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.


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,