Several years ago, I was invited to help Bishop Daniel Wandabula in his conflict with the Western Pennsylvania Conference over his use of the conference’s donations to ministry in his area. I invited one of our associates in advocacy to sit in with the bishop’s team for the Judicial Council hearing.
My own inquiries about the case led me to believe the complaints of the Western Pennsylvania aanual conference in that dispute, though I had no leverage in the case to do anything about it. I found the decisions related to his case left me unsatisfied that justice would be done. See my commentaries on JCDs 1238, 1275, 1281, and 1298.
The record indicates that the Council referred the original Western Pennsylvania complaint to the African Central Conference College of Bishops (ACCCB). The ACCCB in turn dismissed the charges. At the same time, the ACCCB received complaints from General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) and the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) saying that audits and some other financial records were flawed and GCFA would withhold salary and other expenses until the finances were handled according to agency standards. The ACCCB asked the Judicial Council about that and the Council ruled GCFA could not withhold salary of the bishop though they could withhold other kinds of funding. GCFA continued withholding payment of housing and office expenses pending an acceptable audit. The ACCCB claimed the audits were adequate and said they thought JCD 1298 prohibited GCFA from withholding housing and office expenses.
Dissenting opinions from JCD 1298 pointed out that the Judicial Council should not have taken jurisdiction since it is not a trial court (“fact finding body”). General Conference in 2016 then passed constitutional amendments giving the Council of Bishops authority to deal with that kind of conflict. It will take a year to see if those amendments are supported in votes taken at annual conferences around the world. So GCFA did not press the complaint as a judicial matter pending the outcome of the acceptance of those amendments. But they have continued to withhold the housing and office expenses.
Here in JCM 1353, the ACCCB is asking the Judicial Council to resolve its conflict with GCFA. There is no record of the college of bishops seeking reconsideration JCD 1298, which would have been appropriate to try. So they tried seeking a declaratory decision again.
The Council voted this time in line with the dissenting opinions from JCD 1298 that the request for a declaratory decision is related to limited responsibilities like testing for constitutionality but not to resolving an interagency dispute. The ACCCB offered no new grounds for jurisdiction.
My reading of JCD 1298 is that the Council assured GCFA that while it could not cut the bishop’s salary, it has authority to withhold other expenses. But not knowing how much GCFA would withhold, had to include the phrase “and expenses” in other passages of the decision. This kind of clarification does not happen to be included in JCM 1353.
So GCFA and GBGM have the Disciplinary authority to set the rules on audits and funding outside of salary of bishops. As things stand, the ACCCB can’t change that. Despite their cultural values of “tribe first” and “God will take care of tomorrow” which has served much of Africa well, the ACCCB, depending on American resources to fund their ministry, appears to have two major choices, have audits that are acceptable to the Church agencies and face the consequences of what they show or find alternative funding. I suspect the African bishops will come up with other options. Do not be surprised if one of them outfoxes GCFA.
In my experience, the Africans are better at church politics than the Southeastern and Central Jurisdictions combined.
Update: The Council of Bishops was recently asked to set up mediation for the dispute but that proved to be unsuccessful. It’s my opinion that the Connectional Table could be asked next, based on Paragraph 904: “provide fiscal responsibility.” Those who watch the Council Table say it will not touch the dispute with a ten foot pole.
Since the tendency for our denomination is to “let the bishops do it,” I see the amendments passing and the Council of Bishops adding one more power to their authority over the Church. Maybe we need to rename our denomination “Methodist Episcopal Church.” Sounds familiar . . . .