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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Re: Spring 2010 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. Should you feel I have made an error of fact, please let me know so it can be corrected.

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

As a matter of full disclosure, I was counsel of record for a respondent in a case which was docketed twice and which I will not address.

JCD 1142


In JCM 1127, the Council described a complete set of materials sent in by the West Michigan Conference bishop and secretary. The bishop’s report included reference to a question of law but the minutes did not. The Council remanded the case, something it has done but only when no minutes are sent along.

In this decision’s description, the minutes “reflect” the question of law…. I take this acceptance of jurisdiction to mean that the Council really wanted to assure the law was properly fulfilled . . . on a property matter. Not having seen what had been sent in either previously or for this review by the Council, I cannot make an accurate judgment about how precisely the documents fulfilled the requirements for jurisdiction. It appears that in its own discretion, the Council felt it would handle the case no matter what. Ah, the privilege of discretion….

The Council decided that because the annual conference has an identifiable interest in the protection and security of church properties exercised through being involved in the sale or mortgaging of church properties by requiring the District to be in the decision-making process, the conference has the right to require all churches to have the same insurance carrier. The three decisions cited as precedent were relevant.

With the movement around the country of certain congregations leaving the denomination over social issues like abortion and homosexuality and wanting to take their church property with them, this insurance issue allowed the Council to emphasize who really owns the local church property, the annual conference.

JCM 1143


The Council chose not to reconsider JCM 1125 where it has refused jurisdiction. A resolution at the Detroit Conference had not been voted onto the plenary agenda so it was not part of the business of the conference.

JCM 1144


Getting the question of law properly worded makes all the difference in the world when it comes to being sure the issue is reviewed by the Council. In this case, the questioner at the Indiana Conference asked if the matter was properly before the conference, which is a parliamentary procedural question, hence not within the Council’s jurisdiction. The person raising the question could have asked, “Are the provisions of the budget policy on which we voted in violation of the Book of Discipline, Paragraphs (so-and-so)?” I believe a question of that nature would have been taken up by the Council.

JCM 1145


A request for a declaratory decision from the California-Pacific Conference came to the Council in two alternative wordings, neither of which was recorded in the conference minutes. The Council chose not to make a ruling. Even taken together, the materials did not satisfy the requirements for the Council to take jurisdiction. It is too bad because the clarification sought relate to personnel processes.

JCD 1146


The Council reversed the bishop’s ruling of law on a question related to apportionments for the Indiana Conference. Annual Conferences have a lot of discretion about handling of apportionments to be paid to the denomination. However, they may not make plans that will decrease it.

JCD 1147


Those interested in restructuring their conferences will find this decision loaded with argument for and against its various aspects. Whoever wrote this for the Council is very capable of excellent analysis in a complicated circumstance.

Restructuring annual conferences has been very popular for a number of years now. Where I live, for example, there are no district superintendency committees. There is what amounts to a single administrative council that does nearly everything at the district level. I’m told it works for them. It doesn’t for the very reasons stated in the decision. The alternate structures must provide for a clear connection with the required agencies established by the Discipline. Let me add another point. Maintaining the separate agencies required by the Discipline maintains separation of powers so that conflict of interest and influence of command are minimized.

When I taught UMC polity in church membership classes, I showed connectionalism to be parallel structures at every level of the church which interacted to develop ideas, share information, and solve problems. In recent years, unfortunately, “Connectionalism” is defined as “obeying the bishop no matter what she/he orders.”

But this decision based on questions that come from the Dakotas puts the correct emphasis on what is truly connectional in our system of church administration.

JCD 1148


The Baltimore-Washington conference issue that could not be reviewed when JCM 1139 came down is again before the Council in good order.

The majority of the Council accepted jurisdiction (see the concurring opinion) and made it clear that lay people were not authorized to conduct church conferences in the place of superintendents or Elders assigned by the superintendent.

The bishop had chosen to say that the question of law was moot because it did not deal with any business of the conference. The dissenting opinion supports the bishop.

I welcome the flexibility of the Council to accept worthwhile questions of law as they did in JCD 1126 because they are in harmony with the intent of questions of law as described in the constitution (Paragraph 56.3).

This decision also reminds us that the tendency of Cabinets to minimize their personal contact with each congregation is not Disciplinary. Superintendents are getting to be fewer but with more responsibilities. Consequently, the rift between the conference and the local church grows wider and the clout of superintendents becomes nearly minimal in local churches. We do not have a congregational polity. But that is the direction we are headed.

