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.


Friday, December 5, 2008

St. Martin of Tours Award

Associates in Advocacy

Dear Bishop,

Postponing the St. Martin of Tours Award was reinforced after my letter honoring past Bishops Dodge and Tuell and episcopal candidate Harvey Potthoff who gave up his last chance to run again because of age. Bishop Tuell corrected a bit of the information. Joining Dr. Potthoff was Richard Cain who also dropped out in deference to Wilbur Choy. I had counted five European American (EA) men elected since, but Bishops Tuell and Wheatley had been elected in the quadrennium before. There have been only three since, Bishops Dew, McConnell, and Paup. Not only is there no glass ceiling in the Western Jurisdiction, there are no EA men among the active bishops now.

One reason, of course, is that Bishop Paup resigned as a bishop in order to fulfill a program ministry to which he felt called. He chose to become an executive secretary unencumbered by any potential conflict of interest.

Some bishops I have met should have stayed involved in program agencies because that is really where their hearts lie. The self-defining nature of Ed Paup’s choice is hereby recognized as co-holder of this year’s St. Martin of Tours Award.

The other co-holder of the award is Bishop William Hutchinson.

The choice is based on not only on his incredible leadership following the twin catastrophes known as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit Louisiana, but also on his passing over retirement after four exhausting years in order to fulfill the ministry of working on key issues he felt called to address.

His path was not smooth. After working with the district structure Louisiana had when he arrived, he felt it important to make a controversial decision to reconnect the churches in New Orleans with north shore churches. Following the shattering of the New Orleans churches and parsonages, the district realignment proved to be a Godsend in re-establishing the denomination in the city during the earliest reconstruction phase.

Bishop Hutchinson’s personal involvement in restoration of our ministries in the traumatized areas was an example of the highest order. No one would have blamed him if he had retired in 2008. But his concern for the other ministries to which he was committed when he was first appointed to Louisiana led to his staying on for four more years.

Then came Hurricanes Gustav and Ike! Whether he intended to be or not, Bishop Hutchinson was the right one for that time.

In the covenant of the clergy,


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Observations on the Fall session of the Judicial Council

The following observations are intended to encourage you to read the decisions of the Judicial Council for yourself. The observations are in no way church law in any form but will hopefully help you understand some aspects of the decisions I think are important.

I've included the URL for each of the rulings. That should allow you to paste it so you can go directly to the decision.

In several cases I did not specify the nature and intent of the challenge. They are usually matters deferred till the April 2009 session.

Each is posted separately so it doesn't seem so tediously long!

Re: JCD 1099


In 1951, the bishop was asked if the annual conference could nominate trustees for their Hospital Association. The by-laws of the corporation set up to handle the hospital said the nominations had to come from the Trustees. Those by-laws had been established by vote of the annual conference.

In JCD 75, the Judicial Council reported that "Bishop Werner ruled that 'Nominations by other than the Board are in order, and that inherently in the institution of elections is the possibility of choice.'"

However, the Council reversed that ruling, saying, “The Ohio Annual Conference of The Methodist Church, now being the White Cross Hospital Association of Ohio, is the source of ultimate control of the White Cross Hospital and has the right and power at its discretion to change or amend the method of electing the Trustees of the corporation; but, until the Annual Conference changes the method set forth in Art. VI of the present Constitution of said White Cross Hospital Association, it is bound thereby.”
The vote was 5 – 3. – J. T. Alton recused himself because he had recently been on that trustee body.
The dissenting members argued, “To give the provisions of Article VI of the White Cross Constitution and By-Laws the narrow interpretation insisted upon by the hospital Trustees, which in effect would give the hospital Trustees the right to perpetuate themselves, would do violence to a fundamental legal principle as to the control of any subsidiary organization of a religious or charitable body. This is recognized by the majority opinion in this case. If the Annual Conference is to elect, it must in the very nature of things have the right to ‘select by vote,’ or ‘to choose in preference to another or others.’ The right and duty of the members of the Corporation is not merely to approve the election of a slate submitted to them, but to exercise independent judgment thereon and elect or select from any names that may come before them.”

The decision in JCD 1099 is very similar in that the argument of the majority is that General Conference needs to change the Discipline in order to open up to the floor the possibility for nominations to the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM).

Such changes have been offered to the General Conference as petitions since 1984 for exactly the reasons given by Bishop Werner and the dissenting Council in the 1951 ruling. No General Conference has chosen to pass any of those petitions. Most clergy delegates have been the beneficiary of the current nominating process.

The result has been that BOMs have become nearly as self-perpetuating as Cabinets with no check and balance other than term limits, twelve years for BOM members (Paragraph 634.1a).

Too bad Bishop Werner and the dissenting Council members did not win the day and set the precedent of the primary body having the authority of nominating from the floor.

The new Council has perpetuated a blocking of a crucial institutional “check and balance.”

Note: JCD 130 was resolved around this principle of law: “The right to elect constitutes the right to make a choice.” JCD 185 reverts back to the “shall/may” Disciplinary wording as precedent. JCD 694 says, “The open nomination and election process provide the best opportunity for everyone to the exclusion of no one.” JCD 1079 stands on a Disciplinary paragraph (603.7) that says, “The annual conference shall . . . elect a secretary . . . .” There is no reference whatever to how the secretary is nominated. Does that imply the legal principle in JCDs 130 and 694 are operative in JCD 1079?

Re: JCD 1100


The council reminded the General Conference that it must pass enabling legislation for the regional conference concept to go forward with respect to the United States annual conferences and other church structures.

Because the request for the decision was limited to its implications re: the United States, this decision does not address what happens overseas. Hopefully, legislation will be drawn up to facilitate any necessary changes to allow the Central Conferences to become established as Regional Conferences.

Re: JCD 1101


The Council clarified that the constitution does not list local pastors not under appointment as members of the annual conference and therefore the General Conference cannot give them that membership without changing the constitution.

That would have to be brought in 2012.

Local pastors who have retired or were not appointed may attend annual conference as visitors (lobbyists!) or they may be elected to come as lay members from a local church.

Local pastors are extremely vulnerable in our system and can be dropped from appointment and thereby automatically from being licensed either by the district committee’s removing the license (and hence removing appointability) or by the Cabinet failing to give an appointment. Fair Process rights are given to local pastors by several paragraphs but they only count when there is a written complaint. Cabinets can easily avoid bringing forward a written complaint (even when there is one) by not treating it properly but simply using these other two ways to arbitrarily drop the local pastor.

Local pastors are presumed to have another vocation and thus are not necessarily seen as being hung out to dry, despite the fact that many give up their secular employment to be pastors. Further, Cabinets use local pastors as fillers for situations where no ordained clergy can be brought in (salary too low or no ordained clergy are available). Valuable as local pastors are, Cabinets are glad to have them be expendable and not on the list of those for whom appointments have to be made.

Once local pastors can become annual conference members upon retirement, they would be in a position to vote for legislation that could put them on the guaranteed appointment list.

Re: JCM 1102


The annual conference secretary failed to forward the minutes and other documents directly related to the request for a declaratory decision so the Council had no choice but defer until those documents were sent in. Despite saying the secretary had thirty days, the Council does not meet again until next spring.

The Council should be fussy about Conference officers who fail to follow the rules. The Judicial Council has sent out copies of the requirements to conference secretaries prior to each annual conference for many years.

In a case like the Alaska request for clarification on church membership and the pastor’s discretion, it does not change much by having a decision put off.

It would be most unfortunate if the Council were so strict in cases where the failure of the conference secretary actually caused harm in a personnel case. That can be avoided by a persistent Council Secretary or by the acceptance of documentation sent by the appellant in cases where the conference secretary fails to follow protocol.

Re: JCD 1103


In a case from California, three questions were brought in the form of requests for declaratory decisions. The questions were related to a personnel matter. The Council took jurisdiction without documentation from the conference beyond a copy sent by the one requesting the ruling,

The case involved a person facing discontinuance from probation so the consequences of the decisions were time sensitive.

I commend the Council for taking jurisdiction.

The Council clarified that a hearing before the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry does not count under the Discipline (Paragraph 20 – 2004 BOD) as the “appeal.” The appeal called for under Paragraph 20 comes before the annual conference clergy session.

The Council also clarified that it takes a three fourths vote of the BOM but only a majority vote of the clergy session to drop someone from probation.

The third question, unfortunately, did not identify any one Disciplinary passage so they did not take jurisdiction. The question intended to clarify whether or not the ruling of the chair on objections could be overruled by the committee.

As things stand, I would recommend that advocates (counsels for the respondent) should operate under Paragraph 2718. The chairperson of every group that is next in line to hear the matter should receive a copy of the objections and be asked to rule on them before the actual hearing. This routine comes from JCD 830. That keeps the objections alive so that no appellate body may say the objections were given up during the process.

