\As was addressed in more detail in the commentary about JCD 1383, prior to 1983, bishops traded pastors who were in trouble but not facing chargeable offenses, giving them a fresh start in a new setting. When the Council upheld involuntary leave of absence in 1983 (JCD 524), that practice changed almost immediately and since then, bishops have used involuntary leave of absence and its “cousins,” administrative location, involuntary retirement, and discontinuing provisional membership to “unload” pastors who interrupted the bishop’s ministry by being in some kind of trouble. Rather than figure out how to help the pastors, it was now quite easy to just dump them by getting the Boards of Ordained Ministry to rubber stamp the removals.
Yes I am hyping the situation with my language here. But I saw too many cases where pastors with decades of effective ministry were shown no respect by their peers once the cabinet determined the pastor was the problem, whether it had evidence or not. There would be threats to the pastor to say nothing about his case to anyone, threats that if the pastor refused to voluntarily accept leave of absence, s/he would be facing a church trial, and he/she would have to be out of the parsonage by Friday. Then, the shunning would begin. Somehow, word got out that the cabinet was getting rid of the pastor and all old friends and new colleagues stopped talking to him/her. The reason for the involuntary action was still kept hush-hush until the pastor’s name showed up on the list of changes (the “Business of the Annual Conference” report handled during clergy session each year) and no one would actually know why. It was too easily manipulated and very disruptive of the collegiality of the clergy. Superintendents, who had been supportive back-ups to pastors overnight became “enforcers.” Trust among the clergy dropped to near zero because they never knew when their best friend might become a superintendent and, knowing all your secrets, turn on you.
The workplace environment for clergy in our denomination depends so much on whether or not the bishop or dominant superintendent is autocratic or pastoral. Their theological bent had little to do with their attitude about leadership. And I saw the Council of Bishops allow their members to be as autocratic as they wanted, in fact embracing it as their administrative culture.
For me, as an advocate, JCD 1383 is just one small step in righting endemic injustice in personnel work with our clergy. As I hope my supplemental article above shows, more humane and appropriate options are available for cabinets to use with pastors whose circumstances become career threatening.
The dominant focus of the November docket was handling reactions to the TP passed at the special session of General Conference last year. The Council of Bishops sought three rulings for clarification and of a large number of conferences who passed resolutions that challenged the TP, a dozen were referred to the Council for review. Some were subtle as a sledgehammer and some used stealth tactics to go to the edge of being prescriptive, all based on conscientious objections.
History is on the side of the inclusion of LGBTQI people. I see it in news from Africa and the Philippines. I expect, if earth survives global warming, that by 2028, everyone will be wondering what all the fuss had been about.
But there will be a trail of paper, among which will be these JCDs which describe the struggle to break through the prejudices that have built up in the denomination.
Again this session, there were calls for some kind of urgent response that I argue the Council ia authorized find a way to handle.