I do not want to detract from the gifts and graces lay people could bring to conducting of charge conferences. As in preaching, they could outshine us professionals. But what is at issue is the relationship between the congregation and the superintendent whose main role is knowing the churches and the pastors in order to make good appointments and make sure those appointments succeed for both the pastors and the churches. Anything that disrupts that crucial connection needs to be set aside. The further superintendents are from their churches and pastors, the more interchangeable pastors will appear to be. The whole purpose of appointments is undermined when the Cabinet members do not feel they have to try to match the differing skills and experiences of the pastors with the needs of the respective churches.

JCD 1149


As a matter of full disclosure, I was consulted by the counsel for the respondent about the case behind this request. As soon as the complaint came in, the bishops in the Philippines immediately took action on their own, sent in a retired bishop to take over, suspended the elected bishop, and proceeded to the committee on investigation. When the respondent bishop challenged their right to take over, the question was forwarded to the Judicial Council. The Council took jurisdiction and decided that the part of the passages of the Discipline granting authority to the college of bishops to act was unconstitutional. That part was that every bishop all over the world who were bishops in central conferences were a part of the college of bishops. That would have meant that the bishops from the Philippines would have needed to work in concert with that world-wide group.

By ruling as they did, the Council was authorizing the Philippine bishops to be the College of Bishops to undertake the supervision and handling of the case against the respondent bishop.

As in JCD 1135, I wish the Council had ordered a review of what happened to be reported back to them as a result of this decision.

JCD 1150


This Texas Conference case was carried over from the October 2010 Council session (JCM 1136).

At issue was whether or not an annual conference restructured committee (Core Leadership Team) could bypass the conference’s council on finance and administration and implement spending without first getting its approval prior to annual conference.

The Council said such a by-pass was contrary to church law, citing JCD 813 which says, “An Annual Conference cannot restructure in such a way as to constitute unauthorized delegation of its authority to a committee.”

The program in question was established to facilitate a down-sizing of conference clergy requiring appointment. The funds were used to facilitate early retirements. I thought this was a far better plan than having a Cabinet, as occurred some years ago in other conferences, simply tell all of the white male clergy over 50 that they were unappointable.

The decision in this Texas case reaffirmed the necessity of conferences to be careful in their restructuring so that responsibilities were not shifted from the proper Discipline-authorized bodies.

Summary remarks for JCDs 1142-1150.

It is sometimes breath-taking how careful the Council is to not only urge the following of the Discipline but to take the time to analyze and explain their reasons. A conference council on finance and administration may not be passed over on a major financial action a conference wants to take. A restructuring must follow the rules to take into account mandated inclusion of conference agencies. All churches are subject to sharing in a conference-wide property insurance program. No plan by a conference should establish a way to fail to pay apportionments. On subjects like these, its work is of a high quality.

The Council even makes accommodation when its rules of practice and procedure have not quite been met and, in order to deal with administrative and property issues, it makes accommodation even when ordinarily its understanding of what makes questions addressed to them moot.

I wish that same expertise and concern could be applied consistently to personnel matters like church trials and questionable handling of pastors in the “administrative” track.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

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

As a matter of full disclosure, I was counsel of record for the respondent in two docket items related to one case which I will not address.

JCD 1119


Since the 1840s, Annual Conferences have struggled with the balance of power between laity and clergy in one or another of the branches of the people called Methodist. While that struggle for us was largely settled in the merger of 1939, some clergy who serve churches but who are not ordained Elders have sought to have a vote on all that is before the conference. The push in recent years by Cabinets to have more Local Pastors in order to have a cheaper at-will work force (I do have a bit of opinion about that) has meant that on the matters where Local Pastors may not vote, such as for delegates to General and Jurisdictional conferences and constitutional amendments, the desired balance between clergy and laity is not met. The goal of equalizing lay and clergy membership in the annual conference required in our constitution is blocked if all the lay members can vote on amendments but the Local Pastors can't.

The issue was brought to the floor in Minnesota during a session where constitutional amendments were under consideration, one of which (Amendment 19) would give the vote to Local Pastors on more matters. It was not just a matter of idle curiosity.

Unfortunately, the request for a declaratory decision in this case was not as clear and precise as it needed to be. The Judicial Council, by taking advantage of the question’s ambiguity, interpreted constitutional amendment voting as “not the work of the annual conference” in order to avoid answering the question.

