COMPLAINTS AGAINST AN AFRICAN BISHOP
Evidence is clear that a bishop misused funds sent by Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference a few years ago. The Council has had this matter before them in JCD 1238 and JCM 1241. At the time, the bishop was facing charges before the Central Conference College of Bishops and was having his salary cut by GCFA because of serious irregulariities in the bookkeeping. It was pretty clear that the bishop preferred the African cultural approach rather than the more strict rules of the UMC most in Africa follow. A retired missionary decribed it this way:
“There are others who follow African cultural standards which, in my experience, are 1) people with power are expected to take care of their own—first their extended family, then their tribe, then the rest of the populace, and 2) use the resources you have today for today’s needs and trust God or the ancestors to provide for tomorrow.”
Even though there was no evidence that there had even been a hearing with the bishop within the Central Conference, the bishop had assured the Council that there had been a hearing and that they had exonerated him.
The Council said in JCD 1238 church law was not sufficient to cover the fund handling, asked the bishop to pay one of the mission gifts that was clearly designated, and considered the complaint process against the bishop ongoing.
Reconsideration was requested in JCM 1241 and the Council denied it. However, in a concurring opinion, all parties were reminded that the Council retained jurisdiction.
The matter before the Council in this case is whether proper procedures had been followed in handling the complaint of the Western Pennsylvanbia complaint against the African bishop.
The Council’s response is that the text if Paragraph 413 is too vague and contradictory to provide guidance for the African Central Conference College of Bishops to follow and that the General Conference needs to address this inadequacy in church law. The Council identified the only group that can dismisss a complaint, that being a Committee on Investigation. However, they noted that since no complaint had been referred to either the judicial track nor to the adminsitartive track to further process the complaint, it was “effectively dismissed.”
Not considered by the Council in this matter is a JCD 331, which provides “basic rules” by which the application and interpretation of the Discipline can be aided. In this case, the first of the three could have been used: “Acts in relation to the same subject or object should be construed together.”
In this case, that would mean that where Paragraph 413 was not clear, it could be compared with the appropriate sections of administrative fair processes (mainly Paragraphs 362-363) and judicial fair processes (mainly Paragraphs 2701-2719)..
The advocate for Western Pennsylvania Conference began that comparison. I am not ready to do that for this writing so there is no sure conclusion that I can offer that the result would differ in all points from what the Council has said. But those who made the request for a ruling obviously felt such a comparison could have led to a more definitive evaluation of what has or has not happened in the handling of the complaints in this case.
Update: The Council ruled in JCD 1281 its jurisdiction was ended on this case.