However, as the current administrative procedure goes, the chairperson of the executive committee is the chair of the BOM. In the instant case, someone may have tried to use a Robert’s Rules of Order to overturn the chairperson’s rulings (or lack of rulings) in either or both contexts. That could mean a possible decision sooner than later. Time is a major issue in personnel matters. However, the Judicial Council has no jurisdiction over parliamentary decisions so it can provide no relief based on Robert’s Rules of Order.

I hope the matter returns for clarification so that the right of appeal of objections cannot be broken by obstreperous or biased chairpersons or committees and that those rights are preserved by being brought in the proper places.

Re: JCM 1104


Again, the annual conference secretary failed to provide documentation of the request for a ruling made at the annual conference session. The matter was carried forward to the Spring session of the Council. And annual conference secretary was to send copies of the request to other affected parties at interest so they could speak to the matter in briefs to the Council.

That’s a great move.

JCD 1105


This case involves a pastor cleared by church trial but who has not been cleared under a state agency’s policies of alleged complaints.

The Council ruled in the pastor’s favor because the church trial had authority to acquit the pastor and therefore restore him to full appointment and pastoral support.

The bishop had refused to return him to ministry because of a conference rule which he felt required passing muster with the state on the allegations. The Council ruled that the Discipline superseded the conference requirement.

A concurring opinion contained a statement that the trial court did not hear all of the evidence even though they agreed with the majority opinion.

I have no doubt that fear of any pastor causing harm (and a subsequent law suit against the conference) underlies both the bishop’s actions and the concurring opinion.

It needs to be pointed out that the Church has reason to doubt the adequacy of state investigations into criminal allegations. In one of several cases I know about, the case against a pastor in another state that caused him to be incarcerated was found by the church to be spurious and he was returned to ministry as soon as he was released from prison.

It appears that the state did not make its criminal case in the matter behind JCD 1105 but left the complaint on the books of a state agency. Expunging those kinds of records is not always easy for a wide variety of reasons.

However, I believe that, despite the concern of the bishop and the concurring Council members, the church really cannot act against a pastor based on the possibility of future transgressions (JCD 725). Nor can they presume the result of how the trial court would have voted had they had other information. Not everyone would agree with the judgment of the bishop and the three Council members. In fact, six other Council members did not agree or they would have co-signed the concurrence.

One member who presented a dissenting opinion raises some important thoughts relevant to the requirements for persons seeking ministry in that conference. But the church really needs to be sure the state has substantiated the allegations through due process before it accepts the state’s “listings.”

I hope that the Cabinet will think creatively rather that retributively under these circumstances and work with the pastor on a supervisory plan that is unobtrusive but provides protection for those in the church and protection of the pastor who will be vulnerable to false allegations.

Re: JCM 1106


This is the most disappointing decision of this Judicial Council session.

At issue, from the point of view of the one raising the questions of law, is whether or not the Cabinet can ignore the consultation process for appointments specified in the Book of Discipline.

The bishop changed the subject by hiding behind JCD 799, saying the issue was whether or not the questions were hypothetical.

When a nearly whole new Council was elected at General Conference, many of us wondered if the new members looked upon the whole church as its constituency or just the bishops who nominated them.

This is a largely new group who are seeking to find their way through how to apply justice and church law to the various questions brought. They are stuck with a bunch of bad precedents, in my mind. I really think JCD 799 is badly flawed as is the precedent established in JCD 75 discussed above in the observations on JCD 1099.

Hopefully these and other bad precedents can be shown to be unjust and inimical to a healthy church in cases yet to come before this Council. - Could the Council be signaling that it might rule differently if the bad elements of JCD 799 were brought before them?

As this ruling stands, its effect is that bishops are free for now to ignore the Discipline on handling appointments.

Unfettered bishops tend to be a downer for a conference. It won’t be long before there will be stories about bishops making appointments using a map of the conference and a dart.

I don’t think this Council wants to be seen as the facilitators of a return to the days of Bishop Angie Smith who was observed making appointments that way.

Re: JCM 1107


This decision is also a disappointment. It gives us a clue as to how hard it is to raise questions about behavior of church leaders, particularly bishops.

Looking at the background material given in this memorandum and its predecessor, JCM 1106, it is clear that some people see that bishops are ready to disobey the Discipline whenever it suits them.

I know from experience in many cases that direct complaints against bishops for failure to follow the Discipline, a chargeable offense under Paragraph 2702.1e), are usually dropped . . . by a small committee of two bishops from their jurisdiction. It is not strange that they do not want to challenge their episcopal brothers and sisters about how they handle their own conferences. Our “live and let live” culture occurs on that level too.

So what’s left?

Bishops are so busy they don’t usually have time for people who want to complain that the bishop isn’t operating under the Discipline. The bishop has the final word in the conference on what the Discipline says (Paragraph 2718). The only way to challenge that is to go to annual conference to present a question that can then be reviewed by the Judicial Council. JCD 799 makes that virtually impossible.

The next option is to make a fuss at conference as the questioner in this case did and hope that the Judicial Council will report it out some way.

Beyond this, there is the possibility of going to the local press who usually aren’t interested.

That leaves the challengers to tell their family and friends about the gross behavior of the conference.

Those folks are interested and often vote with their money (resolutions not to pay apportionments or just plain stopping contributing to the local church). If withholding money has no impact, that leaves the option of walking away.

Does this Council feel obligated to back the bishops’ bad behavior?

That remains to be seen.

But the fact that they tell as much of the back story behind the cases, something not all previous Councils have done, could be a warning to bishops that maladministration may not be tolerated in the future.

JCD 1108


I disagree that the manner of preparing petitions is clearly defined in the Discipline and the General Conference Rules of Order. I am surprised that the decision includes this line: “When a petition could potentially affect several Discipline paragraphs on a closely related topic, it should be presented as one petition.”

Having sent in petitions over the years has taught me two things: If you are not a general agency or the Council of Bishops sending in petitions, you must break up related issues into separate petitions with cross-reference to the others so that they are individual and yet so they can be seen as part of a larger issue, as the Council says. Otherwise, it is next to impossible to be sure each portion of an “omnibus” petition is put in the proper pile for distribution to the respective legislative committees of the General Conference. Petitions Secretaries much prefer that clarity.

The other thing I’ve learned is that despite what the Discipline and Rules say, only those who are not part of agencies and the Council of Bishops face this requirement. It is not uniformly enforced.

In practice, individuals are very fortunate to get something through General Conference because the agencies’ petitions tend to be handled first by the legislative committees. Their breadth and complexity are taken for granted, usually accepted, and nearly all other petitions are dumped into non-concurrence. That is not unexpected because the legislative committees tend to be structured in parallel with the church’s agencies and the members of those agencies elected to General Conference from the annual conferences sign up to be on that legislative committee.

This is partly a matter of institutional culture of the General Conference. And it is partly bad provisions in the Discipline and Rules of Order for preparing petitions. It works so well for the agencies that they would fight changes tooth and nail to prevent the Discipline and Rules from becoming more open and fair.

Finally, this ruling which says, “When a petition could potentially affect several Discipline paragraphs on a closely related topic, it should be presented as one petition,” supports what the requesting conference did.

But for the reason I noted above, ease of handling the referral of the various parts of the petition, the Kansas petition was divided up by the Secretary. The first sentence of the decision, “The secretary of the General Conference has the authority to determine when 507.2 is applicable,” supports that!

In my opinion, it is clear that neither the Discipline nor the Rules of Order nor this decision really resolve the handling of complex, inter-related petitions and leaves them subject to the politics, competence, and/or structures of the General Conference.

Re: JCD 1109


For the purposes of this commentary, I am most concerned about personnel matters. But it is hard to pass up some observations that can be made on this ruling.

The Council takes pains to parse their role in looking at whether pastors can send the elements of Holy Communion with lay people to remote places or where the pastor is not going for whatever reason.

That parsing means that no theological group can storm the gates of General Conference to precipitously change the Articles of Religion.

Meanwhile, on this issue, pastors are stuck with being directly involved with Holy Communion distribution. Perhaps Cabinet members can offer help on occasion to ease the loads of their pastors. Bishops are ordained elders, after all, as are superintendents. What an example that would be to us pastors if our superiors in office cared enough about the remote folks to help us out. That might be an encouragement to us pastors to make sure we find a way to reach out even more than we have . . . .

The dissenting opinion reinforces the responsibility of conference secretaries to get with the program. That this dissent is raised shows that the Council sometimes takes jurisdiction despite that failure.

Without thorough discussion with others on this ruling, I find myself accepting it and glad it was dealt with even though all the proper steps were not followed. The Council needs to have some flexibility to resolve conflicted issues.

May they be wise about which of their future decisions are handled with such Christian concern.

Re: JCM 1110


Once again the Council deferred to next Spring and chose to require full documentation from the conference before working on the issue of a bishop’s ruling a conference motion on homosexual uniting ceremonies null and void.

