Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Monday, August 19, 2019

Commentary on Judicial Council Decisions 1369 to 1379

The following observations are intended to encourage you to read the decisions of the Judicial Council for yourself. These blog posts are in no way church law in any form but could help you understand some important aspects of the decisions.  Should you feel I have made an error of fact or interpretation, please let me know (email at aj_eckert@hotmail.com) so it can be corrected.

I began offering commentaries in November of 2008, starting with JCD 1099.  This brings them up to date.  While I have not considered going back to the earlier decisions of the Council, there have been a few that have drawn comments that you may discover on this blog.

Please feel free to send your questions about any ruling by the Judicial Council, past or present, for my observations based on your question.  Like this blog, my answers carry no weight of law.  But maybe we can both learn something.

I've included the URL for each of the rulings. That should allow you to click it or paste it so you can go directly to the decision. I’ve added subject titles and have put in labels that can be picked up by search engines.

Each decision’s commentary is posted separately so this review doesn't seem so long! And by using the list of contents in the left margin of this blog, you can go to whichever decision is of interest to you.

The phrase “the Council” when used refers to the Judicial Council.

Rulings of the Council may be referred to as JCDs (Judicial Council Decisions) or JCMs.  Judicial Council Memorandums do not provide decisions of law but may refuse to take jurisdiction, remand, or show a question is not legally appropriate under Council rules.  On rare occasions, the Council may provide their rationale in a memorandum.

The Judicial Council website now offers a search function which covers every JCD since 1940.  Go to http://www.umc.org/decisions/search.  The web page gives you several options for finding any decision(s) you may want.  To go to a listing of every decision, leave the boxes empty and just click on the “Search” bar.  To follow up on a theme such as “separation of powers,” or if you remember a short phrase from a decision, or know the conference or a person involved, type that into the “Keywords” box.  Then click on “Search.”  To go to a specific decision by number, ignore the “Keywords” box and type the number into the “Decision Number” box and click on “Search.”  Follow the instructions given on the page to search based on other things like approximate date of the decision.  Clicking on “Search” for all these options provides a list of possible decisions.  Scan those listed to find the most likely decisions that can be of help to you.  To get into a decision itself, click on the red text.

Once into the text of a particular decision, you will not find your phrase highlighted.  To highlight a key phrase you search for, do “Ctrl f” on PC compatible computers or “Command f” on Apple computers.  That gives you a drop down box at the top of the page.  Type in your phrase, click on “Enter,” and the phrase will be highlighted in that decision.

Another source of help to find and understand particular decisions, I found articles about people and decisions in United Methodist News Service under www.UMC.org.  I clicked on “News and Media” at the top of their page, clicked on “United Methodist News” to get to their home page and then clicked on the magnifying glass icon in the upper right hand corner.  That opened a box at the top of the page.  I could put in key words, names, or numbers followed by clicking on “Enter.”  The search function will let you know which articles had that content.  There are articles going back as far as 1952, though the articles are not in chronological order.  Not think every article has yet been digitized and posted on the site as yet.

Hopefully, my commentaries on this blog will be a valued resource in your search for understanding church law and its contexts.  I also hope my directions for navigating in UM sites will help you in your research on the work of the Judicial Council.

All my commentaries on Council decisions are subject to editing, updating, and revision.  You may want to check back from time to time on decisions of special interest to you.

DISCLAIMER:  The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the writer and are not necessarily those of Associates in Advocacy nor its individual members.  While the writer has made it a practice of letting AIA’s officers see these commentaries prior to their being posted on the blog, there have been no endorsements by them or the organization now or over past years.

JCM 1369

Another Request Bites the Dust

A group of pro-LGBTQAI pastors prepared resolutions for the North Texas Annual Conference, and got them in on time to be printed in the pre-conference report.  However, because of the proximity of the special-called General Conference (GC2019), a motion was made to table the resolutions, awaiting the results of GC2019 and it was passed.  This was part of the process to deal with the consent calendar, not a presenting of motions to bring them to the floor for consideration.

