RECONSIDERATION OF JCMS 1176, 1184, 1192 and 1205
For the fifth time, someone in California-Nevada Conference raised a question about the closing of a church without all of the proper steps having been followed. In two of the four previous Council responses, the argument was that the original request was parliamentary and not a question of law.
The Council resolves this request for reconsideration in the same way. However, it presents much more of the story so that its decision has that much more historical context. For one thing, they report that the bishop okayed the closing without there being a vote of the Cabinet as the Discipline requires. However, at some time, possibly in 2011, the bishop allowed the lay person speaking on behalf of the congregation to make his argument and then asked the conference to vote. The result was a conference vote to consummate the closing. That fulfilled an unusual Disciplinary passage which says that the Discipline did not have to be followed in order for the matter to be settled by the conference. Is that even constitutional?
The history added to this decision (note it is not called a memorandum even though all the Council does is turn down a request for reconsideration) describes a number of breakdowns and conflicts but only from the point of view of the pastor, superintendent, and conference committees involved and not from the church members. Were the conflicts in the church because of a few people who were trouble-makers and had a disruptive history in that church? Was there a better way to handle that possibility? Or was the pastor being arbitrary and heavy-handed in seeking to resolve the problems? Were the pastor’s actions legal under the Discipline? Was a bad situation exacerbated by bad appointments to that church where sensitivity to cross-cultural and cross-racial issues were critical? Did Cabinet members take arbitrary actions that worsened a tough situation?
In some ways, the Council needs to be commended for its patience (five requests for relief based on one event that would ordinarily be cut off after the first request for reconsideration). In some ways, it appears that the situation was handled badly and the Council’s hands were tied by rules governing their authority. In some ways, those seeking to resolve the conflicts which arose from processes and attitudes failed in their attempts to get it before the Council in a proper way. In some ways, it feels like the Council passed up an opportunity to resolve a situation which was not really out of their reach.
Even what seems to be a simple case can be far more complex and far less tractable to our legal procedures. To me, the more that is actually known about everything, the better chance there is to resolve it justly. And if there were misrepresentations made, can any resolution by the Council in this case mean anything? Technically, because the Discipline gives the Council the last word, we all have to move on. But with what confidence?