Votes on amendments are one of the few things that are tallied individually when they are taken. An amendment passes on the total of all those voting church-wide, not on the basis of the number of annual conferences in which it received a majority. That bit of polity was the opening the Judicial Council chose for their interpretation that these votes are not "the work" of an annual conference.

However, that view fails to take into account three important points.

First, the Discipline makes the annual conference session the setting for the vote. Ballots are not mailed individually to members to be returned by a certain date. The constitution requires the votes to be taken at the annual conference session. Therefore, it is part of the work of the conference.

Second, while not all amendments directly affect the work of an annual conference, in this case, at least one did. The passage of that amendment before all of the annual conferences, including Minnesota, on the voting rights of Local Pastors would change the balance of power of clergy and laity in their annual conference as well as in all of the conferences across the denomination. That would affect nominations and elections of conference members, have to be factored into budget work of the conference, and influence the work of the conference that occurs in the clergy session, to name a few implications.

Third, the work of the annual conference includes other matters that serve the needs of the larger church beyond the conference’s borders: election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences from which many go on to boards and agencies of the general church, financial support for the general church, requesting actions by the Judicial Council, and petitions for the General Conference to consider every four years. The work of the annual conference includes more than what goes on in the boundaries of the conference and the plenary agenda.

The Judicial Council narrowed their definition of what constitutes the “work of the annual conference” by this ruling.

This erosion of the centrality of annual conferences in the polity of our denomination is a trend that is not being discussed anywhere I know of. Here are some other things which erode the powers of the annual conference: Restricting nominations for certain offices to just the bishop and not allowing them from the floor of conference, allowing general categories to be called “line items” in mission budgeting rather than requiring that the individual ministries and projects are to be the line items for plenary votes of the budget, taking away the right to use requests for declaratory decisions by saying that they may never be used prospectively, and finding administrative ways to remove Local Pastors without any review by the conference.

The “law of unintended consequences” may be in operation here as these kinds of rulings come down from the Judicial Council.

JCD 1120


The Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference faced a resolution that attempted to moderate the anti-homosexual language in the Discipline. During plenary, someone asked the bishop for a ruling of law about whether or not the resolution was out of order. The bishop took the time to go beyond that question to answer the rationale of the questioner. And the Council did likewise, rather than just responding as they should have that the Judicial Council does not deal with parliamentary questions.

It appears the Council chose to educate. They seemed to want to share the bishop’s arguments which they would not have had to if they had properly refused jurisdiction. After spending a lot of text on helpful historical understanding of various resolutions brought to them in the past, they told the bishop his decision was reversed.

On the one hand, they should have kept it simple by avoiding a parliamentary ruling. On the other, they provided a good summary of church law on resolutions.

JCD 1121


Western North Carolina had a policy that allowed local churches to pick and choose among the various apportionments they would pay. When a question of law was brought about that policy, the bishop ruled it was contrary to the Discipline and that the conference’s paying of apportionments had declined significantly since the passing of the policy. The Judicial Council affirmed his ruling, pressing the necessity of all churches’ full participation in order for the Church to conduct ministries that local churches could not conduct on their own.

JCD 1122


This decision settles whether or not the health insurance cost carried by a local church is compensation or a benefit. As the decision points out, local churches have no say about how much the premium for a benefit will be whereas compensation, the salary, is theirs to determine.

Some churches may have padded the pastor’s salary by budgeting a larger amount for the health insurance premium as they may have done with how they paid mileage for the pastor. By reporting a smaller salary, some churches were apportioned less based on the formula for setting conference “dues.”

The tone of the question from Louisiana, as I interpret it, really has more to do with helping the local church set its total budget at the charge conference rather than facing having to change it later in the church year if the conference requests a budget-busting health insurance apportionment. And lately, that specific cost has risen so much each year that it is a budget-buster every time.

The request was an attempt to hurry the process for formulating that cost in time for charge conferences. But it was indirect and the Council did not bite.

JCM 1123


One of the dirty tricks that are played on pastors that Cabinets and Boards of Ordained Ministry do not like, earned or not, is to change the requirements for the pastor to get back into service after he or she has already met the original requirements. It is most unfortunate for the pastor, though not for the conference leaders, that the secretary did not somehow see to it that the vote was properly recorded and therefore the questions could not be considered by the Council.

