On Undoing a Predecessor Bishop’s Decisions
An Elder in the 2016 Iowa annual conference session announced she was a self-avowed practicing homosexual. A complaint was lodged against her but, for reasons not stated in the decision nor in the docket materials, the bishop dismissed the charges.
The bishop may have felt that the statement was a political statement and not one describing a physical reality. (There’s a lot of that going around these days.) Or he may have felt that in order to prove the statement, it would require “going into her bedroom” or some other implausible way to prove the validity of her claim.
Many bishops and conferences face that dilemma of having to invade privacy in order to get proof and being tough enough to not succumb to the insensitivity of busting in somewhere private.
We do not have any record of the reasons for the bishop’s decision. He is not obligated under law to state publicly why he dismissed the case, though he had to share his reasons with the cabinet and with the pastor by putting his reasons in her file. He did give her a letter of reprimand, according the United Methodist News Service article of September 12, 2016.
In the 2017 conference, the bishop who was assigned to Iowa after the previous bishop’s actions was asked to reconsider the case.
With five questions of law, the “movant” (a good new term for a United Methodist legal dictionary) attempted to reopen a case the previous bishop had closed.
As I have commented several times before, I believe that under Paragraph 415.3, the bishop may answer questions of law about process and thus could deal with the kind of questions asked since they were mostly procedural.
But the Council still uses JCD 799 as its touchstone on what is moot and hypothetical so the bishop quickly hid behind that flawed curtain. But she was also clear that there was no action before her as a new complaint or before the conference for action in some form so the questions were actually all hypothetical. And, more important, they were moot since the previous bishop had followed the Discipline, using his discretion within church law. The previous complaint was duly closed.
People disagree with the law all the time but our compact as a Church (and as a country for that matter) is that we accept the results of the legal process and go on. Law changes are always possible, as our denomination learned in 1972 and since regarding homosexuality. And various forms of appeal, like questions of law, are not out of order.
I do not fault the movant for seeking a lawful effort to get at a legal decision. In fact, it allows the Council to clarify something that the Church needs to learn.
The Council in recent years sees itself much more as teachers of church law and fills many of its rulings with helpful understandings.
One of my hopes for my commentaries is that they shed light on those and spread the learning more widely.