeting, the church has voted by majority vote to do certain things regarding the ongoing life of the church. A newly appointed pastor took it upon himself to resend the things approved by the Members’ Conference, Board of Trustees, and the Quarterly Conference. Additionally, the Petitioners maintain that the Pastor-In-Charge used defamatory, false, and malicious words in his sermons from the pulpit regarding certain members apparently to impugn their character and reputation. Also, they assert that the Pastor and members of the Board of Trustees make decisions requiring action without having a quorum of the Board. The Pastor’s position is that in the process of making decisions during the conduct of business in the local church meetings of the boards and conferences, he does not have to recognize Roberts Rules of Order. 

 

            Petitioners further allege that the church had money specifically collected for, and earmarked solely for the purpose of building a new church. They assert that the Pastor unilaterally used this money without the approval of the Members’ Conference, Board of Trustees, and/or the Quarterly Conference. 

 

            In a Members’ Conference a motion was adopted for the purpose of authorizing certain actions to be carried out by the Members’ Conference. However, this motion was materially changed, or amended by another conference board in the local church without authorization or approval by the Members’ Conference.

 

            The Petitioners state that certain funds and financial transactions on behalf of the congregation regarding the building fund and Fairburn Road Property Account do not appear as line items of income and disbursements in the Trustees’ Report for approval by the Quarterly Conference. They assert that this is inconsistent with the requirement for an annual church budget as required by The Discipline.

 

            Prior to the appointment of the pastor, the local church had established a Lifestyle Committee for the specific purpose of building a new church. This committee was confirmed by the Quarterly Conference. It had more than $74,000 in the bank that was raised for this purpose and pledges for thousands of dollars more. The money was in a separate building fund account in a local bank. The land had been purchased for the building of the new church. The Petitioners state that the Pastor solely abolished and discharged the Lifestyle Committee and used the money that had been raised and earmarked for the building fund for other purposes. They further allege that the pastor declared to the congregation that he had decided that, "we are not going to build.” Petitioners believe that the pastor had no right to abolish the Committee. Additionally, they believe that the Board of Stewards and Board of Trustees have the right and responsibility to order an external audit of these funds by a certified public accountant, or a public accountant. They are also of the belief that the members who contributed specifically to this building fund should be entitled to have their contributions returned to them, if they so desire.

 

            Petitioners further assert that the finances for 2008 and 2009 had been audited to determine the physical status, but that the members of the Official Board, the Quarterly Conference and other members in good standing in the local church have not had access to the audit report along with the auditors’ notes, comments, and/or management letter. It is their belief that this is inconsistent with The Discipline and Robert’s Rules of Order. The Petitioners also contend that members in an official meeting, or conference failed to vote on sensitive matters because of a voice vote, or showing of hands vote, for fear of retribution or rejection. It is their belief that the members should be able to have voting by secret ballot on sensitive matters.

 

            Finally, the Petitioners state that many reports, i.e. financial reports by members at the Members’ Conference and/or Quarterly Conference are presented orally. Because of the nature of the financial reports and the importance of the data, it is their belief that such reports should be in writing and that the members of the Quarterly Conference should receive these reports in advance of the conference.

 

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

 

  1. Questions regarding Robert’s Rules of Order

 

a.     Does The A.M.E. Zion Church use Robert’s Rules of Order as an authoritative supplement to the Holy Bible and The Book of Discipline in the administration of church business?

 

b.      Do church members have the right to insist on voting by secret ballot in the Members’ Conference and/or Quarterly Conference?

 

  1. Does the Pastor-In-Charge have the authority to rescind previously approved actions taken by the Board of Trustees, Members’ Conference, and/or Quarterly Conference?

 

  1. Does one church organization have the authority to modify, change, or rescind the previously approved actions taken by another church organization?

 

  1. Should the church budget include all income and expenditures as line items and be reported to the Members’ Conference and Quarterly Conference?

 

  1. Does the Pastor-In-Charge have the authority to abolish any special committee previously created and/or redistribute and utilize monies raised for a specific purpose, including, but not limited to a new church building, without approval of a Members’ Conference and/or the Quarterly Conference?

 

  1. If the funds that are contributed for a specific purpose are not used for that purpose, are those contributors entitled to have their contributions returned to them, if requested?