After the vote to table, one of the group attempted to remove one of the resolutions which defined “inside the church” as the site for gay marriages or celebrations of gay unions.  The resolution would have allowed the definition to free pastors to conduct those services outside the church buildings, literally on their steps.  The “movant,’ the pastor arguing to pull that resolution off the table, argued it was not directly related to homosexuality so he “requested a ruling of law” about the meaning of “inside the church” in Par. 341.6.  The bishop ruled him out of order.  The movant failed to ask the plenary to overrule the bishop.  The plenary was given a chance to vote on the untabling of that resolution which failed.  After the annual conference ended, as the secretary was leaving, she received the hand-written request for a ruling of law.  The bishop reported it, saying it was out of order because the written request came after the close of conference and the matter had been resolved against the movant parliamentarily.  

Reading the docket item 0219-7 was better than just reading the summary by the Council, good as it was.

The Council was unable to take jurisdiction because the resolutions never “made it to the floor” because the advocating group failed to get the resolutions to be motions by failing to overcome the tabling motion.  That the resolutions had been printed in the pre-conference materials did not give them standing as motions before the conference.

I’ve commented in past postings here that when a pastor raises a “request for a ruling of law,” the bishop should suggest that the pastor meet with the conference chancellor or other competent person to go over the rules and options for raising legal matters for review by the Judicial Council and try to help get that concern into the best form possible and then arrange a time for the request, in proper form, be presented to the conference.  The bishop, according to the minutes, did not interrupt the plenary to allow such a help to be offered.  

Practically speaking, the movant didn’t have a chance anyway because the conference members saw right away it was related to the gay issues of the other two resolutions.  

Interestingly, the final result, though it was an unsuccessful bid to reach a ruling by the Council, got attention all the way to the Council.  Maybe that was all the group wanted, attention to their resolutions and the issue of how tightly Par. 341.6 should be read.  

Update:  Maybe a parliamentarian can say whether or not presentation of resolutions on a consent calendar is a form of motion to the floor.  My Robert’s Rules training never included “consent calendar” actions.

JCD 1370

Authority of the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters 

The title should be, “This Is Embarrassing”

Years ago, General Conference set up a standing committee to be able to vet petitions about Central Conference matters to be sure they were sensible and would work to benefit the central conferences rather than be disruptive or inappropriate.

Someone thought it was a good idea to change when Central Conference bishops had to retire and sent in a petition.  It should have been sent to the standing committee but it went straight to the legislative committee from where it was put on the consent calendar and got passed by General Conference.  

When the mistake was discovered, it had to be referred to the Council to halt its application because it would have caused a number of central conferences to be without a bishop with a half year or more before they could elect a new one.  (Read the dockets, you all.  That’s where the fun stuff is, the real reasons for the necessity for a ruling by the Council.)

How could such a thing happen?  I know the Petitions Secretary.  I think of him as a competent and careful guy, though I do not think he is immune to General Conference politics.  He should have made the correct referral.  But maybe he did.  The Committee on Reference is the second place where a referral could have been misdirected.  There have been some times the committee fought off bad suggestions about referrals of petitions to the wrong legislative committees and other times they succumbed.  The third place a petition can be shifted is from a legislative committee where someone should have known to get the bad petition properly vetted by the standing committee.  But from the “title” of the petition as it is given in the decision, it never left the legislative committee.  (Referrals are indicated by the initials of the various legislative committees in which the petition was reviewed added to the ‘title”.)

Why could such a thing happen?  Carelessness is far and away the most likely.  It did not seem to be a significant enough issue considering the tensions facing the denomination and slipped through the cracks.  But as I said, three different folks/groups had a shot at getting the referral to the standing committee right and they all missed.  

Having watched the denomination for sixty years, forty of them focusing on the underbelly because of my experience in advocacy, whenever I see something related to the bishops, my inclination is to look for the hand of one of several manipulative bishops playing some kind of game for his/her own benefit.  But I have no concrete grounds in this case to tie this mistake to any agenda.  

So for now, all I can say is that it was an embarrassing mistake and it has been resolved.  The Council would have been better off resolving it a year ago when it first came up rather than deferring it to the February session.  There is a good chance the matter was not going to actually impact any retirements during that year.  However, I am wondering if the Council can consider establishing a way to handle relatively simple cases like this in the interim.  They have an emergency process which they have used for the Bishops when they request attention on their own sense of urgency (such as JCD 1360).  But now the Council faces appeals of cases which are under a time factor from pastors that need nearly immediate review (such as JCD 1373, and items I am aware of that are on or should be on the docket for Fall, 2019).  I think it is within their authority to set up a “rapid response team” to deal with such needs with some kind of checks-and-balances.

