How is the candidacy application fee legal?

Last year I was reading Bishop Merrill’s A Digest of Methodist Law and thought: what are the current requirements for ordination in The United Methodist Church?

So I downloaded some brochures from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. The below screenshot is from the brochure for “Ministry of the Deacon”, but the same basic requirements also appear for “Ministry of the Elder”.

Excerpt from page 2, "Ministry of Deacon", 01/15/2013.

Excerpt from page 2, “Ministry of Deacon”, 01/15/2013. (Click to enlarge)

So after the first steps (not shown), the person who is called shows proof of a minimum one year membership in The United Methodist Church. Then the person needs to register online in the Candidacy Application System and pay the candidacy application fee.

The candidacy application fee?

Excerpt from page 2, "Ministry of Deacon", 01/15/2013. (emphasis added)

Excerpt from page 2, “Ministry of Deacon”, 01/15/2013. (emphasis added)

It’s difficult to imagine John Wesley saying that those called have to pay “the candidacy application fee.” It is somewhat reassuring that the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry does not require that the candidacy fee be paid by credit or debit card. Check or money order are also accepted. Last summer the candidacy application fee was $75.

I’m convinced that, under the current Discipline, the candidacy application fee is illegal. (“Showing proof of one year membership” misstates current disciplinary requirements as well: see ¶¶ 310.1a and 666.8.) Of course my word on this subject is not final; only the Judicial Council’s word would be. It would take an annual conference willing to challenge this fee via a request for a declaratory decision for the Judicial Council to get jurisdiction. There could be other concerns that I’m missing, but I believe there is a strong case that the fee is illegal. A sketch of that argument follows.

The Church Constitution reserves the following legislative powers to the General Conference:

¶ 16. Article IV.—The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional, and in the exercise of this power shall have authority as follows: …

9. To determine and provide for raising and distributing funds necessary to carry on the work of the Church. …

13. To establish such commissions for the general work of the Church as may be deemed advisable.

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry has specific disciplinary language regarding how it shall be funded:

¶ 1409. Provision for Funding—1. The work and program of the board shall be supported from the general benevolences of the Church and the Ministerial Education Fund. Funds received by the board for the divisions from the Ministerial Education Fund shall be restricted to the support of theological schools and the Division of Ordained Ministry in the development of their programs of enlistment, basic professional degree programs, and continuing education (in accordance with ¶ 816.2a and b).

2. Administration and other programs of the divisions shall be supported solely from World Service moneys. The associate general secretaries shall recommend through the general secretary of the board to the General Council on Finance and Administration the amount of financial support that should be allocated for the divisions.

(As far as I tell, the earliest version of the above language first appeared in the 1976 Discipline.)

A mandatory “candidacy application fee” does not qualify under “the general benevolences of the Church,” and it does not qualify under “World Service moneys.” World Service funds are defined under ¶ 812. A mandatory fee cannot qualify as a “solicitation” under ¶ 812.3.

I don’t find ¶ 1413 a convincing basis for the General Board to legally collect the “candidacy application fee.” ¶ 1413 applies to the Division of Higher Education, and the Candidacy Application System appears to fall under the purview of the Division of Ordained Ministry. I’m not sure where this purview appears in ¶ 1421, a paragraph that spans seven pages.

The General Conference does require candidate registration with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. From the 2004 Discipline (¶ 311):

1. Those seeking to begin candidacy for licensed or ordained ministry: …

d) shall be registered through the candidacy mentor with the Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry; …

From the 2008 Discipline (¶ 311):

1. Those beginning candidacy for licensed or ordained ministry: …

b) shall write to the district superintendent requesting admission to the candidacy process and the assignment of a candidacy mentor. Include a statement of call. Request registration through the district superintendent with GBHEM;

c) after registration by the district superintendent with GBHEM, mentor and candidate will study the resources adopted by the conference Board of Ordained Ministry; …

The 2012 Discipline has the same language at ¶¶ 310.1b and .1c.

I simply cannot imagine any basis for requiring a “candidacy application fee” during the registration process without an explicit authorization from General Conference.

Possible objections to the above

$75 isn’t that much money compared to seminary tuition!

Well, no, it isn’t. Requiring only a comparatively small amount of money illegally does not mean that such a requirement is legal.

$75 just covers expenses!

How could ¶ 1409.2 be any clearer?

But The United Methodist Publishing House isn’t limited by the appropriations process! The United Methodist Publishing House gets to operate in the entrepreneurial spirit!

The United Methodist Publishing House’s net income is governed by one of the Restrictive Rules from the Constitution:

¶ 22. Article VI.—The General Conference shall not appropriate the net income of the publishing houses, the book concerns, or the Chartered Fund to any purpose other than for the benefit of retired or disabled preachers, their spouses, widows, or widowers, and children or other beneficiaries of the ministerial pension systems.

The first version of the above rule appeared in the 1808 Discipline (see page 16). The current Discipline also covers net income from The United Methodist Publishing House at ¶¶ 1615 and 1616.

So yes, The United Methodist Publishing House is not limited by the appropriations process. The United Methodist Publishing House is also constitutionally limited in another way.

How is GBHEM supposed to know that this fee is illegal?

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry will know when someone objects. That is why I am objecting.


Prior to the 2012 General Conference, the questions over polity reminded me of this passage from the Federalist 58:

The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose, the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse that powerful instrument by which we behold, in the history of the British Constitution, an infant and humble representation of the people gradually enlarging the sphere of its activity and importance, and finally reducing, as far as it seems to have wished, all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of the government. This power over the purse may, in fact, be regarded as the most complete and effectual weapon with which any constitution can arm the immediate representatives of the people, for obtaining a redress of every grievance, and for carrying into effect every just and salutary measure. …

Principles of Western representative government are part of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church. Leadership that governs without this understanding might get more done in the short term. In the longer term, such governance loses any meaningful claim to governing of the people, by the people, and for the people.

My next post will be the start of a series with the tentative title, “A Tale of Two Bishops”. It might be a few days before the next post.


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