Reports to the Council by conference secretaries are required to be prompt after annual conferences conclude. The due date is July 15 for the October session and December 31 for the April docket. What is not reported is whether the Council sought clarification from the Baltimore-Washington conference secretary when that gap in crucial information is seen. This has been a problem in the past with this Council. Hopefully this simple matter of administration has been addressed.

This case should have been remanded.

JCD 1124


A New York Conference bishop reported to the Council that he had received a letter requesting a ruling of law during a break. The request dealt with a resolution supporting those who dissent with the Discipline, though the issues involved are not noted. The conference secretary submitted nothing so the Council had no information beyond what the bishop told them. The bishop’s ruling that the request was not before the conference was affirmed.

Here again, it does not appear that the Council Secretary chose to make inquiry prior to docketing about the record of the conference session to see if indeed there was no mention of the request. The Council trusted that the bishop was telling the truth about the situation. Since every sitting member of the Council was originally nominated by the Council of Bishops, the appearance of conflict of interest is unsettling, especially since the Council has a clerk who can assist in this small point of administration.

Wise bishops in the past have allowed discreet presentations of written requests for rulings of law and dealt with them. The clear advantage of not having possible dirty laundry aired in public is no small matter. This strategy should require some kind of reasonable acknowledgement to be entered on the record such as the name of the questioner and the specific question raised. With the record showing or not showing the request, the Council would not be vulnerable to the question of conflict of interest.

JCD 1125


The Detroit Conference voted against suspending their rules to allow a resolution to be introduced for plenary consideration. Later, the matter was brought up to be forwarded to the Judicial Council. The bishop ruled it moot and hypothetical because, essentially, the questioner was trying to circumvent that vote. The Council concurred.

JCD 1126


A retired minister was elected chair of the finance committee of the local church he attended and where he held his charge conference membership. There was an unwritten policy of the Eastern Pennsylvania Cabinet that he could not hold that position. The main grounds were concern about possible undermining of the authority of the pastor in charge, a possible conflict of interest, and depriving a lay person of that responsibility.

The Council ruled that since he was a member of the charge conference, he was eligible for the position, it not having been identified by the Discipline is requiring lay relationship to the local church.

The jurisdiction for this ruling was that it was a request for a declaratory decision. Jon Gray, a Council member, wondered whatever happened to the criteria that such rulings had to be restricted to the business of the conference.

I really believe the Council uses that restriction when it wants to and feels free to go outside its restrictions when it wants to.

I believe the question was worth asking and the Council was right in responding. What I wish is that the Council would loosen its criteria for taking jurisdiction so that unanticipated requests like this one can be resolved without appearing to contradict the Council’s own restrictions.

JCD 1127


This time the Western Michigan conference secretary’s minutes came along with the bishop’s ruling on a question of law and what was apparently the written question. There does not seem to be anything more that needed to be sent so there was no need for the Council Secretary to pursue the matter. The Council found it had no record of the question in the minutes and therefore had no jurisdiction.

Even so, the matter was remanded to the bishop for review in the next session of the Council. The Council must have felt there was something to pursue….

JCD 1128


The Commission on the General Conference asked the Council to determine if there were any restrictions on the authority of the General Conference Secretary to determine the number of delegates from the various conferences. Unstated in this request is the question of how many delegates are to be allowed to Cote D'Ivoire in light of its huge membership numbers. The chances are extremely high that most of those delegates would be very conservative and greatly shift the balance of power between the liberal and conservative factions with votes at General Conference.

That was discreetly avoided in the decision as the Council reassured there were only two factors to be considered as restricting the General Conference Secretary; the number of clergy and the number of professing members of that conference. There are two other simple limits as well, that every conference have at least one lay and one clergy delegates and that the total number lies between 600 and 1,000 delegates.

Another amendment (6) being voted on in 2009 when this decision came down has to do with providing two quadrennia of transition between the entrance of a conference and its representation following the proportions indicated in the Discipline. The Council ruled only that the General Conference Secretary had the authority to determine the numbers to come to General Conference.

JCM 1129


From the facts stated in the decision, it appears that someone in Virginia felt that secular law and church law were in conflict over how pensions and benefits were being handled. So a request for clarification was voted and thus forwarded to the Judicial Council.

This is a question more suited to review by the conference chancellor or other legal counsel.

The Judicial Council is not the denomination’s lawyer. So they rightly took no jurisdiction.

If the question behind the request was that someone among the church leadership was not following federal law for handling of one or more particular cases, then seeking a declaratory decision as stated didn’t work. Something was wrong or such a huge conference wouldn’t have backed the request. Matching the possible injustice with the proper legal tool is a real challenge.