The dissent, from a member who usually blows the whistle on the need for all documents, is based on what he sees as a clear principle of the Discipline says. -- Many are convinced that the Discipline is of two minds, and maybe that is part of the reason to postpone consideration to see if this Council can reconcile those two positions.

Conclusions re: Judicial Council's fall 2008 session

In going through the first set of decisions of this new Judicial Council, I find it refreshing to see the detail about what actually happened to precipitate the challenges that are before them. I hope they continue that practice. I wish previous Councils had done that on more cases before them. Even though much current church law allows church leaders to get away with poor administration, just seeing the back stories no matter what the decision provides us with examples, good ones along with the bad!

I think this Council has wisely deferred some more controversial decisions to next Spring. Sometimes history changes things so that some of the controversy dissipates as more pressing issues confront us.

This Council probably will not hit its stride until the fall session of 2009. It takes a year or more for the newer Council members to catch up with the learning curve. I hope they will look back at some of this session’s decisions and consider revisiting them.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Letter to the bishops

Associates in Advocacy

Dear Bishop,

I will make my announcement about the St. Martin of Tours award after Thanksgiving. There are two active bishops I am considering and need a little more data.

When I mentioned the courageous actions of Bishop Tuell to negotiate settlements of conflicts which were counter to the preferences of two bishops, I realized that he was the first since 1984 to bring successful unbiased mediation into conflicts in which bishops had a clear stake. That example has “trickled down” (bishops’ examples are more significant than they sometimes realize) in several places in the country.

On the east coast a number of years ago, Wescoat Sandlin successfully mediated a settlement on behalf of a bishop in a case involving a young layman. Mr. Sandlin and his wife have a mediation law practice in South Carolina (Wescoat is licensed in Texas and several east coast states) and can be reached through the AIA website.

Finishing his training in mediation, Spencer Turnipseed has used his skills in the Alabama-West Florida Conference for a number of years. He too can be reached through our website.

Just from sheer practice, Tom Griffith has been helping bishops in his California conference for a number of years. Starting as either a counsel for the respondent or counsel for the church, Tom has helped resolve complaints frequently by noting the mental or physical health of the respondent and gaining resolution through dealing with the real problem rather than the perceived complaint. He has been asked to handle cases not so clearly defined and has successfully worked out resolutions accepted by the bishops and respondents. Tom can be e-mailed at griffith@megapathdsl.net.

Also beginning as an advocate, John Grenfell has been able to work out resolutions in difficult cases based on his years of experience as a DS and working on behalf of Good News. John can be reached through our website.

Finally, let me remind you that JUSTPEACE not only works in restorative justice situations where the respondent admits guilt. They also facilitate discussions between conflicted parties. Stephanie Hixon and Tom Porter can be reached at www.justpeaceum.org.

The wave of the future, mediation, is very much more possible now than ever before.

In the covenant of the clergy,


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Letter to the bishops



Dear Bishop,

I’ve been distracted by and attentive to the Presidential campaign. We are learning a lot about leadership style and decision-making on a national scale. The four major candidates differ quite a bit so we have examples to follow . . . or not!

I still like the humble but wise example of St. Martin of Tours. Following up on my letter seeking input about United Methodist bishops who should be considered for our informal award, first let me go back some years and talk about examples where there has been no other recognition before I address contemporary bishops to be so honored.

Rev. Dr. Harvey Potthoff never was elected but that may be because he withdrew in favor of an ethnic person high in the Western Jurisdiction voting. The example he set led to the Western Jurisdiction having no current white male bishop and has only had five since he withdrew his nomination in the ‘sixties (Tuell, McConnell, Dew, Wheatley, and Paup). He set a precedent that changed the denomination by opening the door to the episcopacy for non-male non-European American candidates.

Bishop Ralph Dodge passed away August 8 at age 101. The story on him is that he is the last American missionary bishop elected to serve overseas. That part of our efforts to build up indigenous leadership in our missionary conferences was going to happen sooner or later. The remarkable part of his story is that under the rules of his era, he was up for re-election every eight years, if my memory serves me correctly (could have been four?).

We are fortunate to still have with us Bishop Jack Tuell, the third bishop for whom I offer a deserved moment of recognition. Bishop Tuell has been honored for many things and still is highly esteemed in our denomination. But he has had some tough assignments for which he is not well known. He was called in to preside at a church trial by a bishop who had formerly been a member of the Judicial Council. The counsel for the respondent presented four objections to the actions and case of the conference officers (including the bishop) and Tuell found for the respondent, closing down the trial.

On another occasion, Bishop Tuell was called in to attempt to sort out a situation where the resident bishop followed bad advice that could have ended in a serious law suit. His efforts led to a reasonable resolution without any further legal actions but which required a formal apology by the resident bishop.

To these who had their moments as extraordinary leaders, I want to provide long overdue acknowledgment of actions they took which exemplify the spirit of St. Martin of Tours.

In the covenant of the clergy,


(Rev. Jerry Eckert, contact person)

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Two years ago before we started this blog, I introduced myself to the bishops with the letter posted below. I've updated it for the bishops most recently elected.


Associates in Advocacy - Rev. Jerry Eckert - Contact person
Website: www.aiateam.org

Dear Bishop,

A friend pointed out that you may not have any idea who I am. Let me introduce myself. Though I have lived in the south for 18 of the last 23 years, I am from Wisconsin and am still a big Packer fan. I’ve been a part of the Methodist denomination since first grade (1942) and church choirs since 1951. My major in college was anthropology (UW-Madison, 1958) and I took four years of seminary at Perkins in Dallas (BD, 1962). I became an Elder in 1962 and served appointments in Wisconsin until retiring in 1995. I took a five year leave of absence beginning in 1985 to allow my wife to pursue her career. Our two children are adopted.

In 1967, I was a Masland Scholar at Union Theological Seminary in New York for a school year. I took a sabbatical in 1974 to work on a DMin program through United Seminary in St. Paul, MN. In 1978, I was left without appointment and challenged it to the Judicial Council (JCD 492). There were two consequences of that. One, all my bishops since considered me to be a minimum salary level pastor, which worked for me! Two, I began receiving phone calls from pastors in other parts of the country telling about their situations and asking what could I do to help them.

In 1983, while attending Judicial Council with Rev. Lloyd Hutchison, I met Revs. Andrew and Spencer Turnipseed who were advocates for Dr. Thomas Lane Butts. We worked together at the General Conference of 1984, the first of four in a row that I attended as a lobbyist for clergy rights. Tom Matheny, president of the Judicial Council invited me to address the Council that year because I had researched the change where bishops no longer transferred troubled pastors to other conferences and were now pushing them onto leave of absence, thanks to the Council‘s support of the 1980 legislation that allowed Cabinet-initiated leave of absence.

I would like to take credit for the 1988 General Conference decision to set up a study commission on the complaint process. I can’t. But one of your colleagues had, at one point, as many as eight lawsuits against him. The legal fees were killing GCFA even though the Church usually got out of the suits. I did follow the study commission’s actions by attending their meetings as an observer and having the occasional chance to offer information and opinions on the issues before the commission.

In 1996, I was nominated for Judicial Council and actually got 296 (or 269?) votes on the last ballot for clergy alternate. Obviously I was not elected!

In the 1990s, a number of pastors had consulted together on a number of cases and we decided to establish an association. GCFA told us we could not include the denomination’s name in our incorporation papers so we became simply “Associates in Advocacy.” General Conference removed the word “advocate” from the Discipline the following quadrennium.

I’ve watched incredibly bad manipulation of the petitions at General Conference, incredibly unfair abuse of legislative committee agendas to insure only petitions from the Council of Bishops were approved, lack of accountability of bishops, and some backdoor relationships between bishops and the Judicial Council over the years.

Here I am, as Albert Outler used call himself, a simple Bible Christian, trying to apply “going on to perfection” as a denomination, and trying to figure out how to help the bloodied bodies I still see lining the roads of annual conferences. I’ve seen the downside of our church and it has been hard holding back from running screaming into the streets!

Instead, I try to help pastors and lay people who have seen that same down side collapse on them. Sometimes, the church was in the right. Even then, it often did it all wrong and only exacerbated the situation.

Who can actually do something about how things are done in the church? The bishops. Hence, I try to provide periodic one page “continuing education,” clues as to how to handle some of the issues related to Fair Process but sometimes on other matters. Many of these are posted in one way or another on a blog at http://aiateam.blogspot.com and on the website noted above.

Thank God there are bishops who mostly agree with me, though they have every right to question some of my ideas. I know very well it is one thing to offer advice and another to actually have to take it!

A few bishops hate my guts.

I think the difference is that the ones who don’t appreciate me tend to want to run their episcopacies without any criticism or challenge. In recent years, I have become aware that more and more bishops tend to want no limits to their power. They don’t have the least notion that power must have limits. They become, well, like George Bush, who is secretive, runs deals that benefit his friends, makes humungous mistakes, and then keeps attention on insubstantial issues in order to minimize debate of his actions and administration.

