Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Commentary on Judicial Council Decisions 1400 to 1418


Introduction - The following observations are intended to encourage you to read the decisions of the Judicial Council (JC or Council) for yourself. These blog posts are in no way church law in any form but could help you understand some important aspects of the decisions. Should you feel I have made an error of fact or interpretation, please let me know (email at aj_eckert@hotmail.com) so it can be corrected.


Since the March 18, 2020, posting on this blog, the world has experienced a pandemic that has killed over a half million Americans and more than three million world wide. The world has not yet shaken it off and certain elements in the US are refusing to deal realistically with the danger, leaving everyone vulnerable to new variants of the virus that could overcome therapeutic work that has been successful in combating the disease and also refusing vaccinations with the same potential effect. As a result the Judicial Council did not meet until this winter and spring and General Conference has been postponed several times and is to be held August 29 to September 6, 2022. Some of the Decisions reflect that reality. As local churches have had to use computer-facilitated virtual gatherings, so all church agencies have used Zoom and other communication systems to meet from the members’ respective homes. Whether or not such uses of technology have been a blessing remains to be seen. The Council has had to meet virtually and the results are described below.


History -I began offering commentaries in November of 2008, starting with JCD 1099. This brings them up to date. While I have not considered going back to the earlier decisions of the Council, there have been a few that have drawn comments that you may discover over the years covered in this blog.


Any questions? - Please feel free to send your questions about any ruling by the Judicial Council, past or present, for my observations based on your question. Like this blog, my answers carry no weight of law. But maybe we can both learn something.

Terminology - The phrase “the Council” when used refers to the Judicial Council. As noted above, I will occasionally use their initials (JC). The Council of Bishops has become a frequent petitioner in recent years. Especially so this session. They will be referred to as the “Bishops” or “COB.”

Rulings of the Council may be referred to as JCDs (Judicial Council Decisions) or JCMs. Judicial Council Memorandums do not provide decisions of law but report refusal to take jurisdiction, remand, or show a question is not legally appropriate under the Discipline or Council rules. On rare occasions, the Council may provide their rationale in a memorandum.


Referring to rulings - I've included the URL for each of the rulings. That should allow you to click it or paste it so you can go directly to the decision. The website was redone this fall so there may be a problem using the older URLs. I’ve added subject titles and have put in labels that can be picked up by search engines.

Each decision’s commentary is posted separately so this review doesn't seem so long! And by using the list of contents in the left margin of this blog, you can go to whichever commentary on the decision which is of interest to you.

Finding things – There are three good sources for finding a JCD or JCM that you think exists or hope does. Associates in Advocacy (AIA) indexes, the JC website search function, and the United Methodist News Service (UMNS):


AIA indexes –AIA publishes updated indexes of all Council decisions and memoranda. If you are interested, contact Rev. Michael Brown, 158 Saxony Ct., Vallejo, CA 94951.


Council website search function - The Judicial Council website now offers a search function which covers every JCD since 1940. Go tohttp://www.umc.org/decisions/search. The web page gives you several options for finding any decision(s) you may want. To go to a listing of every decision, leave the boxes empty and just click on the “Search” bar. To follow up on a theme such as “separation of powers,” or if you remember a short phrase from a decision, or know the conference or a person involved, type that into the “Keywords” box. Then click on “Search.” To go to a specific decision by number, ignore the “Keywords” box and type the number into the “Decision Number” box and click on “Search.” Follow the instructions given on the page to search based on other things like approximate date of the decision. Clicking on “Search” for all these options provides a list of possible decisions. Scan those listed to find the most likely decisions that can be of help to you. To get into a decision itself, click on the red text.


Once into the text of a particular decision, you will not find your phrase highlighted. To highlight a key phrase you search for, do “Ctrl f” on PC compatible computers or “Command f” on Apple computers. That gives you a drop down box at the top of the page. Type in your phrase, click on “Enter,” and the phrase will be highlighted in that decision.