 

  1. Does the Board of Stewards or Board of Trustees have the right or responsibility to require an external audit of the church’s financial records? If the church has an audit of its financial records, do the boards and conferences of the local church and/or members in good standing have the right to receive or review copies of the auditor’s report?

 

  1. Do members have the right to receive Quarterly Conference Reports prior to reading the report at the Quarterly Conference?

 

  1. Is it acceptable and consistent with the The Discipline and Robert’s Rules of Order for the Pastor and three or four members of the Trustee Board to make decisions for action without the rest of the Board members present to constitute a quorum?

 

10. Whether in a sermon, the use of defamatory, false, and malicious words and supporting actions about certain members of the church is appropriate for a Pastor or minister.

 

DECISION

 

From time immemorial, people, whether a small tribe, a village, or a group of individuals with a common purpose, have come together to deliberate on the course of action or direction for that society for the good of the entire group. Such deliberation has been done by some set of rules or procedures as a guide. Today, we refer to such procedure or guide as parliamentary procedures. This can be traced back to the Fifth Century, before the Anglo-Saxon and tribes migrated to the Island of Britain. Through the years, these parliamentary procedures have consistently developed and were later codified and used in the Parliament of England. These procedures then moved to the United States. The development of these rules became necessary, because every free man or society, regardless of its size, felt that as a part of a body made up of individuals, the rights of each individual must be respected. Accordingly, in the deliberative process, the parliamentary law, whichever one the body adopted, was understood by all and they conducted themselves accordingly.

 

            In the deliberative assembly, the parliamentary procedures give everyone an opportunity to be heard on his/her will for the good of the body. During such an assembly, there will be individuals grouping together with similar views. This ultimately results in a majority and a minority division. Justice and fairness demand that the minorities’ rights are not violated because they are a minority. They too, must be heard.

 

            When the deliberation is complete, and a vote is taken, there will be a winning side and a losing side. Since the minority is given an opportunity to freely express its views, when the vote is cast, it is only proper that the minority give full support to the decision of the majority by moving forward until such time as the decision may be repealed. Having just summarized this process, several of the questions regarding parliamentary procedures presented in the petition can now be addressed. They have been combined into the following issues:

 

1.   Petitioners raise two Questions regarding Robert’s Rules of Order. The first is:

 

a.. Does The A.M.E, Zion Church use Robert’s Rules of Order as an authoritative supplement to the Holy Bible and The Book of Discipline in the administration of church business?

 

Officially, The A.M.E. Zion Church law does not specifically embrace Robert’s Rules of Order. Therefore, the pastor does represent the prevailing views of The A.M.E. Zion Church when he/she states that "God’s rules of order" governs our deliberations. But it does not end there. It is true that the Holy Bible, God's Holy Word is our ultimate guide for conducting ourselves at all times. However, since there are some things in the business sessions of The A.M.E. Zion Church that are not quite clear to us, and the Bible does not directly address, we resort to some kind of parliamentary procedure. There is a limited amount of parliamentary procedures given in our Book of Discipline; however, where The Discipline is silent, precedent and practice have validated the use of Robert’s Rules of Order at all levels of the church to assist in guiding it through the deliberative process. .

b.   Do church members have the right to insist on voting by secret ballot in the Members’ Conference and/or Quarterly Conference?

Yes. The members present should be able to vote as to whether a ballot vote is taken. This is strictly an internal matter.

 

2.   Does the Pastor-In-Charge have the authority to rescind previously approved actions taken by the Board of Trustees, Members’ Conference, and/or Quarterly Conference?

 

When a particular church adopts a certain course of action, only that conference (or some higher conference with appellate jurisdiction) can change such course of action. There is no provision in church law that gives the Pastor-In-Charge the authority or power to circumvent said conference. It is believed that this was the will of the forefathers and our General Conference where they provided absolutely no Pastoral duty with regard to such matters, but rather a specific duty "(T)o enforce vigorously but calmly the rules of the church.” {Paragraph 251.8, The Discipline, (2008). It is clear that the Pastor has no authority or power to engage otherwise.

 

3.   Does one church organization have the authority to modify, change, or rescind the previously approved actions taken by another church organization?

 

The answer depends on the action taken and the Board, or Conference that materially changed or amended said action. For instance, the Trustee Board may, or may not have the authority to change the decision of the Members’ Conference. This is an area where the trustees may have information that could drastically affect the church. Such knowledge may not be known to the membership at large. Possessing such information would require dialogue between the Members’ Conference and the Trustee Board. However, the Quarterly Conference can make a change if the matter is brought before it and all of the procedural safeguards are considered. The Quarterly Conference has jurisdiction over the local congregation.