Okay, maybe I’m overstating the matter. But we certainly should be a good example for the “world” to follow and not succumb to the practices of the “world.”

Any questions?

Within the covenant of the clergy,


PS I have two other major concerns: donating blood and seeking peace between Israel and Palestine. Christ calls us to be apostles, not just disciples.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Welcome to the new bishops

Dear Bishop,

Welcome to the episcopacy! By now your arms have been stretched at least 18 inches from the grabbing hold of the "train" traveling past you at 90 miles an hour as of September 1.

Being bishop isn't exactly what you expected unless you enjoy paper work, making decisions about more diddly matters than you knew crossed a bishop's desk, working seven days a week, and getting by on four hours of sleep a night.

In time, you will get on board that "train," find others to help with the diddly stuff, cut your hours and get more sleep so you do not become an accident-prone zombie too tired to realize you are exhausted.

Actually, most bishops I have known tend to have strong constitutions. They tend to find the pressure stimulating. But they still do not realize how tired they are. Your best monitor may be your dog. If she growls at night when you come in the door, you are away too much!

But prospective exhaustion is not the only danger you face.

Everyone who wants a piece of you has come around. Remember when you first started out in a new appointment how some of the earliest folks, as hospitable as they seemed, really wanted something. Mainly it was to be in their side in some kind of dispute. While some were gross about it, some were pretty slick and you did not discover their intentions until they may have compromised you with some of your church members.

In a couple days, I will introduce myself more completely so you know where I am coming from as a part of Associates in Advocacy and who that group is.

For now, let me offer this warning: New bishops like new DSs are approached by folks with a serious complaint and they want you to go along with them right now to resolve the disastrous situation they bring to your attention (President Bush did not invent that tactic!).

For example, in my position, I see new bishops caught up in nasty personnel issues which usually had been handled by previous bishops in ways that did not satisfy the complainers. New bishops get "triangulated" very easily because they start off trusting everyone who comes to them first . . . . Once they commit to that person, it is very hard to change their minds with new facts. Too busy! Too committed to be supportive of the ones on their staff/Cabinet until they really know them! And maybe slightly prejudiced about certain kinds of complaints.

I'm Northern European in ethnicity. We have a tool that helps us when someone pops in on us with a tough situation for which they want an immediate commitment: the Norwegian "Oh?"

Works like this: Conference Trustee says, "We need to close all these little churches with less than 50 members. We can't get them to join the conference insurance programs and they are a drag on us."

Bishop: "Oh? Gather some more information for me so I can look into it. Who else has information? Why do you think the previous bishop didn't do more about it?"

Or this: DS says, "That pastor has been uncooperative, refuses to follow the Discipline, won't show up for meetings, has tons of complaints against her, and refuses to acknowledge she has any problems."

Bishop: "Oh? Tell me about the times she was uncooperative? What meetings did she fail to attend? Was she the only one who didn't show? How come she is still around if she has so many complaints against her? Why didn't the previous bishop take the actions you want? What documentation do you have that she actually did what you say?"

Or this: Conference staff says, "The previous bishop was so busy on Council of Bishops' stuff that she refused to take time to listen to what all the local churches have been crying for (services provided by that staff member). She would not take time to talk with me when I asked for an appointment. She was not a team player but a distant CEO-type."

Bishop: "Oh? Tell me about what the Council asked of her? Describe in more detail what it is you wanted her to do with respect to your work area? Tell me when you tried to meet with her and what happened each time. Describe how you work with your own paid and volunteer staffs."

Now that you get the picture, I'm sure you have already been "tagged" by someone like these folks and know you had to go slowly to be sure you had all the facts and knew all the Disciplinary steps that need to be followed before any decisions can be made.

With the zillion decisions demanded of you, exhausted as you are becoming, trusting as you want to be, the best you may be able to do is say, "Oh? Let me think and pray about that for awhile so we don't fall victim to presumptuous sin!" Make a note of the matter and go back to it after you've slept on it and had a chance to check for more information about the problem and the people involved.

While this is a personal note to you, most of my stuff will come to you as part of group mailings. You may need to be sure your system does not block me out as spam. If you do not want to get occasional letters like this, just tell me. I'll honor that decision.

More about me soon.

In the covenant of the clergy,


(Rev. Jerry Eckert, retired, WIAC, contact person for Associates in Advocacy - website: www.aiateam.org)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A letter to the Bishops

Dear Bishop,

Years ago, when I was in more active circulation, I knew much more about what bishops were doing and Associates in Advocacy offered an annual “St. Martin of Tours Award” to those bishops who did exemplary ministries not otherwise recognized.

Bill Oden received our recognition for changing a tradition in the Louisiana Conference. The President of the Judicial Council, Tom Matheny who had been active in conference affairs for thirty some years at that time, was given the privilege of being parliamentarian by every bishop since he went on the Council in 1972. In 1989, Oden realized that was a conflict of interest. After the morning session with Matheny in the chair, Oden replaced him with Dorothy May Taylor, President of the New Orleans City Council. He simply said he felt it was a good idea to celebrate some of the other leaders from around the state.

In a quiet, respectful way, Oden confronted a situation involving one of the most powerful men in the denomination and did it gently and without causing embarrassment.

That was how the monk-elected-bishop of Tours, France, operated. It was one of the reasons that Martin (316-397) was made a saint and why so many Europeans are named Martin, including Martin Luther.

Another recipient of our award was Bruce Blake. After being elected bishop, it was discovered that there had been a major problem in the balloting. Blake rose to the issue and gave up his election in order to help correct the problem. That was a good reason to honor him.

St. Martin of Tours was confronted by the Roman government because, though gentle, he persisted in asking the court to release religious prisoners from secular penalties, even those he thought were heretics. The governor, under pressure from another bishop, decided to make him back off. The cathedral was closed. Martin met his congregation out in a farm field and conducted services there. The governor stripped him of his episcopal garb. So he wore his old monk’s robe. Finally, the governor took over the rectory and Martin, accustomed as a monk to a life of poverty and having lived in an exile’s cave and later the bare cell of a monastery, was able to manage in a small one room hut. He didn’t need the trappings or wealth of a bishop in order to be a bishop.

That was the other reason he was made a saint.

So I am on the alert for any stories that would give me a reason to bring out the “St. Martin of Tours Award” as a way to honor the ministry of bishops.

Feel free to let me know if you have any nominees, including yourself, and give the reason(s) for your choice(s).

In the covenant of clergy,


Monday, May 12, 2008

Finishing up

I'm sure more thoughts on General Conference will occur to me in the days and weeks ahead. But every good thing must come to an end. Even if you don't agree that this has been a good thing, I'm still ending it!


For you who may have wanted some word on how a petition you were interested in came out, my friend Peter Milloy found one key website: http://calms.umc.org/2008/

Or you can get to it through the www.UMC.org website; go to 2008 General Conference; and then go to Resources for delegates; and finally click on Legislation tracking.

Not all the information is there on each petition sent in but by persisting, you'll probably find how a petition made out. If not, I'll ask Peter.


One of the things that happens at General Conference is that there is an omnibus motion to accept the items not yet debated in plenary but which have been handled in the legislative committees. It is made at the last minute of the business session.

This blog will be my "omnibus" action.

I kept notes on scraps of paper I could carry in my pocket. I also reported some things by e-mail to particular friends. Some of that information, though of more general interest, did not make it into the blog till now.

Some will go into relevant blogs as updates. In "A Word about the new Judicial Council" from Tuesday, April 29, I report the new officers.

Here I'll list the whole Council with who are the two top alternates in order of their election:

Members from election in 2004 - 2012:
Rev. Dennis Blackwell (Greater New Jersey Annual Conference) (Pastor, lead delegate to GC)
Beth Capen (New York AC) (Lawyer, active presence at all levels of conferences & local church)
Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe (new president) (South Carolina AC) (Dean of Chapel at Emory Univ.)
Judge Jon Gray (new vice-president) (Missouri AC) (alternate to JC in 1996 and 2000)

Members from election in 2008 - 2016
Rev. Kathi Austin-Mahle (Minnesota AC) (Conference staff)
Judge Angela Brown (California-Nevada AC) (Commander Naval Reserve,Retired; active judge)
Rev. F. Belton Joyner (new secretary) (North Carolina AC) (retired pastor, writer, on Cabinet)
Rev. William Lawrence (North Texas AC) (Dean, Perkins School of Theology, SMU)
Judge Ruben Reyes (Philippines) (Supreme Court member, professor of law)

First lay alternates 2008-2012:
Jay Arthur Garrison (Holston AC) (Conference Chancellor)
William White (Wisconsin AC) (Conference Chancellor)

First clergy alternates 2008-2012
Rev. Joe May (Mississippi AC) (Pastor, active on jurisdictional and general church levels)
Rev. James Karblee (Liberia AC) (Active on all levels of conference)

All the candidates listed good backgrounds. Only Bill White specified that he was not a member of "any particular advocacy group." I really think that helped him get so many votes!


