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.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Re: Spring 2009 Judicial Council Decisions

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.

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

Re: JCM 1111


If there was any concern about the United Methodist’s two positions on homosexuality and related issues among Judicial Council members, that was not reflected in the decision. The Council took a strict interpretation as did its predecessor Council that what is said in Paragraphs (PP) 2702 and 341.6 make any reference to supporting marriage or union services for same gender couples illegal under the Discipline.

This case was held over from the 2008 Fall session in order for all the documents to be sent in by the Conference from which the matter came.

A resolution was passed by the California-Nevada Conference to commend retired Elders who would be willing to conduct same gender ceremonies. A question of law was raised about it and the bishop ruled that while commendable, the resolution encouraged violating church law and was null and void.

Her ruling ended the resolution’s life in that conference until the Council reviewed the decision.

Judicial Council Decision 1111 supports the bishop.

The only dissent indicated an interpretation of the resolution which did not “prescribe or recommend violation” of the Discipline but it had only one signer.

Re: JCM 1112


This matter was held over from the 2008 Fall session of the Council and was given a very brief review in the Memorandum: the bishop ruled the presenter of the question was not a member of the conference and thus could not raise the question, which the Council upheld and therefore felt it could not take jurisdiction..

The story behind the questioning comes out in the concurring opinions.

The superintendent and pastor changed the locks on the church so the congregation could no longer meet.

The local church was summarily discontinued (P 2548.2) by the superintendent and then was called an abandonment (P 2548.3) when the Annual Conference met to vote on it. The process for each is different in the Discipline.

Besides the obvious lack of proper procedure for discontinuing the church reported in the concurring opinions, I wonder if the Council checked to see if the questioner was still a proper delegate since the abandonment was not final until after the conclusion of the conference. I also wonder if they could have taken jurisdiction despite the bishop’s ruling because the conference did have before it the matter of the closing of that church, thus making the question(s) germane to the actions of the conference.

I confess it is odd that a conference would consider closing a church with an average attendance of 40 worshippers. If the issue was theological, as I suspect, I wonder how those with a different theological stance would accept superintendents’ actions like this one.

This could be one of those things the Council missed in its learning curve.

As the ruling stands, superintendents can pull this same stunt with impunity in the future because of the precedent of this ruling.

Re: JCD 1113


For approximately $10 a year for 99 years, with the possibility of renewing for another 150 years, the Bush Foundation signed a lease with SMU.*

That’s the information the Judicial Council apparently did not have. They indicate in the ruling that they could not determine the fair market value for the lease of four or more acres for a facility worth 200 to 500 million dollars. It is likely they would have concluded that the lease is worth far less than market value for property on the SMU campus.

I wish I had been at the hearing (my own fault that I who live in Florida did not attend the Denver hearing) to learn if anyone on the Judicial Council asked that question of the six representatives at the hearing. Someone in the group had that information. It was the burden of the questioner to have presented it in light of the questions she asked at the conference.

A reading of the Decision shows that the Judicial Council sensed pressure of time. That's why they didn't send it back to the bishop who ruled on the questions of law.

They chose instead to study the rules of procedure of the jurisdictional conference and the SMU articles of incorporation as well as the Book of Discipline. After showing where the Bishop had erred in his rulings, they sought to answer the questions themselves.

They decided that the Mission Council of the jurisdiction acted appropriately in permitting the signing of the lease and that the vote supporting that action by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, the true owners of SMU, affirmed the action.

They did not note the action of the College of Bishops of the jurisdiction who made a judicial ruling when asked by the Bush Foundation but who then failed to forward that ruling to the Judicial Council for review as all other questions of law require.

The Judicial Council needs to be more careful about what judicial authority bishops are allowed under the Book of Discipline.

Nor did the Judicial Council review precedents in their own record. As far back as 1946, the Judicial Council ruled that no body can abandon its own powers and grant them to a subsidiary group. JCD 38 says, "No authority is given in the Constitution of the Church for it to delegate its powers in such a manner as to deprive itself of that basic or ultimate power." I was startled at how many decisions since have maintained that precedent. I do not think that the Council should have affirmed the role of the Mission Council.

Because the lease was already signed under permission of the Mission Council, those who supported it could argue it was too late to change. That would inhibit some delegates who might have voted the other way.

I commend the Judicial Council on its careful study and earnest desire to resolve this matter. I also appreciate the care shown by two members of the Judicial Council to explain their relationship to the ruling and why they did or did not participate in this decision.

But in their desire to be helpful, the Council may have provided an inadvertent appearance of favoritism.

*I have this information from a Feb. 28, 2008, copy of THE DAILY CAMPUS, an independent SMU campus newspaper.

Re: JCM 1114


A West Ohio leader requested a ruling on whether or not the General Conference had taken action on establishing the number of bishops to which the North Central Jurisdiction was entitled, based on a vote to change the Discipline about how that number was determined.

