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NON-SUPERINTENDENTS ON THE “APPOINTIVE CABINET’
This decision relies, unspoken, on the absence of prohibition from the Discipline about who may join the Cabinet in consideration of appointments. It opens up the consultation process to outsiders, with one exception, the director of administrative services. That would often be the conference treasurer. That exception is taken in this decision to be “the exception that proves the rule,” that opens up the appointment consultation to whomever the bishop wants.
I disagree with this ruling on three grounds. violation of the original intention of consultation, removing the right of the pastor and church to respond to the non-superintendents’ additions to the consultation, and episcopal overreach.
First, the consultation process began in Wisconsin and was shepherded by our delegates through General Conference in 1980. Its purpose was to include the superintendent, Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, and pastor in a sharing of hopes, dreams, needs, and concerns so that a change or maintaining of an appointment was a shared decision. This was to counter the autocratic appointment processes used in many conferences which caused harm to the pastor and family and the local church.
Despite changes, failure of many Cabinets and some Judicial Councils to take it seriously, the consultation process has survived in church law and when done right has tended to be a morale building process for churches and pastors because their concerns were respected. The negotiations were among the parties affected, with the superintendent mainly acting as moderator until a decision had to be made. Then the bishop would finalize the decision by fixing the appointment, usually in line with the mutually formed decision of the pastor and local church.
The role of a non-superintendent in the negotiations of the consultation is a disruption since the non-superintendent is not related to either the pastor or the local church. In fact, the non-superintendent is not even involved in those direct discussions among superintendent, pastor, and church. Data kept by the conference statistician and treasurer have often been used by the three parties, especially the superintendent, in those consultations so those particular conference officers were not really needed.
The intrusion of non-superintendents violates the original intent of consultation.
Second, the non-superintendents are not engaged in those primary consultation processes and so neither the local church nor the pastor gets to respond to any of their input. The opinions of the non-superintendents cannot be countered by “on the ground” persons involved in the primary discussions.
While it can be argued that the superintendent involved in the pastor/local church discussions can respond on their part as would be done during a superintendents-only appointment session as has been the practice in the past, the non-superintendent has no “skin in the game” other than to be supportive of the bishop. Superintendents are looking out for their pastors and the churches in their district.
If the bishops have been using non-superintendents as a way of getting support to do what they want to do, and now making it a matter of open rather than subrosa practice as a way to stand up to the superintendents, then maybe the discussion ought to be brought up at General Conference to resolve whatever problems arose from only working with the superintendents on appointments. There may be other alternatives that would actually be better personnel practices than concocting an “appointive cabinet.”
The whole point of consultation was to bring in a measure of empowerment of pastors and churches over their own destinies in a system of episcopal appointments. Since neither gets to talk to the non-superintendents to get their input, that empowerment is undercut.
Third, the traditional understanding of appointment-making was that it was the responsibility of the superintendents and bishop to seek the best matches of pastor and church with input by the churches and pastors as part of the consideration. There has been no effort to bring legislation to expand that appointive group. There has been nothing brought to General Conference to regulate such a group. Rather, it has become an episcopal addition without review or balance-of-power elements. Under this decision, the bishop is free to add as many non-superintendents as he or she wants, perhaps stacking the appointive Cabinet to where the superintendents no longer have authority to do their Disciplinary responsibility. Being able to bring in non-superintendents to work on appointments is granting authority from one body to another without General Conference authorization or constitutional support. That is episcopal overreach.
So far, some people in the Arkansas Conference are shining a light on this practice. The Judicial Council has now looked at their situation in six interrelated cases, JCDs 1279, 1280, 1293, 1294, 1301, and now this one
The General Conference may be called upon to deal with this addition by 2020. Overreach usually means overplaying their hand. In a democratic system like ours, such usually is dealt with eventually. It will probably be the cost of extra travel and meeting expenses which will trigger the petitions. But at the heart of countering the overreach will be the sense of oppression and unfairness.