CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ON THE 2014 FALL SESSION
The amazing scope of concerns from elections to property to judicial events to merging conferences to same sex issue resolutions to international concerns is mind boggling. But this Council seems to be handling it quite well.
The session included a great deal of discussion of what is moot and hypothetical. Seven of the decisions deal with them. They are something I have been fretting over for years because they seemed to always be asserted in cases where pastors were being mistreated by their leaders. Thanks to this session’s efforts, most of my questions have been answered so I am ready to offer a revision of Appendix A for the Council’s consideration.
This session showed respect for precedent and continues to show the difference in resolutions which call for violating the Discipline (prescriptive) and those suggesting to change the Discipline and the Church’s behaviors (aspirational). Not everyone seems to be willing to recognize that difference but at least the Council is consistent.
This session reveals how we as a denomination are becoming more open to our international nature by having significant decisions on everything from impact on election of delegates to General Conference to working justice across continental boundaries. We have always been an international church so we are not just now becoming internationalized. We are learning how to be less paternalistic and more in equal community with one another. The Council is helping bridge that gap.
Though I have been critical of details in a number of the decisions, my main concern this time is that, in the Council’s haste to do as much as it can in its limited amount of time, it might want to consider assigning someone they trust to review each decision in order to provide two functions: consistency, and “quality control.”
It is not uncommon that the Council actiually says two different things about the same issue in different decisions done during the same session. For example, clarity of Paragraph 413 differs between JCDs 1275 and 1287.
With respect to “quality control,” one of the strengths of this Council has been its grace in respecting the parties of the cases before them and being patient enough also to educate so their decisions help parties and interested readers to understand the grounds for the decisions.
In my commentaries, I referred four or five times to impatience and disrespect that I perceived in decisions this time around. Both impatience and disrespect (and abruptness) are symptoms of exhaustion more than anything else, though I do think some people are just that way. Someone needs to help the Council spot those moments or those whole decisions that contain a negative tone and “clean them up.” That does not mean there would be a change in the law. It would just mean a better manifestation of the grace with which I associate this Council. An individual good at such editting (perhaps the one who did JCD 1285?) would be one means. Another is that the whole body of the Council use self-discipline in each working committee as well as in whole Council sessions. Whatever device or procedure is chosen, it will be helping make God’s grace more clear in what the Council does.
As a postscript, let me add this: The track record of complaints against bishops continues to be dismissal unless the accusation of sexual misconduct was the complaint. Misuse of funds, undermining the ministry of pastors, violations of the Discipline with respect to personnel and fair process actions all tend to disappear, even those related to the highest profile controversy of same sex issues. If the Council intends to be objective and not be the “bishops’ best friend,” this session has not aided holding bishops accountable. On questions of law in some cases, the Council called out the bishop for inappropriate understandings of church law. But that is as far as accountability has been going.
The Council has occasionally been creative within church law in order to right some wrongs (JCDs 1131, 1156, and 1244 to name some). I hope it will be so in future cases where bishops face complaints of doing harm and appear to be allowed at lower judicial levels to just “walk.”