 

4.   Should the church budget include all income and expenditures as line items and be reported to the Members’ Conference and Quarterly Conference?

 

The answer to this question is yes, because our church law provides that:

The 46th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference directs that every local church shall adopt a church budget annually, approved at the Members’ Conference and confirmed at the Quarterly Conference, of the proposed income and disbursements to empower the Board of Stewards and Trustees to transact the financial affairs of the respective board on behalf of the congregation.

 

Paragraph 504.1, The Discipline (2008).  This provision requires the budget to contain all "proposed income and disbursements" to be reported. In this case, it should be a line item with the necessary projections in the budget. However, there is no requirement for it to be in the Quarterly Conference Report unless specifically requested. A review of the Quarterly Conference Report on page 184 and 185 of the Discipline (2008) will reveal that there is no provision for such a report. But, at the beginning of the form, it explicitly states, "Additional reports should be made as requested by the Quarterly Conference, Church Members’ Conference, and/or the Pastor.” If the Building Fund Account is to be a part of the Quarterly/Annual Report of Trustees, the matter should be put before a Members’ Conference or the Quarterly Conference and in writing. 

 

Additionally, while there is no provision in our church law that requires the members to be given copies of Audit Reports along with the auditor’s notes, comments, and/or management letter, it is a standing practice that reports requiring approval be given in advance of a meeting so they can be studied before a vote. All reports are to be made a part of the organization’s records and as such, said records are to be made available to any member upon request. As for Robert’s Rules of Order, there is no official sanction of that document.

 

5.   Does the Pastor-In-Charge have the authority to abolish any special committee previously created and/or redistribute and utilize monies raised for a specific purpose, including, but not limited to a new church building, without approval of a Members’ Conference and/or the Quarterly Conference?

 

This question is similar in nature and subject matter to question number 2 with regard to the authority of a pastor. In the case at bar, three deliberative bodies – the Members’ Conference, the Board of Trustees and the Quarterly Conferences -- have all taken action and approved the submission of an application for tax exempt status under section 501 (C.) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code the adoption of a Personnel Handbook, and to sell the existing church building in order to build a new church. The pastor took it upon himself to usurp the approved action of the local church. When a particular conference adopts a certain course of action,  as stated above, only that conference (or some higher conference with appellate jurisdiction) can change such course of action, unless such action is in violation of church law. As stated above, there is no provision in church law that gives the Pastor-In-Charge the authority or power to circumvent said conference or to discharge a duly constituted organization.

 

The A.M.E. Zion Church law does not grant authority, or power to a Pastor-In-Charge to disband a functioning committee established by the vote of the membership and/or Quarterly Conference to help carry out the will of the local church to meet its mandate of building a new church. Because there is no authority or power invested in the Pastor-In-Charge to take the action complained of, this matter must be remanded to the local church to be addressed in the appropriate conference or forum.

 

6.   If the funds that are contributed for a specific purpose are not used for that purpose, are those contributors entitled to have their contributions returned to them, if requested?

In the present case, the local church had a building fund that raised $74,000.00 toward the building of a new church. The funds were donated for that specific purpose. This was a significant amount of money. The money raised was not used for building a new church, but was expended for other purposes without a vote of the membership. In that the donated money was earmarked for a specific purpose and was not used for that purpose, and if the church did not reserve the right to re-designate the funds, a question is raised as to whether the donors are entitled to a refund of the money, if they so request. “Gifts given to a charity for a specific purpose should be used only for the purpose given, unless the donor releases the restriction[1] or you get approval from the Attorney General or an appropriate civil court. It is not appropriate to use funds given for one purpose to support another, and directors (Trustees) could be asked to replace the funds personally if they do so.”[2] The use of the funds should be, and must be consistent with the will of the membership.

Following the above cited authority, the use of funds raised for a specific purpose can only be changed by a Members’ Conference, or Quarterly Conference. Moreover, and more pertinent to the Petitioners’ question, The Discipline is silent as to the propriety of whether a contributor is entitled to have his/her contribution returned, if the funds that were contributed for a specific purpose are not used for that purpose. Because there is no authority over the return of the funds to contributors, this matter must be remanded to the local church to be addressed in the appropriate conference or forum.