When the rules for GC were being considered, a delegate sought the floor to amend the rule on use of cell phones. "Since texting is basically silent, I move we allow it. That way I can be in touch with my daughter who is a delegate on the other side of the room."

It passed.


As I was waiting to see a delegate, I sat in the hall outside the main entrance to the plenary. Sitting in another chair next to me, a retired pastor named Rev. Cecil Reed, chatted with me.

He introduced himself as the chaplain to President Jimmy Carter whenever Camp David was used. One time the head of chaplains for the Armed Services asked to be able to conduct services and preach.

President Carter said, "No, I really prefer Cecil."


Marshals and pages are a marvelous help at General Conference. The marshals are stationed at all entrances and exits to the arena as well as to the plenary. They control foot traffic, keeping visitors out of areas that would crowd the delegates in their work but allowing visitors to observe.

The pages are the carriers of messages. They carry notes to delegates from visitors, other delegates, and agency staff people (bishops maybe?). It rarely takes more than a few minutes for a note to reach a delegate.

These marshals and pages are there at their own expense. They share in a freewill offering taken toward the end of the Conference. That rarely provides more than 20% of their actual expenses.

All of these volunteers know that is the situation. They are happy to be at GC and to be able to help.

What is disconcerting is that the information they are sent about possible housing are about hotels that begin at $135 a night. What is not mentioned in the materials are the smaller chain motels across the street costing less than half.


Before GC began, I happened to go back stage of the podium/worship center. At previous GCs I attended, it was a good short cut from where I usually sat during plenary and the Cokesbury bookstore.

There were armed Fort Worth police officers in pairs here and there in that vast area, maybe a half dozen altogether. None challenged me but I got the impression I was not welcome to roam freely as I had in the past.

I didn't go that way again.

When President Sirleaf of Liberia came, there were officers all over outside and inside. There were extra volunteers to stop people from going in or out certain doors. I could understand that.

But two nights later, two armed officers were up in the bleachers where I was. They were watching the podium but not in a way I took to be "on the alert."

It took all the nerve I had to go over and ask if they found the plenary interesting. There was a polite response to the effect that it was not. I asked if they happened to belong to our denomination, thinking they came in to see how GC was going. They said no. I asked what their mission was. They looked at me strangely. That kind of ended the conversation.

A friend described his annual conference session where armed police were all over the meeting and worship hall the whole three or four days.

While I am sure there were officers around during the whole GC, that one night was the only time I saw them in our public space as a conference.

I still feel bad that someone thought they had to be there.


I wonder if our understanding of the church would change if we realized a pastor plus a church become a franchise holder. What value would the franchise be to the holder? Would someone please consider the administrative flow chart and then do the math.


I attended a meeting where several people spoke of their emotional and spiritual journey through having a son or daughter come out of the closet. One retired bishop used a line that might have made Revs. Jeremiah Wright and John Hagee proud (or not!). The bishop said, "My Lesbian daughter has two children and she's still a virgin. Take that, Pope Benedict!"


I found out that the reference committee did not send over all of the personnel procedures to the Judicial Administration Legislative Committee. Someone must have gotten to them to argue that administrative procedures were not involuntary. That had been the criterion on which was based my request for switching many petitions from the Ministry and Higher Education Legislative Committee.

It will be interesting to see if the problem that led them to switch so many other petitions will come back to haunt them - that different sections of the personnel processes, of Fair Process and Restorative Justice, will coordinate or have dysjunctions.

One new passage that apparently was passed into the 2008 Discipline allows the bishop to make a final determination about appointability. Some bishops have ignored Fair Process and they can ignore what seems to be a new fairly reasonable process of supervision.

The key phrase of the new passage is this:

" 4. If an elder fails to meet professional responsibilities (¶340), does not demonstrate vocational competence or effectiveness as defined by the annual conference through the board of ordained ministry and cabinet, and/or does not accept the appointment determined by the bishop, then an appointment may be forfeited and the provisions of ¶362 may be invoked. " (Paragraph 334)

That sure sounds like it could become involuntary in a hurry!

That may depend on what the meaning of "may" is (to paraphrase President Clinton's famous quote.)


One of the volunteers from the Central Texas Conference knows someone from Port Charlotte, FL, and wondered if she goes to our church. . . . Ours is the smallest UM Church in town and I haven't run into her.

Sometimes the world is not as small as we thought.


During one of the worship services, a Native American church group sang a lengthy benediction in their own language and music.

One of the things I like about our church is that we give reason and opportunty for languages and musical forms to be preserved for future generations. It may not be enough given all the pressures that are washing away these ancient cultures. But it is something.


I heard an interesting phrase.

A bishop worked for years to get a project up and running so that this GC could authorize it. In the legislative committee, he found out that the project was headed for rejection because it wasn't from "inside the tent."

A bishop is seen as "not inside the tent?"

In every hierarchy, even those at the top, have their own hierarchies!


I will report on specific changes related to personnel work in more detail after our Associates in Advocacy meeting next week. They may require several postings as this report on General Conference did.


It's about time to mark this three oh (reporterese for sending the article for editing and publication).

I have enjoyed the journey through General Conference and trying to share some thoughts about it.

There are other reports in blogs and in the various media, church and secular, that have details about things in which you may have been more interested.

If you stayed on this long, I thank you and hope it was worth your time and attention.

As always, feel free to contact me to question, correct, challenge, or exchange thoughts.

I now return the blog to its original intention, commentary of the current church scene. And this blog will be transferred over to our website for future reference sometime soon.



I referred earlier to the problem many delegates had with the cool temperatures and low humidity they experienced here at GC.

But what of the rest of the delegates, particularly those from the US? Was clothing an issue for those prepared for the temperatures?

Actually, the next biggest issue was foot comfort. I saw a lot of cross training shoes on men and women. Walking is an issue which shiny stylish leather shoes do not really resolve comfortably!

The clothing was mostly informal, long khaki pants and short sleeve shirts not tucked in were most common among the male delegates and visitors. I would say forty percent were so dressed.
By the third day of conference, I went shopping for two cotton slacks and two dark cotton shirts. Along with my New Balance 608s, I was set for the rest of the time I was there.

Suits and ties were on about 20% of the male delegates and ninety percent of the male bishops.

That kind of tells you who belongs to which street gang! (Update: I wish I’d thought of that during GC. I might have been able to put numbers and names to that possibility. The other explanation has to do with appearing professional and that would cross all lines of formal and informal groupings.)

The American women clergy tended to wear heels and “business” apparel, by which I mean anything from dark suits to colorful skirts and jackets. There were times I saw some of the women in jeans with their hair down and in sweat shirts, but those were not very often because women constituted a large percentage of the presenters on the conference floor and in the leadership of the committees and sub-committees.

Among the folks from overseas, the Europeans tended to dress less formally, men and women. The Central and South Americans did not seem to dress distinctively. Nor was I aware of Asian garb except on some of the women who wore filmy skirts that hung to their ankles and looked like they would catch in the escalators. I was always nervous following them because I did not have a scissors to cut them loose if their skirts got caught.

Far and away the most color came from some of the African delegates, especially the women. Some women wore headdresses made of the same colorful materials of their fulsome dresses. They were worn with dignity and grace. (I also felt some degree of arrogance among them . . . .)
The African men wore many different things. Most were in suit and ties much of the time. Those from the poorer countries probably only had one or two such outfits bought specifically for GC. But some had very colorful garb native to their country which they wore on occasion. Those same delegates also ended up wearing khakis, short sleeve shirts, and sports jackets to face the cold dry air of the arena.

On the warmer days, some of the visitors wore shorts common among us Floridians.

I did not wear my shorts downtown. But I did start out wearing my suit and nice slacks we had bought for me to wear in 2004.

After the rainstorm soaked my suit coat and slacks, especially after seeing how the delegates tended not to be dressed up, I stuck with the khakis, dark short-sleeved shirts, and comfortable walking shoes.

I mailed back most of my good clothes well ahead of flying home. I did keep my suit and shirt and tie in case the Judicial Council invited me in to discuss the two papers I offered to them, one on basic approach to dealing with cases and the other on the issue of recusing.

No surprise, the suit stayed in the closet the rest of the conference.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Are We There Yet?

Sometime in the near future, I will see if we can transplant these blogs over into the AIA website so they can be archived there. They may be instructive as we all plan for 2012.

But the task of sorting through GC actions on Fair Process remains before me. As I read the Daily Christian Advocate and hear from others who watched GC, I am sure other things worthy of mention will find their way into this blog for 2008.

