USE OF TRIADS
This decision is disappointing until the concurring opinion. When in doubt, read only that.
The reputation of Rev. Dr. Bill Lawrence as a Discipline hawk with respect to protecting the rights of clergy gets a boost with his critique of the “Clergy Triad Process” used in the Texas Annual Conference. I truly wish the concurring opinion was the Decision for the instant case so that the serious flaws of the use of triads could be noted in church law rather than just as observations in a concurring opinion.
.It can’t be (though the Council has turned into church law an answer to a question not asked. See JCD 1244) under the circumstances of the instant decision. The first question about the standing of a pastor was moot because it should have been brought when his situation was under review of the Clergy Session during a previous year. The second question, though it triggered the Lawrence statement, was hypothetical because there was no action during the whole of the Annual Conference to which the question could be tied.
The re-use of JCD 799 was irrelevant and certainly confuses readers of this docket who saw in JCD 1244 that bishops must answer questions of law about process. Let me quote the key line in that decision.
“The removal of a candidate’s name from the list of candidates proceeding forward in the ordination process is clearly a matter that falls within the purview of the business of the annual conference regarding the ordination of clergy.”
The substance is not at issue, only the process (“removal of a name”). As I argued in the posting on JCD 1244, the bishop is authorized by the Discipline to “ensure” fair process (P 415.3) and as the one under law to monitor it in process, must intervene when fair process is endangered. Who else but the bishop can answer for failures of process in those circumstances?
Bringing up JCD 799 muddies the waters.
The real problem for the questioner is this: The triad procedures are not under either the Discipline or the conference rules but are designed, directed, and controlled by the Cabinet, as interpreted by the Bishop.
How does one go about drawing attention to the imbalance of power and the misuse of the triad process to handle complaints when the advocate has to deal with his/her bosses?
It is possible that the advocate contacted the superintendent of his pastor friend to discuss the imbalance and potential harm of the triad process. Since that may not have worked, he may have gone to the bishop about it. Most bishops tend to be loath to accept challenges to the procedures they like and find effective. So the advocate may have approached the Board of Ordained Ministry about the case to see if anyone there would support some way to challenge the triad system. Such efforts, in my experience, can take at least a year before the advocate finally learns what he feared, that no one in that set of people was willing to join him in standing up to the practice of the bishop and Cabinet. That took him well past the time when the case should have been brought to the floor (immediately after it was in the Clergy Session).
Being a reconciler when dealing with power usually does not work But this being the Church and seeking to act in a Christian manner, it is worth a try. Matthew 18:15 and all that. I have to say that when it works, it does not come to my attention or to the Judicial Council’s! Only the times when it does not work does it cross over to where church law has to be formally applied and enforced.
Reconciling efforts did not help the questioner or his pastor friend. Working through the Annual Conference is the option given in the instant case by the Council. Good luck with that.
There is an option that has possibilties. Since the main obstacle to dealing with the Cabinet’s procedure is somehow getting it into the business of the Conference, the advocate might offer the following motion:
“I move that the “Clergy Triad Process” be added to the rules of the Annual Conference.”
It could be offered during the Rules Committee report or during the report of the Cabinet. Once the motion is before the body, it becomes part of the business of the conference and then requests for Judicial Council rulings would be in order.
Another would be to bring up the use of the Triad in the case of a particular pastor during the Clergy Session and make a motion that the pastor be considered under a different category (return to appointment) because the use of the triad in that pastor’s case violated fair process. By making the motion, including the name of the pastor and identifying the triad process in the motion, it becomes part of the business of the conference and then request rulings.
Something needs to be done through the Conference and those are some possibilities.
I mention above the confusion engendered by the ignoring of JCD 799 in JCD 1244 and then bringing it up in this Decision. I would like to address how divergences from precedent may occur at the hands of the Council.
When a docketed item reaches the Council, the president assigns it to a working committee of one to three Council members to study and present a draft decision. Each group may receive more than one item. Sometimes the working group gets cases that are similar and sometimes not. Some working groups shift so that two of the three remain to work on a different docketed item with a different member. At least this is what I hear happens. Once the working groups conclude their work on some of their assigned cases, the Council meets to review, critique, and suggest alternative thoughts. The groups then resume their work to revise and edit their drafts. Once all of the cases have been reviewed and revised, the Council goes to open hearing on any cases where that is granted. Any new concepts or facts that arise from the hearings are considered for editing into the drafts by the respective working groups. The whole Council then reconvenes to finalize its decisions.
What may not happen, as the Council gets down to the end of their time together, is checking for consistency in their rulings. I can imagine many scenarios why that “quality control” step does not occur. I have already hypothesized that a particular bishop or appellant may rub the Council (or a majority thereof) the wrong way, thus allowing for contradictory decisions. It is also a possible strategy to diverge on purpose to allow the Council to always have an out on a different case to go the other way with an alternative precedent. Neither bit of speculation is a positive consideration and Council members could very well be offended by both.
The point is that it is stunning to track the handling of cases over the years and see the Council go back and forth between opposing precedents. The chances are that given the short number of days they work together, the Council simply runs out of time.
Some day, soon I hope, someone will take a scholarly interest in the Judicial Council and will take a look at the history of decisions, of divergence on precedents, and the impact of rulings on the Church’s actual practices. Maybe another scholar will tell the stories about the major conflicts within the Church and how the Council’s actions influenced those conflicts. Maybe someone else will do the personal side, providing biographies of appellants and members and their careers outside the work of the Council, and the impact they have had on church law.
In conclusion, the Council in the same session reversed itself, though it did not have to. The concurring opinion raises the right questions about triads. This is one of those questions of law they should have answered even when it was not properly before them….