There are three points to note about the eight decisions made in the spring session. One, the bishops got some real breaks and some pastors did not. Two, the bishops are learning the difference between aspirational and prescriptive resolutions on same sex matters. Three, the judicial process has gone back to being more complicated with the return of the Committee on Investigation in the clergy judicial process.
During this session, the bishops became even more bullet-proof. In JCD 1291,
bishops retained control over the adminsitrative process from beginning to end, with no appeal to anyone outside the influence of command of the bishop. General Conference is not going to change that because the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, whose petitions to General Conference pre-empt all others on the administrative track and whose members are close to a majority on the Ministry Legislative Committee at General Conference, will never put forward something the bishops do not want. If the Committee on Reference of the General Conference would put all of the complaint processes whether administrative or judicial into the Judicial Legislative Committee as nearly happened in 2008, something might actually get done to relieve this lack of appeal in the administrative track.
In JCM 1295, had there been an appeal process available that had objective eyes and ears, that case is very likely to have come in an appropriate manner to the Council. But again, the valiant effort of a retired Elder to save the ministry of a provisional minister fell short, leaving the bishop untouched . . . legally.
In JCD 1298, the Council ruled that if the other bishops in a particular bishop’s college of bishops did not hold their colleague accountable, no other agency in the church could really do much about it.
Legalities of a general nature, when understood, as in the case of recent church trials, are there to protect all members and leaders of the church from arbitrary actions, including the bishops. At least this Council is good about pointing out those generalities so that future cases can be handled better and allow the Council to overturn some of the harmful behaviors of some bishops that have thus far gone unimpeded.
But where the Council turned back two pretty serious mishandlings of pastors because of the technicalities of church law, two bishops breathed easier as a result of the Council’s not looking for legitimate and creative ways to bring them up short.
Legal technicaities also led to decisions (JCMs 1293 and 1294) that allow the bishops to add anyone they want to the appointive Cabinet, an entity made up by the bishops so they can have their right hand men/women there to help. While I understand the need for Cabinets to have help to do everything they must as General Conference and annual conferences refer all kinds of extra tasks to them, such additions to the “appointive” Cabinet are unregulated and subject to the ego of the bishop. For now, again, bishops can breathe easier on this matter too.
Second, the Council continues to handle resolutions on same sex issues with clarity (JCDs 1292 and 1297), continuing to distinguish between aspirational and prescriptive language. The bishops who were involved in the two cases before the Council got it right.
Finally, the most important decision to come out of this session is the return of the Committee on Investigation (COI) for pastors (JCD 1296). A bishop’s comments were important in leading to the decision: bishops who are presiders at church trials need the extra background provided in the COI hearings in order to prepare for the trial. I think those who wanted to avoid a COI for pastors never presided at a trials and hoped eliminating it would make it easier to get a guilty verdict by keeping the respondent and his/her advocate from getting any practice before the trial!
The removal of the COI from the judicial track only for pastors but not everyone else was the legal grounds for the rehabilitation of this often awkward group. It tends to meet so rarely that it has a long learning curve whenever a complaint is to be handled. And too many people in our system want to make it into a grand jury where the respondent has no presence or voice, contrary to the purpose of any church judicial action, to seek reconciliation.
In conclusion, the Council closed out one international judicial case, corrected an error by the General Conference, clarified a number of things, and followed legal technicalities that ended sincere efforts to help pastors. AIA has its work cut out for itself to prevent the latter from failing to get justice.