I am looking forward to our Associates in Advocacy annual meeting on May 20-21 when we will go over all the germane legislation and see if we can get it sorted out. If you want to be a part of that confab which will be held near OHare Field in Chicago (actually Elk Grove Village), contact me or check the website (www.aiateam.org) for more information.

My postings will probably be sporadic over the next two weeks as they have been much of the time over the past two. So be patient, dear readers (I have now had two who told me they checked it every day). We will soon be done.

Another result . . .

The Church tried to navigate a course down the middle through the rocky waters of the homosexuality debate.

The right defeated a statement for the Social Principles that would have said that Christians of deep conviction were on both sides of the issue. The legislative committee reported that out as their motion. But as I described earlier, the right seemed to have been supported by the presiding bishop and that motion failed.

However, the right was unable to stop some new definitions from being added to the Social Principles, one for homophobia and one for heterosexism.

The right has been claiming it is not homophobic for many years, pointing to how it has ministries to homosexuals through congregations in the Transforming Church movement. They have been far more clear about their concern over "practicing homosexuals" because that behavior is the problem, not the orientation to it.

So instead of finding another middle path which calls on all sides in the church to realize homosexuality is on a continuum with heterosexuality so that all of us are more or less both gay and straight, sometimes in the same person's lifetime, something science is now trying to call to our attention, the GC chose to add "heterosexism" to our vocabulary.

Now the left wing has a new feather to pound on the right wing with while the main body of the church is trying to fly. The problem they see with the right is that it is heterosexualist, prejudiced against homosexuals.

Next GC, someone on the right will probably succeed putting into the Social Principles some kind of term for progressives who are prejudiced against conservatives!

We must love to be in conflict!

We perpetuate it by not sitting down and looking at all the evidence and experience and reason (and tradition if anthropologists are right about how other cultures have treated homosexuality through history - not just through that of the Middle East).

The right takes Old and New Testament passages as their authority and stops there despite their own family members being homosexual!

The left stops at thinking all homosexuality is from God and no homosexual has a choice in the matter, despite years of experience showing some people choose the lifestyle in order to be part of a vocation or because it becomes an excuse to avoid something else in life that they cannot deal with.

Come on, People. Let's talk about the whole range of information that has built up so we can settle this conflict.

Pasting new labels on one another is not doing much good.

We all have to face up to the reality that we are working out of prejudice rather than humble seeking of truth and justice.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lobbying by individuals

Successful lobbying at General Conference usually depends on the establishment of a very wide and strong network, often a coalition of a number of groups. I've discussed some of those in another blog.

Then there are the rest of us, each trying to bring our light to shine on some issue or other.

Some individuals have followed the rules wisely and been able to get a petition to stay alive despite much opposition and get them through the legislative process. They are usually delegates with the authority that entails. They can make motions on the floor and they have voice. Without a committed delegate on your side, you are at the mercy of the process no matter how wise nor well prepared your petition may be.

The truth and fullness of the petition to censure Dr. Holsinger helped it make it through the special rule passed early in the conference and got it as far as a sub-committee where it was debated. Without enough delegate support, it may have been misinterpreted as partisan or seen as moot because Holsinger was not even on the ballot for Judicial Council. Or it may have been misconstrued because no one provided the arguments of the reference committee about it's being within the new rules.

I don't know yet.

Petitions from individuals rarely get beyond the sub-committee.

Other individuals come in person to monitor the progress of their petitions. They usually know delegates in the legislative committees and have prepared them to sustain the petitions as long as possible so they will get full consideration.

One such colleague has successfully taken concerns to the Judicial Council where his arguments have prevailed on narrow but important matters. Having that history, his presence and his petitions carry a weight that is greater than any most individuals have. He has name recognition among many in the legislative committee.

This year he even invited the whole legislative committee to dinner at his own expense to offer a lecture on how Fair Process works and where its failings are. Only a handful came but his effort meant they were far more ready to deal with all petitions in that area.

About the only thing you can say about my efforts this time around is that I have been persistent. Knowing some of the folks in key positions hasn't hurt. But I don't see the progress that is needed.

Over the years, something of mine enters the Discipline because someone else thought it was a good idea and offered it through a general church agency or caucus. That may be the only way some good ideas are accepted: someone of stature presents it as their own. And maybe they did think of it on their own. I try to provide ideas that are self-evident.

I still have no idea how my petitions fared. The few I tracked were rejected. But some may have been incorporated into other petitions that were passed. Sorting through the petitions that passed is a major project. I have been too tired to do it yet. I'm still napping most afternoons.

One of the delegates who has heard from me since I first started trying to influence the General Conference with my 30 to 50 petitions every four years gave me a hug and teased, "Without you, Jerry, we'd be all done by now." She laughed when I replied, "Well, you can't say I didn't give General Conference a chance to get it right."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lobbying by groups

An individual trying to get something through General Conference that could change things for the better is thought to be impossible.

Far and away, the most effective at bringing change are organized groups.

The most powerful lobbying group is the Council of Bishops. Their lifetime election gives them so many advantages. They hold the power of appointment over every clergy person at General Conference. They are respected by the laity, especially those who sometimes gain considerable stature in the church by becoming important in the structure.

I am amazed that lay people in positions of serious authority can sometimes be unable to face up to the injustices that come to their attention. I take that to mean there is a dependency on the bishops for their status.

Watching efforts by reasonable people to deal with some of the imbalances caused by the money it takes to have bishops for life shows that it is often very hard to get General Conference to agree.

Getting bishops into the legislative committees as parliamentarians almost died because of the inability to gather enough for this General Conference. But they will be the parliamentarians as of 2012.

And their candidates for Judicial council won.

The next most effective lobbyists are the conservative coalition. Behind them are millions of dollars that support some of their efforts. The cost of cell phones for hundreds of overseas delegates was not raised from the donations of the pastors and average laity. Nor is renting a whole hotel just a block from the conference center. That had to have been done long before the GC Commission realized that the two major hotels would not be ready in time.

The conservative coalition provided free breakfasts for any delegates who wished to have them. And they have worked hard to get their delegates elected from the various annual conferences. Their national communications network is second to none. They provide glossy printed materials to hand out to the delegates while most lobbying groups have materials produced by computer but then reproduced by copy machines.

The conservative coalition got some of their legislation through despite having fewer delegates than in previous General Conferences. They did so by successfully lobbying and marshaling foreign delegates for many of their key votes on homosexuality.

Methodist Federation for Social Action and groups seeking justice for homosexuals did not have the financial resources but they have been at lobbying longer than the other groups. Their communications network is not backed up with massive funding like the conservative coalition, but they are closer to the public relations model of "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" than the other two groups and so tend to be more persuasive on nearly all other issues than the wedge issues raised by the conservatives and the institutional control issues raised by the bishops.

The progressive coalition's successful negotiation of the "witness" demonstration and doing it without arrests this time was quite effective. Their success at voting out Judicial Council members that had been a major conservative block for the last eight years is as good as the conservatives' taking over of the Judicial Council eight years ago.

Beyond those three, there were few others that gained attention.

In particular, the Women's Caucus did not seem active this time around. Beyond having monitors on inclusiveness who were given time to report their counts of speakers' gender, status, and nationality, there seemed to not be much new in the way of legislation.

That monitoring did have a major impact on this GC. Few middle aged white men were elected to leadership on the legislative committees and sub-committees!

Those roles usually help people who want to be bishop gain "face" time and their performance in those roles is a serious factor in winning election to the office of bishop. If so, many more women than usual will become bishops in July's jurisdictional elections.

The "Spotted Owl" group was very effective and their effort to shorten the time required to become an Elder appears to have succeeded. Their goofy knit caps should go into some kind of "Hall of Fame" for specific issue lobbyists.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

AIA as a bridge group

The laws of the church tend to slow down the way we'd rather mishandle a problem than to learn from the past how better to solve it.

As Dr. Curl and other of my Perkins professors taught, "The Discipline is made up of attempts to solve problems in better ways, 200 hundred years worth of wisdom."

Associates in Advocacy seeks to remind church people about that and seeks to facilitate working through the Disciplinary process under every circumstance.

That means we work with people whose opinions on a wide variety of issues differ greatly.

We have helped advocates defend very conservative evangelical pastors and we have helped very liberal pastors. We have helped men and women, lay and clergy, young and old.

The list of advocates I keep are also across the spectrum of belief which underlies our denomination. I have high regard for all of them even when one or another gives up on me because I happen to have a theological stance of my own which may disagree with theirs.

That still does not stop me from my first question of someone who calls, "What has happened?" We don't have a belief requirement before we will respond to a pastor or lay person in trouble in our system. One of the most liberal pastors in our group is defending one of the most conservative pastors in his conference. I have recommended one of the most conservative advocates in our association as one who can help her sort out a situation to one of the most liberal bishops.

The real problem within our system is not the width of the denomination's theological views. The real problem is injustice. And neither wing has that as its intent.

