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 799


This decision arose from pulling together questions of law from two separate trials of ministers accused of sexual misconduct. The questions of law dealt with procedural matters each respondent experienced and believed were in violation of the Discipline.

The Judicial Council made three important rulings.

One, they ruled that despite the separation of powers, the judicial branch had priority over the legislative with respect to who had the last word on the membership and character of a pastor when that pastor was dealt with in the judicial process.

For two quadrennia, the Discipline provided that the clergy session of the annual conference had to vote on a trial court conviction which changed the pastor’s standing in the conference. This was to be consistent with the constitution which gives to the annual conference the final word on character and membership status of pastors. However, JCD 799 held unconstitutional that provision which required annual conference action if a trial court decided to change the minister’s membership, ruling instead (based on another provision in the Discipline to which it gave precedence) that the Judicial Council has the last word once a case has been in the church's judicial system.

I find this result self-serving but it does eliminate two confusing circumstances. The first is that the annual conference might be swayed by factors other than the evidence seen and heard by the trial court. The second is this: if the trial happened before conference but the appeals had not been completed, the decision of the annual conference could be prejudicial to the appeals.

Two, they ruled that the question of law “must relate to the business, consideration or discussion of the conference session.” The only illustration the Council offered was that the question of law in this case related to a “part of the supervisory function of the district superintendent…” and not to anything which the annual conference had voted on during its plenary session. The Council affirmed the bishop’s ruling without explanation.

The upshot of that affirmation is that once a pastor is made subject to “supervisory function” of a superintendent, the pastor has no right to raise any question of law before the annual conference related to how he or she is treated no matter what the subsequent action of conference officers are after that. The Council indicated that questions of law about any inappropriate actions are to go to the presider of the next hearing/trial in order to retain appeal rights beyond the annual conference and are not appropriate before the annual conference.

On paper that makes some sense. But in practice, there are two major problems. First, sometimes the bishop does not follow the Discipline when taking action against the pastor. In such cases, there are no hearings let alone presiders to whom the pastor can appeal. Second, the chairpersons of the Board of Ordained Ministry and of the Committee on Investigation are pastors subject to the appointive powers of the resident bishop, as are all clergy members of those respective groups. In the case of a church trial, the presiding bishop for the trial is an appointee of the resident bishop, chosen because she or he may be sympathetic with what the resident bishop wants. Once a procedure has moved to the appeals level, this new precedent in JCD 799 defers to the judgment of those closest to the decision-making, essentially leaving all questions of law to those under the influence of the resident bishop. More on that in discussion of JCD 1094.

Three, the Council established guidelines for bishops to determine what were moot and hypothetical questions of law. Those guidelines are now written into the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Council. They retain the Disciplinary strictures about who may raise the questions, how they are to be recorded, that the bishop must answer if only to say they are moot/hypothetical, and submit them to the Council.

It appears that to the Judicial Council, a matter is moot if it has been decided already by a previous judicial action, should have been taken to a hearing presider in the next step of the judicial process rather than to the annual conference, or has become a matter under the supervisory function of the superintendent and is thus now “judicial” and outside the authority of the bishop under the doctrine of the separation of powers. A matter is hypothetical if the question of law does not refer to a specific case where an answer to the question would have a possibility of changing the results of that event.

This decision fails to deal with three passages of the Discipline. Two of them relate to the nature of questions of law, neither of which includes any restrictions on what questions may be raised. The Council points to a JCD from 1946, based on a passage no longer in the Discipline which does not require rulings on moot and hypothetical questions. That is their source of authority.

The third passage not considered by the Council is the one which lists as a duty of the bishop to ensure fair process through monitoring all of the judicial and administrative actions of annual conference groups charged with those procedures. If the bishop is to ensure, then the bishop must be subject to questions of law about those procedures.

In practice, bishops have tended to call every question of law they did not want to answer “moot” and/or “hypothetical.” The Council has not always challenged the bishops when they did that. So bishops continue to avoid their responsibilities by trying to pass them off this way, often successfully.

As a consequence, advocates have lost a tool in their fight for justice. Until this ruling in 1997, a number of injustices were reconciled by Judicial Council decisions. Since then, too many questions of law have tended to go unanswered, even those outside the administrative and judicial processes.

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