7.   Does the Board of Stewards or Board of Trustees have the right or responsibility to require an external audit of the church’s financial records? If the church has an audit of its financial records, do the boards and conferences of the local church and/or members in good standing have the right to receive or review copies the auditor’s report?

 

The church laws have no provision for an audit of financial records (external or otherwise) of the local church by a CPA or PA except for the Annual Conference and the General Conference. However, it is a good financial practice to periodically have financial records audited. As to whether the audit is an internal — by the board or committees, or external — by an accountant to supply sufficient testing and verification, it is a matter left entirely to the local church. It is within the authority and responsibility of the Board of Trustees to require an audit. The Board of Stewards, with sufficient cause may request from the Membership or the Trustees, that an audit be performed. All reports are to be made a part of the organization’s records and as such said records (i.e., the auditor’s notes, comments and/or management letter) are to be made available to any member upon request.

 

8.   Do members have the right to receive Quarterly Conference Reports prior to reading the report at the Quarterly Conference?

 

The deliberative assembly may require reports to be submitted in advance of the conference so that the membership can have time to review them before acting on them. Financial reports are difficult to review in real time as the report is read. It is in the best interest of the body to provide copies prior to the conference. Deliberate consideration should be taken before copies of certain reports are made available. However, there is no set rule on this matter.

 

9.   Is it acceptable and consistent with The Discipline and Robert’s Rules of Order for the Pastor and three or four members of the Trustee Board to make decisions for action without the rest of the Board members to constitute a quorum?

 

            The Trustees of a local church consists of a certain number of members, the number established by the local church, (not less than three or more than nine according to The Discipline), and the Pastor, who is Ex Officio Chairman of the Board. The procedures used to govern that body is contained in The Book of Discipline. While Robert’s Rules of Order is not officially mentioned in our church law, traditionally it is used to address matters where our church procedures are silent as stated above. With regard to the present question, church procedures are in line with those in Roberts Rules of Order. For a decision of a deliberative body to be valid, a quorum is needed, meaning a majority of its members present. The Petitioners fail to indicate the number of trustees on the Board of Trustees and they fail to identify the number of trustees present at the meeting in question. Therefore, a decision cannot be made as to whether the action of the Pastor and the Trustees was proper.

 

10. Whether in a sermon, the use of defamatory, false, and malicious words and supporting actions about certain members of the church is appropriate for a Pastor or minister.

 

             This question was answered in a decision issued on July 31, 2002. We now address it again and reiterate what was said then. The first point to be considered is the use of false and malicious words in one’s sermon. Simply put, this kind of language is repugnant to the Word of God. We are told in the Ten Commandments,  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16).

 

            In The Book of Discipline, the section on “Qualifications and Rules For A Preacher, Rule 2” states that a preacher should: "[b]e serious. Let his/her motto be ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ Avoid all lightness, jesting and foolish talking.” Paragraph 190, Discipline.. Additionally, Rule 5 states that he/she should: "[s]peak evil of no one, because his/her word, especially, would eat as doth a canker. Let him/her keep his/her thoughts within his/her own breast until he/she comes to the person concerned.” Ibid. Paragraph 193. An explanation of what this means was given in our earlier decision which states: "It is abundantly clear, that this standard seeks to govern the words of the mouth and meditation of the heart. Holiness then denotes the separation of a person from the common are profane to a divine use. Indeed we are instructed through Scripture, 'let your speech be always with grace' and this represents the steadfast love, which we are to apply in relating to other human beings.” Ex Parte decision, page 2, (July 31, 2002).

 

            Applying the standard given above, and if taking the Petitioners’ rendition of the sermon as true, the statements, words and actions of the Pastor-In-Charge in the present case, clearly demonstrates that the pastor's conduct was totally inappropriate.

The issues presented in this Petition are REMANDED for action consistent with this decision.

 

BY ORDER OF THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL THIS 21ST DAY OF JULY 2011.

Justices Walker and Battle-Hodge for the Council

All Concurring

 

[1] This question is not so easily answered. Things to consider in funds for a specific purpose being used for a different purpose are whether the fund is established by the “donor” or the “donee,” and what the state law requires. For tax deductions purposes, the federal law must also be considered.

 

[2] Don Kramer’s Nonprofit Issues, “An Electronic Newsletter of ‘Nonprofit Law You Need to Know,’” Nonprofit Issues, Inc. (2009).

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