UMNS - Another source of help to find and understand particular decisions, I found articles about people and decisions in United Methodist News Service underwww.UMC.org. I clicked on “News and Media” at the top of their page, clicked on “United Methodist News” to get to their home page and then clicked on the magnifying glass icon in the upper right hand corner. That opened a box at the top of the page. I could put in key words, names, or numbers followed by clicking on “Enter.” The search function will let you know which articles had that content. There are articles going back as far as 1952, though the articles are not in chronological order. I do not think every article has yet been digitized and posted on the site.


Concluding remarks -Hopefully, my commentaries on this blog will be a valued resource in your search for understanding church law and its contexts. I also hope my directions for navigating in UM sites will help you in your research on the work of the Judicial Council.


All my commentaries on Council decisions are subject to editing, updating, and revision.You may want to check back from time to time on decisions of special interest to you.


DISCLAIMER:The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the writer and are not necessarily those of Associates in Advocacy nor its individual members. While the writer has made it a practice of letting AIA’s officers see these commentaries prior to their being posted on the blog, there have been no endorsements by them or the organization now or over past years.

JCM 1400



Florida Annual Conference v. Provisional Members


In 2012, Rev. Kenneth Carter was elected to the episcopacy.  He had been to jurisdictional conferences five times and was delegate to General Conference three times prior to his election.  He took an active part in jurisdictional and general church matters, being on the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, among many other responsibilities.  All the years paid off in gaining the recognition and making the contacts needed to be elected bishop.  Such efforts are the current way to be successfully elected.  He was regarded highly enough among his Council of Bishops ranks to be elected its president in 2018, a convenient turn of events for him.


The subject of this memorandum, Rev. Erik Seise, during this six year period, became a provisional member of the conferencew and began his efforts to become an ordained Elder.  He had started, from scratch, Wesley Foundations on two different university campuses.  Like many other Wesley Foundation directors or other pastors in non-local church appointments, he tended to be treated as an outsider not deserving of the normal collegial respect.  For example, at a retreat for prospective Elders, he along with the others were encouraged to speak freely because everything was to remain confidential.  He did just that only to discover someone ratted him out to a conference official.  There were a number of similar events which escalated to the point where he posted something on Facebook about how things were.  He was chastised about it and immediately removed his posting.  One of those events had been serious enough that when one of his co-campus ministers also raised similar criticisms, she was forced out ministry.


The bishop was apprised of the Facebook posting and wrote a letter to Rev. Seise  on February 15, 2018, with allegations of multiple wrong-doings.  Interestingly, while each sounded terrible, none had all the specifics of time, place, and description of the actual event that occurred.  Bishop Carter wrote that the letter was background for its intent to inform Rev Seise that he was not only going to be dropped from provisional membership to which he had been elected by the annual conference, he was going to be put on involuntary leave of absence upon review by the conference relations committee on March 9.  The committee supported Bishop Carter’s request and the Board of Ordained Ministry did too.  Bishop Carter’s letter was the only “complaint” Rev. Seise ever saw before the hearing and it was the basis of the hearing against him.


Bishop Carter appeared as a witness against him at the hearing.


Rev. Seise appealed to the administrative review committee who found nothing wrong with the procedures.  Why would anyone in their right mind jeopardize their next appointment by crossing the bishop on something he obviously wanted?  


To avoid just this conflict of interest, a new provision for appeal outside of the annual conference was passed into church law in 2016.  Rev. Seise followed that and appealed.  The chairman of the jurisdictional committee on appeals wrote a one page summary which said no church laws were broken.  Rev. Seise appealed that to the Judicial Council on August 29th, 2018, who later deferred his case until February, 2019.


Regarding the late May Annual Conference session, because of the conflict of interest within the annual conference, Rev. Seise was unable to find anyone willing to raise questions of law at conference.  Bishop Carter presided at the clergy session and moved this matter along with great dispatch so that it would have been hard for anyone to challenge it.  


That summer, the Judicial Council had been asked by the Council of Bishops several questions about the meaning and application of the new appeal paragraphs.  That was dealt with at the fall session of 2018.  They had sent in their questions on July 27, just two months after Florida Annual Conference.


