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.

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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.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

JCD 1094


The case behind this decision is of a pastor facing allegations of sexual misconduct (perceived unwanted touches and hugs, perceived suggestive comments, etc.) which if true should have received appropriate sanctions.

Church law does not have the civil court equivalent of an “Alford Plea,” a non-admission of guilt but acceptance of a guilty verdict because proving otherwise would be very difficult. This is very popular with insurance companies bonding the accused professional because they then do not have to face the cost of a trial they might lose. The pastor under accusation had been accused of misconduct a number of years earlier and may have felt that prejudiced any chance he had of successfully defending himself against the accusations of five women from his church, two of whom were on staff with him. He chose to seek a just resolution, as provided by the Discipline, in order to withdraw from the situation without the cost and stress of facing trial under the circumstances. The process did develop a resolution to which the pastor agreed. For reasons not made evident in the text of this decision, he requested withdrawal from the resolution, which was granted. He then faced trial and was convicted. Having failed in an attempt to use questions of law to resolve many Disciplinary violations he perceived had occurred, he took his questions to the presiding bishop of the trial who claimed he had no authority to respond to them. On that ground, the trial should have been remanded since the appeal process requires,as the Council pointed out, that the presider at the next level to respond to pre-trial objections.

While I had nothing to do with this case and have no more facts about it than are included in the decision’s text, full disclosure requires that I say that I was a consultant in the earlier case and had access to the evidence and provided suggestions for the pastor’s use at that time. He returned to ministry after a period of “punishment.” In the decade and a half that followed, there were no more accusations until the ones from the group of women arose. And their accusations did not match the "MO" of the earlier one.

The Judicial Council received the case after the jurisdictional appeals committee ruled against the pastor and he chose to pursue his appeal.

They did not respond to all of the pastor’s many appeal questions. Their rulings on the ones they did answer were mostly clear and cogent. But four stood out to me:

First, they acceded to the trail court as being the best to weigh the testimony. Despite having the transcripts in their hands to cross-check what each witness said against the specifications and to develop a timeline which might have supported testimony of the pastor (or not), they simply refused to do any analysis of the transcript, leaving the decision about the value of the accusers’ words to the trial court. They did not use their advantage of separation and non-investment in the trial to be sure the witnesses were really credible.

Second, they acknowledged they and the appeals committee were responsible for weighing the evidence. While not pointing to any evidence the church brought to support the allegations, the Council asserted the evidence sustained the charges.

Third, they focused on the value of the witnesses and evidence with respect to the charges but not to the specifications. Specifications were not mentioned in that part of the decision. But the Discipline is clear there can be no charge if there is no specification which supports it.

Fourth, while being clear that specifications are there for the Church to prove, the Council again acceded to the trial court as to whether or not the trial court thought the testimony and evidence were convincing, not whether the Church proved the respective specifications. By so doing, they removed the burden of proof from the Church and left it in the hands of the trial court, making meaningless their assertion that the Church had to prove specifications.

Because of the milieu in which we operate as a church, we do not want to be compared with the Roman Catholics who have lost in civil court over accusations of pedophilia and other sexual misconduct. Many years ago, after a flurry of law suits against our Church over alleged sexual misconduct, the General Counsel for the United Methodist Church went around the country urging that all allegations of sexual impropriety be handled as true. While her intent may have been to keep such allegations from being swept under the rug, the impact has been that church leaders take all allegations as true, presuming guilt (which is contrary to the Discipline).

As this review implies, the pastor may not have been guilty of anything but we do not know. The Judicial Council has not shown in this ruling that it even gave any thought to the possibility that the trial court was unfair in any way nor that testimony and evidence proved anything specific. That sets a dangerous precedent.

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