There are "controllers," "rigidniks" as they are identified by a friend, who operate on their own rules and refuse to allow anyone else including their respective institutions to give them guidance. Those kind use the conscientious of their respective persuasions to be their foot soldiers in their war against their enemies, playing on their beliefs in a cynical way to gain and keep control.

Some of our clients are those who were dumped after helping a controller get what s/he wanted.

Sometimes I avoid speaking out on the hot button issues because others do it so well and I don't want to take sides on some matters.

But as one who believes in the Golden Rule and the General Rules, I am not always content to be silent when I see my conservative or liberal colleagues being used for someone else's rise to power.

I set up this blog not for my opinions but to report what is relevant to the Church in terms of justice matters.

That sometimes opens the door for my opinions. It becomes hard sometimes to avoid crossing that line.

So I've taken a chance by offering opinions.

Excoriate me if you will but if you are in trouble with the Church, call and I'll provide the best help our association can offer.

One result . . .

As I wrote earlier, General Conference had a tendency to give something to both wings of the church. While the main body steered down the middle, the wings got an extra feather or two.

Here's one for the "right" from Riley Case in a recent newsletter from the Confessing Movement:

"One significant abortion-related petition added the phrase to the Social Principles section on abortion: 'respects the sacredness..of the unborn child.' The significance is that the unborn child is called an unborn child and not a fetus."

What I've never understood is why a Roman Catholic doctrine based on Original Sin, which says that a baby's life has priority over the mother's because the mother has accumulated more sin over her lifetime since the mother's baptism than the child and the baptized child has far less, is now a plank of the right wings' platform.

The United Methodist Church has held a balanced and wise policy on abortion for as long as I can remember. We have wanted abortion to not be used unless there was a significant medical problem that endangered the mother or child. We believe that only after serious counseling with pastoral and appropriate professionals should abortion be used.

Adoption is our first recommendation when a mother is not in a position to care for the newborn.

One of the reasons this balanced view was taken by our denomination was because of "Our belief in the sanctity of the unborn human life . . . . But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother. . . ."

Isn't the real issue not just nobly taking a stand but seeking how best to insure that abortions only follow humane counseling? And at the same time seeking what is the best outcome for any human life that is born?

The alternative is to leave everything in God's hands and not interfere with the natural course of events. But that logically leads to taking a position that says we should not intervene medically in any situation.

I believe there are folks on both sides of this set of arguments who are deeply Christian and compassionate. They would not be likely to take the extreme logical position.

What bothers me is that there are some who do not want to admit the truth of that reality and want only to have one side win, their side.

That is a symptom of "party spirit" which the Scriptures say is not a gift of the Holy Spirit!

Logical inconsistency is not the worst of sins, though it leaves us open to making horrendous mistakes. What pains me is the way it can be used to block deepening the discussion.

For example, the "evangelical" wing has been pecking away at the Social Principles a phrase at a time, focusing over the years in getting the General Conference to finally say "the sacredness..of the unborn child" without beginning the conversation about how to help individual pregnant women avoid future pregnancies that are unwanted, how to get China to stop its rural populations from practicing gender selection abortions, how to raise the economic level of families that cannot afford another mouth to feed without harming the children they already have, how to help a young woman face families bent on disowning them for having a baby out of wedlock, how to ease the "tragic conflicts of life" which make abortion seem the only way to resolve them even if it means crossing state lines to go into back alleys to medically incompetent people willing to help with an abortion.

One of the great qualities of our denomination is that it has attempted to take wise stands based on experience, reason, and tradition, and Scripture, mainly Jesus' teachings. That puts us into offering more complex answers because no simple answers take into account the harm that come can from just thinking in black and white.

Frankly, I wonder if the desire to win and to not want to face the possibility that there are Christians on the other side of the argument is to make abortion a wedge issue to undermine the denomination and split it.

But the General Conference plows on, giving one side this feather but being misconstrued so that the right wing feels like it can best help the denomination fly by beating the left wing into submission.


In 1952, several students from Latvia attended my hometown Waukesha's High School. They escaped the Russian take-over of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. That history came back to life when I had the honor of going to dinner with Tarmo Lilleoja.

Tarmo was elected as one of two delegates to General Conference from Estonia. I met him at the Reference Committee. He represented the Ministry Legislative Committee. So I saw a good deal of him the first week.

Tarmo's command of English is very good so we had an extensive conversation about him, his family, the church in Estonia, and his country's history.

When the Russian occupation ended in 1991, Estonia was left in a shambles, its economy ruined, its infrastructure in desperate need of help, and its humanitarian needs tremendous. The influx of aid from Europe and England was handled through the church which had maintained its connections during the occupation. He became one of the administrators for that program.

Estonia being a small nation of around a million and a half citizens, it pulled together, restoring its original governmental system from before the Russian occupation during WWII. It held elections and became re-established very soon after the Russians left.

It meant a great deal to Estonia that its ambassador to the US was recognized here as Estonia's government in exile from the time the Russians took over in 1944. The rest of the world recognized the Russian-formed government after WWII. The US decision made it easier for Estonia to become re-established as an independent nation and it explains how it is that Estonia has been a part of the "Coalition of the Willing" in our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tarmo said that the German take-over had been peaceful. Estonia was seen by them as a former German colony (Germans had invaded Estonia in 13th century). During WWII, Estonians were conscripted into the German army. When Russia invaded, they hunted down and killed many of those former "German" soldiers. Russia's occupation was cruel.

Other times in history going back to Middle Ages were frequently under Russian domination. The Bolsheviks tried to keep Estonia within Red Russia, but failed. Estonia established its independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917.

He told me his dad had been conscripted by the Germans but somehow escaped detection by the Russians. However, they conscripted him without realizing he had served in the German army.

During the Nuremberg trials, Estonian conscripts guarded the German officers. One of the officers recognized his guards who had also served under him. But he never told on them.

Tarmo has three sons, all as different as they can be. One has exceptional athletic ability and Tarmo was in touch with college coaches while he was here to see if they had a scholarship program for which his one son would qualify.

Tarmo's wife is dean of the United Methodist Theological Seminary in Estonia. When I told him I wrote a manual for first-time pastors, he said she might be interested in seeing it so I sent him a copy by e-mail.

It is long past time that we were more clear about how the churches in other countries are not "mission" churches but full-fledged national churches like ours is. We are fortunate to have a relationship with them.

I have no trouble looking at that relationship being as equals.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Value of this General Conference

Probably the most important value was that so many United Methodists got to meet so many others and rediscover just how many wonderful fellow Christians there are world wide!

I've mentioned the saints I've met. The volunteers from the Central Texas Conference are way up there on my list. The folks I have known as far back as 1984 who still attend General Conference are mostly among the saints. I dealt with a number of media folks working for our denomination and they proved to be worthy of genuine esteem. The friendships across national lines may become invaluable.

Whatever machinations or political moves or failures of this quadrennial event, the relationships that we developed will mean something to us for years to come. I really think this is the highest value we received for our time in Fort Worth.

Despite shoving the censure of President Bush under the rug, this body of United Methodists made some policy votes that say how we feel about what the Bush Administration has done:

96% voted that war was incompatible with Jesus' teachings

96% voted urging peaceful resolutions be sought with Iraq, North Korea, and any other world nations and against pre-emptive military actions

96% voted to reduce man-made greenhouse gases

98% voted in opposition to building the Bush library at SMU because of the separation of church and state. (See update below.)

Similarly high percentages voted for protecting undocumented workers and their families with broader immigration reforms

While General Conference voted to retain "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" (60%), it also voted to add definitions of homophobia (fear of homosexuality) and heterosexism (discrimination against homosexuals) (60%).

As in so many past General Conferences, this one maintained a steady course down the middle as these delegates perceived it, giving something to the left and something to the right.

But finally, it stayed together. Considering that serious attacks to divide the church by use of hot button issues for the last 36 years, maybe the second greatest value is that we did not divide.


So far, I have not found confirmation of this vote. Though reported this way in the Fort Worth newspaper, the official record of GC says that the vote was to refer the motion by that margin for consideration by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in July.

The Ministry and Higher Education Legislative Committee, the one that tended to support what the bishops wanted, made the original referral accepted by the plenary without debate.

Most scholars and church law experts believe that the final decision about the Bush facilities at SMU belongs in the hands of the "owners," the jurisdictional conference.

The South Central College of Bishops voted several months ago to okay the placement of the Bush presidential library at SMU. Their action is seen by many to have been inappropriate and a way to get around the Bush Foundation from having to wait till July before starting to build the Bush facilities at SMU.

How could they now rescind a vote they thought was legitimate and have to tell that to President Bush's people?

Perhaps there was some concern to protect the bishops because they wouldn't have to face that if the Bush facilities were under construction by July and thus a vote by the jurisdictional conference would be moot.