The Council took no jurisdiction but took time to explain as clearly as they could just why.

The hang up they say is that there is a principle of church law that has not yet been changed which says that only matters dealing with the actual business of an annual conference can be ruled on by the Council.

I have not completed the necessary research yet to argue this understanding of their role. But I think the Council has made rulings on questions outside that limitation in the past. I do expect that research will be done during the coming year to challenge what is taken as a standing precedent which unfortunately avoids the task of determining the “constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline….”

Re: JCM 1115


California Pacific Annual Conference tried a resolution that would recognize the pastoral need to handle same gender ceremonies. The Council accepted the bishop’s recognition of the right of those who violate the Discipline to fair process or just resolution, but the Council reversed her ruling that the resolution was permissible.

They felt it supported those pastors who celebrated same gender ceremonies.

I find that the phrase in the resolution that went over the line is “and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations….” That clearly authorizes the behavior proscribed in the Discipline even if it is supported in places like the preface of the Social Principles: “They are a call to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit.”

This Council’s frame of mind is reflected in Judge Gray’s view that such subtle resolutions on the annual conference level must be replaced by legislation at General Conference.

Re: JCM 1116


A bishop failed to respond to a proper question of law and asked to be relieved of dealing with it because of her role as presider at the agency related to the subject of the question.

The Council ruled she had no real conflict of interest as a presider and therefore was required to answer the question.

The Council returned the matter to her and expect an answer for their Fall 2009 session.

Re: JCM 1117


The Council could have stopped when it ruled it had no jurisdiction to deal with a parliamentary decision. But they reviewed the material involved, a packet which contained observations on a point of law but which asked none.

Where the bishop ruled that no one had formally presented it on the floor of the conference he could make the ruling that it was out of order, the Council may be implying that if such a packet were offered informally to the bishop in writing, if it contained a question of law signed by the questioner, and if it pertained to the business of the conference, they might accept it in a future case.

P 2609.6 does not include phrasing requiring that the question of law by raised verbally during plenary. Some bishops might prefer a simple written submission rather than have floor time given to what might be a minor matter or could be an unnecessarily embarrassing one.

Re: JCM 1118


Once again, the Council chose to not just stop with saying it had no jurisdiction. They laid out their rationale for refusing to rule on the questions. That was wise because the issue is a hot button one in our denomination,

A layman in Alaska asked if Paragraph 4 in our constitution superceded PP 214 and 225. Actually he wondered if P 4 had any effect on the other two. The ruling would have been the same.

The layman was trying to resolve the problem some believe was established in JCD 1032, that the pastor has the right of discretion over the readiness of a person wanting to join the church.

While that pastoral authority has been an unwritten presumption in the denomination, including the period when African-American people attempted to join all-European American churches during the Civil Rights conflict in the United States, this tradition was challenged in 2005 when a pastor persuaded a gay man that he was not ready to join a denomination with strong anti-homosexual laws in the Discipline. The bishop insisted that the pastor have to take the gay man into the church and the pastor refused, leading to the challenge handled in JCD 1032.

The Council carefully tried to sort through the three questions asked by the layman and why they could not take jurisdiction.

First, the Council showed how the membership process between a pastor and an eligible candidate for church membership is the work of the annual conference. But then the Council went further to indicate that the three questions did not pertain to some action taken by the annual conference in its session.

Belton Joyner, in his dissenting opinion points out that P 2610.2(j) has a plural in the word “conferences,” implying to him that the interpretation of the current and past Councils which restricts their jurisdiction to the agenda of the specific annual conference may need to be reviewed.

Conclusion re: Spring JC Session

This Council is being very thorough and continues to provide explanations which were often lacking in previous rulings of other Councils. Being appellant-friendly is a great policy.

This council has been careful to do its homework. A good bit of the complexity of the Bush Institute/Library at SMU was taken into account. The questions of the Alaska layman attempting to clarify who makes the decision about church membership, while not answered, were sorted out and explained.

So far, this Council has avoided the gross ineptitude that haunted other past Councils (for example JCM 1048).

Contrary to what some other knowledgeable commentators say, I believe this Council has not sought to avoid controversy. They have carefully parsed the briefs and law so that their positions have been clear. They have not gone beyond precedents on what is moot and hypothetical set in the previous Council because they have not found a change in church law that would move them in any new direction.

I have become so confident of the competence of this Council that I am surprised when they do not follow through on a key point. Was that layman really still a legal representative of a discontinued church? What was the actual lease cost arrangement in the Bush institute/library case? Should not the briefs of the appellants have addressed those matters rather than presuming the Council would pick them up?

This is no activist Council as its predecessor was. It will be interesting to see how they deal with issues yet to be sent their way.