JCD 1371

Episcopal Activism Gone Awry

Most of us are aware that racism in the United States has led to a new kind of “white flight.”  In the 1960s, it was to the suburbs.  But now it is to private schools paid for by public tax dollars but with no real accountability to the public.  When a bishop proud of his reputation on such matters decided to do something about it, he got eleven conference agencies to vote to take action and then channeled their energy through the Greater New Jersey Conference Board of Trustees to enter a law suit to do something about it.

The Judicial Council caught him cutting one major corner, not letting the annual conference vote to support the action, a Disciplinary requirement, before the Trustees (the appropriate legal entity) could enter such a legal action.  He wanted it done on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education case, four days before annual conference.  He got the conference’s approval after the suit was entered but the Council did not let him get away with it.

The Council is not being inadvertently racist here.  The majority on the Council are people of color.

They are sending a message.  There is the rule of law in our denomination.  Just because someone had a good motivation about a real problem does not release them from their commitment to uphold the Discipline.  

Whether the bishop was on an ego trip or was simply careless about church law, he chose to add the symbolism, the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling, rather than call an emergency meeting of the annual conference.  By the way, just a few months before, he did call an emergency meeting of the annual conference for another purpose, according to my sources.

Embarrassing, no doubt about it.  The suit had to be withdrawn, which is sad.

JCD 1372

A Question of Terminology

The Greater New Jersey layman bringing the question about directing that local church conferences should be held simultaneously in a central meeting place got lost in a new bad practice, using the phrase “request a ruling of law.”  No one brought to the attention of the layman who he wanted to answer that question.  If he wanted the bishop to answer it, he should have followed the route for using a question of law Par. 2609.6).  The bishop would then get to rule (as he could do in this case).  And his ruling had the weight of law until the Council acted on it.  In this case, the Council reversed his decision, not because it was wrong, but because it was inappropriate for him to have answered a question that had been incorrectly raised for adjudication by the Council.

The Council would have had to rule as it did because questions of law have to be about something specific being acted upon by the conference.  No such motion was before or had been passed by the plenary related to the question.  The lay person would have been wise to make a motion challenging the abuse of the Discipline on this point and then, if need be, bring the question of law.

Had the lay person requested a declaratory decision (Par. 2610) which the conference could have discussed (which would have been better for the request), voted upon, and thus referred to the Council, there could well have been a ruling to counter the way decisions about church conferences were being made.

JCM 1373

Appeal of Administrative Personnel Actions
I was a consultant in this case appealed under Paragraph 2718.3-.4.  I should not offer my commentary until after the case has been resolved.

JCM 1374

Not Our Problem

The Council did an interesting thing.  It clarified a line of appeal that had not been identified before.

Here’s the deal.  A West Ohio Committee on Investigation chose to strip out almost all of the allegations in the judicial complaint against a pastor on homosexuality-related charges.  

The Discipline allows the church counsel in such a case to appeal to the jurisdiction’s committee on appeals if he/she feels the process contained egregious errors of law.  

Upon that appeal, the jurisdiction’s committee ruled that the committee on investigation had done egregious things, remanded the case for rehearing, but then also “paused” any further judicial action until after GC2019.

That did not sit well with the church counsel, being anxious to prosecute this case so he appealed to the Judicial Council.  

Note that this appeal is an interlocutory one, seeking judicial action out of the normal order.  Normal order would have been committee on investigation-church trial-appeal to the jurisdiction-appeal to the Judicial Council.  

The Council honored the interlocutory appeal to the jurisdiction after the committee on investigation and before trial just like they did in JCD 1361.  In that case. they allowed an interlocutory appeal between the administrative review committee and the annual conference because that is what the Discipline says, not what conference officers wanted it to say..

And then the Council ruled on one more thing.  The Discipline says nothing about such an interlocutory appeal going on to the Judicial Council.  According to Par. 2715.10, appeals dealing with alleged egregious errors of law go only to the jurisdiction and no further, compared to other places where appeals are allowed to go to the Council (Pars. 2715.9 and 2718.3).

Oops!  Those who put together all the legalistic anti-gay legislation missed one.  (Update:  They caught it and added the Council at GC2019.  See JCD 1378, concurring opinion.)

And the Judicial Council “walked” without having to get involved.  While it appears this Council tends to be conservative in its majority, it is still a “rule of law” body and is pretty “strictly by the book,” as it should be.  No matter what ways we all wish the book were different and try to change it, at least the Council still goes by what’s there.