Bishop Carter, as president of the Council of Bishops, appeared before the Judicial Council to speak regarding the issues.


The Judicial Council ruled in JCD 1361 that all the provisions of the new appeals law were appropriate and applied to all of administrative categories, leave of absence, etc., except one, provisional members being dropped.  That they left to be the province of the Board of Ordained Ministry despite the fact that the clergy session “owned” Rev. Seise, having elected him to be a provisional member in the first place.


Bishop Carter had won on his case against Rev. Seise before it even was considered by the Judicial Council.


The Council took up the Seise case the following February.  In JCM 1373, the Council chastised the jurisdictional appeals committee for failing to respond to Seise’s points of appeal, having given only a blanket statement that nothing had been wrong with the processes against Rev. Seise.  There was no reference to JCD 1361.


The Council required the jurisdictional committee on appeals to rectify their work with a full response to each of Seise’s points of appeal.  


The committee responded by saying none of the appeal points were in violation of the Discipline, though they never showed awareness of pertinent JCDs related to Rev. Seise’s specific points of appeal.

Rev. Seise offered his response and the Council took them up on November 1, 2019.  In JCD 1384, they said the appeals committee saw no vitiating or egregious errors of law and supported the jurisdiction’s committee on appeals.


What was startling about this decision was that it was made during the same session of JCD 1383 which ruled that members of the Cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, and the other committees who processed an administrative case should not be allowed to vote on the case when it came to the floor of the clergy session.  Despite having Rev. Seise’s case and his briefs in the hands of the Council during the summer of 2018 and its information about a live example of the injustices in the administrative system over the nineteen months before the Council and the Council did not connect any of their other related work to his case.


Rev. Seise sought reconsideration on that ground.  He was not granted reconsideration in JCM 1400.


In reviewing this history for you, I notice a number of flaws in my understanding as his consultant on the case as it developed and wish I had emphasized some things more, and realized the Council could not take the time to steep itself in Rev. Seise’s case because they had such a heavy load to examine during a challenge of our denomination by a recalcitrant and clever conservative caucus (my opinion).


But there are two things that I have to flag about this case.


One, the Seise case was in the hands of the Council with all its points of appeal, the name of the bishop and conference, and awareness that Rev. Seise was a Provisional Member seeking full membership when his conference forced him out.  Yet it allowed a major party at interest in his case, Bishop Carter, to be involved in a hearing on the meaning and application of the appeal process under ¶2718.3-.4, the passage which gave Rev. Seise the right to appeal all the way to the Council.  And it appears to have allowed Bishop Carter to carve out Provisional Members from the list of all that were covered by this new appeal.


Two, Bishop Carter’s involvement from the very beginning (he provided the only written complaint against Rev. Seise prior to the conference relations committee hearing used to run him out of the conference) all the way to the Judicial Council where he should never have argued on behalf of the Council of Bishops because of the appearance of impropriety.  He should have recused himself and if he didn’t, the Council should have asked him to step down because of the obvious conflict of interest.  


What can be done about this?  Hopefully, members of the Council will from now on be alert to such conflicts of interest.  Bishops will avoid the appearance of impropriety in their rush to get through their own agendas.  And maybe General Conference can continue to change church law to prevent the conflicts of interest in our personnel systems.


Unlikely, the Council could reconsider the case and weigh the evidence brought by Rev. Seise differently than the appeals committee did.  And the annual conference could offer something to try to make whole the situation that forced Rev. Seise out of ministry.


The damage done to the campus ministries by the conference actions and the damage done to the reputation of the UMC to the Seise family, their friends, and those who know their story will be one more blot that cannot be simply wiped away.  Ignoring it will more deeply imbed it in the thousand similar cuts that have undermined our denomination over the past forty years.


