This series of decisions comes from a group that is nearly half “rookies” to the work of the Council. It takes a couple years for each group to do its best work and some groups actually achieve a measure of consistency and quality considering their infrequent meetings and being volunteers. As this set of decisions shows, the Council operates within fairly strict limits of law and practice. Those limits are stated several times.
In the course of my comments, I have suggested that the Secretary or someone authorized by the Council to do some triage the moment any materials come in from the conferences. While the appellants may sometimes be a little lax, it seems most of the problems with insufficient documentation are the fault of the conference secretary. The Council Secretary should be free to immediately let the party know they need to provide additional materials, and not wait until the Council session to raise the problem. Also to be subject to triage would be any questions that do not fit the requirements and limitations the Council points to which do not let them take jurisdiction. The third kind of triage that should be applied immediately in some reasonable and fair way would be remanding back things that could be resolved by other third parties. This third category should be understood as still reviewable by the Council, particularly if the parties are unable to resolve the matter.
It is too bad bishops are so loath to use professional mediators. Too bad some advocates use questions of law from the annual conference floor as a way to resolve everything. Too bad . . . . People are just not talking to each other. Or they are not listening. Or they are predisposed to misrepresent what is happening for whatever reason. The divide between congregation level and cabinet level is a chasm way too large and has grown incredibly since 1980 when superintendency changed from being back-ups to pastors to being sheriffs. When the Discipline changed to allow cabinet members to initiate complaints, all the other factors influencing the gap between superintendents and pastors were exacerbated.
And these systemic ailments manifest themselves in the form of “requests for decisions of law.”
But that takes me to another moment of reflection. I have been surprised by the number of times the phrase “request a decision of law” is used instead of the Disciplinary terminology related to questions of law (asked of the bishop as a form of appeal) and requests for declaratory decisions (to be answered by the Judicial Council mainly to clarify ambiguous or possibly conflicting church laws).
I think the Council should address this terminology and instruct bishops to ask the questioners who they want to answer their question and what change the answer will make. With those two things, the bishop can work out the proper phrasing with the questioner for the inquiry. As in JCD 1329 and other recent questions rising to the Council, too many are neither questions of law nor requests for declaratory decisions but some kind of amalgam which adds to the confusion bishops have about answering or not answering the “request for decisions.”
Finally, this Council has talented people on it. Like when Lebron James and Chris Bosh joined Dewayne Wade on the Miami Heat basketball team, it took half the season before they were able to start winning as a team, so it will take awhile for this group to mesh. In the meantime, it will make some wise and helpful decisions and it will make some mistakes. It will have to sort through its rules to avoid bad ones that cause harm. It will have to agree on definitions of its most commonly used phrases. It may even have to defer some cases where possible in order to avoid harm and find a better resolution. It will have to be creative in some cases in order to be able to bring justice that in the past might not have been possible.
The members must be in our prayers.