In 1988, the General Conference accomplished something, establishment of Africa University. The twentieth anniversary of that decision was celebrated as a significant event in the life of our denomination.

We celebrated a large number of such anniversaries: 40th anniversary of the dissolution of the Central (Negro)Jurisdiction and their integration into the rest of the American church; 60th anniversary of Advance, our special process of offering ways to collect money for specific mission projects; 40th anniversary of the Commission on Religion and Race; 100th anniversary of the Social Creed; 100th anniversary of United Methodist Men; and the 100th anniversary of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

I'm not sure we will celebrate anything that was done at this General Conference in twenty or forty or a hundred years.

The most important decision made this year was to call Central Conferences "regional" conferences, with the implication that the U. S. church is one "region" among many, and no longer the dominant one. That change in terminology must be supported by the annual conferences, a result which will not be known until mid-2009.

The reality, of course, is that the U. S. church will still be dominant in four years when a task force examining the implications and future direction of United Methodism will report back with possible concrete steps to decentralize the denomination.

As was mentioned earlier, there are those who want the American church to dominate world Methodism in order to dominate its theology and its resources. They have four years to disrupt the study commission and then to torpedo any plan that undercuts their dreams of complete control.

Otherwise, this General Conference will go down in history as doing little for which to go down in history.


I'm not the only one who felt the effects of the exhausting pace of General Conference.

Rev. Rebekah Miles of Arkansas wrote the following for UMNexus Blog:

"A person who has lost a lot of sleep will experience the same impairments as someone who’s had a couple of margaritas. If you go 24 hours without sleep or go a week with only five hours of sleep a night, like many General Conference delegates, you are just as impaired as someone with a .10 percent blood alcohol level.

"Sleep deprivation is linked to poor judgment, increased irritability and anxiety, and lowered productivity and social skills.

"In one study, researchers found only one difference between those who went 24 hours without any sleep and those who went for a week with only five or so hours a night: Those with no sleep at all recognized that they were messed up!"

She said that the effort to save money by shortening the General Conference only produced a frantic pace that wore out everyone. They had to pack the same amount of work into fewer days and five hours of sleep a night was not enough.

Despite my getting back every day but one to the parsonage where I stayed, napping up to three hours on occasion, it still has taken me days to recuperate.

Okay, so I am an old duffer and can't handle the pace. Rev. Miles looks to be in her mid-thirties, the prime of her life. And she still speaks of the wear and tear she suffered. Another friend observed in a telling way how he felt three days after, "I survived."

I found my ministry at General Conference was trying to get the volunteers who were there from 7 in the morning to 11 at night to take naps. The coordinator of volunteers was so tired she told me that she told all the volunteers about resting during the day, though none of them remembered her having done it.

That illustrates Rev. Miles' point. Sleep deprivation makes us do goofy things like rationalize because we are too tired to think straight. That coordinator was always there and put in 16 hour shifts nearly every day of the conference.

I've commented that bishops have to be hale and hardy to stand the rigors of their jobs. At General Conference, the bishops have a place to sit during the plenary sessions, up on the stage in front of everyone. But there were seldom more than a dozen or so of the fifty active and one hundred retired bishops in their seats during plenary sessions. Even they couldn't handle the pace!

Finally, many legislative committees reported out on petitions with total votes of 37 out of the 100 assigned to them. There were a lot who did not stay around to the end of those sessions. Beside the two censure petitions, one can wonder what else did not get a full committee's consideration.

Monday, May 5, 2008

More to come

Despite my silence of the last few days and despite GC concluding, I have a few more observations to send your way.

I'll keep this one very short.

Scrutiny of articles in the media, both church and secular, show how widely we cast our prophetic net over the evils of our society, asking our churches to face them and do something about them, such as torture, trafficking in slavery, poverty, pre-emptive war, etc.

But the GC was unwilling to deal publicly with the misbehavior of two very public figures who call themselves United Methodists and failed to look seriously at many petitions intended to improve our unjust personnel practices.

I guess it is okay to hang out other people's dirty laundry and hide our own . . . .

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hard at work

Yesterday after the "witness" demonstration, it was eerily silent in the plenary. I had the feeling the event had an impact on everyone. Four bishops wore rainbow stoles and stood in solidarity with the demonstrators and their supporters in the bleachers.

When I went back last night after taking a needed long nap at the parsonage, I found the delegates still very quiet, but, if you can imagine, the 800 remaining delegates were even quieter this morning.

There were no whispered conversations. There was no restless movement of bored delegates.

Every eye was forward. Every body was fully attentive to what was going on before them.

They were in full work mode.

It stayed that quiet and intense the whole morning. And the presiding bishop worked the plenary well. They passed the budget!

But that does not mean there was no laughter. The other day, a French-speaking African delegate was at the microphone to make argument in the discussion but the presiding bishop could not hear the translation. Usually, the translators voice is heard immediately after the delegate speaks. Suddenly over the loud speaker came, "Can you here me now?" That broke up the Conference. I did notice many from outside the US wondering why we were laughing.

On another occasion, a delegate was speaking about a mis-statement which the bishop had allowed to go uncorrected. The delegate told the bishop he was deeply offended and that he would see the bishop at his (the delegate's) office at 8 a. m. the next morning.

Superintendents and bishops are known to make such demands.

The presiding bishop responded immediately, "Is there someone else who wants to speak?"

Everyone laughed.

Most of the bishops do have a sense of humor and some have a marvelous sense of timing so that they can make something come out funny in the moment.

This morning's intensity had some of those moments. I did not make notes on them, I'm sorry to say.

But as we were getting down close to the noon break, the bishop announced the winner of the auction of an autographed basketball, the proceeds of which were going to "Nothing But Nets," the now-national movement to buy mosquito nets for African children vulnerable to malaria. Then he gave the total raised during GC: nearly half a million dollars!

That drew a tremendous ovation. He rose, dribbled the basketball, and passed it to the bishop whose conference had raised the largest amount of money. He dribbled the ball to the podium as the cheers continued.

They were not the Harlem Globe Trotters! But they looked like they'd done it before.


I used to be on our conference's journal committee and be responsible for reporting on the accuracy of the minutes of the conference secretary. Rev. Bill Stevens, who was ours for many years, began each day's minutes with something like, "The sun shown brightly and the air was cool as conference members took their seats."

I have been remiss in not saying more about the weather.

This is Texas so you can imagine how the weather has been here. And it was.

The first night, the chair of the GC Commission talked to us about all the basic things of managing the Conference, including keeping an eye on the weather. He said, "That is what we are doing now."

We were aware of the sound of rain on the roof of the arena. The streets were slightly wet when we left the arena later that night.

The next morning, the newspaper reported tornadoes had touched down on towns north of Fort Worth.

That day and for several days following, the temperatures were in the low fifties each morning and the air was very dry. Delegates from tropical areas and many others were shivering in their seats and looking for anything to cover their shoulders and arms because the arena was so cool, even in the plenary and meeting rooms.

T-shirts and sweatshirts sold out at Cokesbury. Someone brought in boxes of small blankets.

Cokesbury brought in jackets that I would wear in Wisconsin on a cold fall or spring day. They sold out!

They were worn the rest of the two weeks.

There was one day that a gully washer hit as I was taking the train back to Richland Hills. As I walked the three blocks to the train, the wind blew what was a light rain against my suit slacks as I cowered under an umbrella, something contrary to my training in ROTC during college, but which kept my head dry anyway.

But as I got off the train, it was a major down pour. And the wind was strong and swirling enough that it tore up the umbrella and made it impossible to close the car door for several seconds.

There were no reports of tornadoes the next day.

Since then, the skies stayed cloudy for several days and it was cool again.

These closing days, the sun has shown brightly and the jackets and shawls have been worn only inside the arena. But the wind outside is blowing something fierce. One of the hundred foot wide tributaries of the Trinity River had whitecaps!

Like Wisconsin where I grew up, Texas has the saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."


I met a young woman wearing a stole of rainbow colors. She was working a computer on which she was able to show the "witness" demonstration that occurred yesterday. (She found it on one of the UMC websites.)

As we discussed the event, she commented that she has heard some crazy rumors, especially from overseas delegates.

They said that if she wore the multicolored stole, she was homosexual.

They said that she was not a United Methodist but an outsider trying to disrupt the church.

They said she would try to convert them to being Gay.

Someone has been misrepresenting the ones in the movement seeking fair treatment of homosexuals and requesting a "place at the table" where their concerns could be addressed.

I'd guess that at least 80 percent of the wearers of the stoles are parents and siblings of Gay individuals or are supportive of proving fair treatment for Gays and Lesbians.

I'd guess that 100% of those wearing the stoles around GC are United Methodists. Everyone I know personally certainly is a member of the UMC.

I have never seen any wearer of the stoles button-hole another person and talk with them about becoming homosexual.

Such rumors are truly bearing false witness against our neighbors.