Editor note:  Many years ago, my wife’s experience with personnel management led me to write that our denominational personnel practices are not at all consistent with federal law on employment matters and I called upon human resources professionals in our Church to consult with church leaders about bringing them into line.  We do have ¶334.3 as one such alignment and hope it is being used, though it was not in this case (nor other cases that have come to my attention).  Apparently Cabinets were too busy (?) to use it in the cases that have crossed my desk.  


The 1976 Supreme Court “Serbian Orthodox” ruling categorized personnel matters as doctrine, leaving them practically untouchable by civil suit under “separation of church and state.”  The UMC unwisely has cloaked its policies behind that and gone on its merry way destroying ministries, family lives, congregational health, and conference morale at the hands of bad or inept leaders with little or no accountability.


Thanks to Erik Seise who reminded me of our denomination’s inconsistency with federal employment law.

JCD 1401

 JCD 1401




Who Investigates Cheating at General Conference?


At the 2019 special session of General Conference, in a 402 – 400 vote, the General Conference shifted from a moderate framework for how churches and conferences could separate from the denomination to a framework preferred by conservatives (“traditionalists” who are anti-gay in orientation).  When that became the main motion, it passed with the vote that was similarly extremely close.  


After General Conference adjourned, word began circulating that there were irregularities in the voting.  Since General Conference was not in session and would not be until 2020, the administrative body that cares for General Conference matters between sessions investigated the claims.  After six months, the Commission on the General Conference came to the conclusion that there had been cheating.  On the presumption that they could act on behalf of the General Conference just as a church council acts on behalf of the charge conference between its annual sessions, the Commission declared the two motions passed by the close margins null and void.  


Even though it had authority to refer their decision to the Judicial Council under ¶2609.4, it chose to request that the Council of Bishops might have more clout and not be questioned as to having standing to bring the commission’s decisions for review before the Council.


The Council postponed acting on the request because they did not have enough information and gave both sides time to gather their resources.


When they finally dealt with the commission’s ruling, despite apparently having in their hands the evidence of the questionable votes, the Council hid behind their unfortunate thought that they do not have to deal with evidence but only with irregularities of law.


I find that counter to JCD 595: “The Judicial Council has the authority to determine factual matters which are essential to decide the legal questions involved.”  It is also counter to the Discipline: ¶2715:7 “a) Does the weight of evidence sustain the charge or charges?”


By ignoring these points of law, the Council leaves itself open to ignoring the facts and thus making a bad decision.  I am reminded of another case before the Council some years ago when it ignored the evidence in the record where a woman claimed she had had sex with a pastor on several specific dates and times only to have the phone records she submitted show she was actually on the phone with him from forty miles away each of those times.


Justice is lost when the appellate body feels it may ignore the facts.  


I do not know how much evidence was available to the Council but it is highly likely that the commission would bring everything it had.  And that would have to be the evidence that led them to their conclusion that the votes had been flawed.


The Council has essentially eliminated the commission from being able to do its job of oversight when someone cheated and has left no path for such violations to be dealt with.


I have a great deal of respect for the Council’s usual path of going by the book.  In this case as in a few others over the years, it did not open the book wide enough.

JCD 1402



General Conference’s Authority Vs Pastoral discretion


The Michigan Annual Conference raised an interesting question.  Is the choice to participate in a same-sex union ceremony or wedding a”distinctively connectional matter?”


The question forwarded to the Council does not indicate as opposed to what other kind of matter it could be.  I do not know what was in the brief of the appellants but I would have pointed to ¶340.2a(3) which says “The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor.”  


Nothing there about intrusive laws passed by General Conference. . . .  


Every pastor that I have heard about who went ahead despite what General Conference imposed on the kinds of marriage pastors may perform did so because their pastoral sense of dealing with the individuals asking for a gay ceremony was to support the couple and perform the celebration.  In the face-to-face setting of pastoral care, the human needs have prevailed over church law.


As the number of decisions cited by the Council to nail down their ruling indicates, the matter of what was distinctively connectional has been challenged frequently over the years.  From the time when the abstention from the use of tobacco and alcohol was mandated by General Conference through annual conferences adding educational requirements beyond what the Discipline says to one jurisdiction trying to tell another what to do about a gay bishop, there have been questions raised.  And the Council has upheld the General Conference’s authority on such personnel matters.


