Keeping All Their Bishops
The Northeastern Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops asked the Council if there was any way to keep all nine bishops in light of the need to increase the number of African bishops and the limited resources made available to support all the bishops needed.
Actually, they didn’t say that. They framed their inquiry around the meaning and application of a new constitutional amendment that had been accepted from the 2012 General Conference. The amendment changed who determined the boundaries, names, number of episcopal areas from the Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee to the Jurisdictional Conference. But what was unchanged was that the General Conference set the parameters by which the number of bishops a jurisdiction (or central conference) could have. What the College of Bishops appeared to be trying to do was undermine the validity of the General Conference formula, hoping to make it easier to keep all the bishops it had.
The Council patiently provided a history of how that number had been determined in the past. It stated flatly that if something was legitimately in the constitution, it was constitutional even if it was contrary to something else in the constitution. The Council’s job is to reconcile those and it could in this case:
The formula for determining the number of bishops and the way to handle exceptions was provided by the General Conference (Paragraphs 16 and 404.2). The Jurisdictional and Central Conferences define the boundaries of the annual conferences within each (Paragraph 40), and the College of Bishops makes sure every annual conference has a bishop who may also have another conference to cover (Paragraph 48).
Nice and neat, except for one thing. The College of Bishops does not make the original assignments as stated in this decision. The bishops are assigned to their posts by the Jurisdictional Episcopal Committee (Paragraph 524.3b). The College of Bishops does not even make the assignments if one of their number vacates a post for whatever reason. That is done by the Council of Bishops, though the College may nominate (Paragraph 407).
Be that as it may, the Judicial Council’s ruling stands in that the College of Bishops has no final say in how many bishops their jurisdiction may have. Some of the bishops may end up having to serve two annual conferences until reorganization of boundaries is negotiated.
The principle of “balancing multiple authorities” is sustained because contrary constitutional passages are not necessarily contradictory.
To my eyes, the passages were not even contrary. Any contradictions were in the eyes of beholders who hoped for gaining power they didn’t have in the first place.
Update: The Northeastern Jurisdiction has not lost a bishop for the 2016-2020 quadrennium. An exception was granted and changes will begin in 2020.