The General Conference sets the policy, the annual conferences enforce them.  The pastors find “work-arounds” when the policy appears to them to be onerous.  And after each judicial testing, everyone tries to work toward what each thinks perfects the Church in love by working within the framework of church law and democratic processes.  Well, most do.  

JCD 1403



On Who May Direct Delegates


Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference was challenged for trying it.  Efforts by annual conferences to give directions of any kind to delegates are forbidden under church law.  Some groups in bodies that send delegates to General Conference have wanted to control their vote.  They have seen how, occasionally, individuals elected have not voted as expected.  The reason they wanted that delegate who did not follow through as anticipated became to them a wasted effort and a set back for their agenda.


But the Judicial Council has struck down every such attempt because of the principle that they are “delegates” and not “representatives.”  Representatives are expected to vote the way their constituents ask them.  Delegates are to be free to evaluate and integrate any new information that comes up in the considerations of the body to which they are delegated to participate and vote their conscience, rather than whatever bias their constituents preferred.


This time, though, the issue was not as much content as degree of participation.  Apparently, the delegation did not always participate in General Conference meetings and the annual conference wanted to be able to require participation.  The Judicial Council, in its rationale and two concurring opinions, strongly struck down even that degree of control of their delegates, leaving enforcement of taking part in the hands of the General Conference.


Having attended many General Conferences as an observer, I do not recall there being “attendance police” grabbing delegates from the cafeteria and dragging them up to plenary.  I confess to finding much of what happens in the sessions of the full gathering to be a “dog and pony show” instigated by the Council of Bishops to promote their agenda rather than allow full discussion of some of the key topics before the assembly.  I’d seen it happen at annual conferences and can understand why delegates could slip out just to get away from the propaganda or other waste of what little time they had for real dialogue.  That allowed me time to meet with some delegates on the side during plenary, which I found to be helpful as I advocated for fair treatment of clergy and better legislation.


Most delegates were good about attending.  I seldom saw many empty seats among the delegations, except up in the front where the bishops could sit.  Up there, only a handful of bishops were usually present and they sat close to the presiding bishop in order to be available in case the presider needed to consult about managing a knotty issue before the “house.”  Otherwise, bishops rarely attended the legislative sessions.


Delegates have to be free to change their vote or they would become obstructions to the body being able to make a decision.  Delegates have to be free to come and go as the circumstances of the General Conference move.  Annual conferences rarely send irresponsible people to General Conference and their judgment of the best use of their time while there should be trusted.  The rules for delegates’ actions are established early by the General Conference, freshly drawn each quadrennium.  Expectation of participation is set pretty high from the beginning.  So the separation of powers over who directs the delegates is well established.

JCD 1404



Is the Resolution Aspirational Or a Violation?


The bishop of the Michigan Conference ruled a resolution supporting its Board of Ordained Ministry’s right to lament the treatment of LGBTQIA+ candidates as long as they did not act on it.  Then he’d have to step in, based on legislation passed at the special session of the General Conference held in 2019.


The Council supported the first part of the ruling but stated it could not support the bishop’s right to intervene.  Again the concurring opinions make clear that at least four of the Council members view the 2019 addition as unconstitutional.  According to ¶33, only the annual conference has that authority to do intervention through fair process procedures.  The whole Council does not disagree in the majority ruling but only uses that opinion to overrule the bishop’s alleged right to intervene rather than outright deciding the 2019 addition is unconstitutional.


What is startling in this decision is the identifying the annual conference vote in support of the resolution: 298 to 125. nearly a 3 – 1 ratio.  While the Michigan Conference is not as conservative as West Michigan, this ratio indicates a clear movement toward positively normalizing the LGBTQIA+ community.


That says to me that fewer and fewer churches are likely to separate when the split comes.  The dream of the conservatives who want to dominate the world of Methodism is fading faster than they want.