JCD 1130


A retired pastor questioned the bishop in Yellowstone Conference about how a fellow clergy had been administratively removed from conference membership. The bishop chose to have neither the questions nor her response to them entered in the conference minutes. But she did forward them to the Judicial Council. And they chastised her for censoring.

But the Council did nothing about her answers because they have previously ruled that the question of law strategy is inappropriate for handling personnel matters even in the administrative track. There was no trial so the questions could not go to the church trial’s presiding bishop. The questions should probably have been brought to the chairperson of the Conference Relations Committee prior to its hearing with the respondent pastor. And those same questions plus any others that might have been needed should have gone to the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry when it dealt with the decision of the committee.

The fatal flaw of the administrative process is that there is no right of appeal outside of the conference where the bishop, who is the primary nominator of the Cabinet and the Board, holds influence of command. The final line of appeal goes to the annual conference when the board action is presented to the clergy session. Who presides there? Either the Board chair who already ruled on the questions when they came before the Board or the bishop.

The Council has been consistent in most cases (the most recent exception is JCD 1031 – though JCD 1135 may also be an exception) that such appeals in the form of questions of law cannot go to the bishop.

I believe that is in error for two reasons: one, the bishop is president of the conference and the next in line to whom appeals can go in the administrative track as stated above, and two, because the Discipline gives the bishop the responsibility to “ensure fair process” (Paragraph 415.3).

The bishop was obligated to respond to the questions but was taking cover under the Council’s past decisions that the questions were improper because bishops are supposedly out of the loop (separation of powers). Bishops have enormous clout in all matters of personnel. Fair handling of those in trouble is in the bishop’s hands in many ways and the bishop should be held accountable when fairness is lost. Having to be chastised for a personnel failure is not much real punishment. Neither is being asked to publish the questions and answers as the Discipline requires. Those who “take authority” must also take responsibility. This decision does nearly nothing toward that end.

I can imagine situations where a set of questions might be more damaging to the respondent if they were raised by an antagonist instead of by an advocate. That appears to be a consideration for several of the Council members. But it would be hard to imagine the majority of the Council being so mean-spirited as to insist on publishing such questions.

My experience is that advocates for pastors who were drummed out of ministry through the administrative process have tended to ask question where the embarrassment lay with the conference officers. The meanness experienced by pastors in trouble across the country has come from church leaders and their supporters who administered the process and not from those who challenge the process.

Not having seen the questions nor having any other information about the situation behind this case, I cannot make a valid and thoughtful judgment on this particular case.

JCD 1131


Like JCD 1130, this same bishop in her other conference (Rocky Mountain) withheld the questions and her answers from publication and again Jon Gray raised the issue about the necessity of confidences possibly being violated.

I do not have what Judge Gray and the Council had before them. There is only the coincidence of the same bishop ruling in the same way, which to me says more about the bishop and the processes occurring under her administration than they do about the advocates.

Speaking of advocates, it is clear that the questioner did not think through the problem of relating the questions to the business of the conference, especially in light of the various restrictions put on that definition by various JCDs in the past. This is an area where Associates in Advocacy needs to provide guidance for those trying to help pastors in trouble.

This decision warns all those bringing questions of law to be ready to challenge a bishop’s making a parliamentary ruling that the questions of law are out of order and seek a conference vote to overturn that ruling. Preparation for conference requires ascertaining the grounds for the questions to be framed and supported as business of the conference.

JCD 1132


This case from California-Pacific Conference was carried over from the previous session of the Council (JCM 1116). The bishop followed through on the Council’s remanding request.

For those who love to read about pensions and stuff, this is a good case. Both the bishop and Council make helpful distinctions and provide useful information. For those like me, it is a struggle to get inside the questions but I will try.

The questioner challenged two aspects of the health insurance program: one, it not being handled like apportionments; two, allowing the Board of Pensions to do something the Conference should be doing, assigning the amounts to be paid some months after conference has been held.

The responses were that, one, health insurance is a benefit and could therefore be handled differently. A special situation for the conference was that it had a surplus it could apply to the premiums of the retired and incapacitated and that was best handled outside of apportionment formulas. Two, the formula for the premiums had been set by the conference and the Board then just applied it when the bills were sent out, thus not violating the principle of one agency taking another’s responsibilities.

The reader is warned to discuss the ruling with someone who knows this stuff, such as people working for the Board of Pensions and Benefits or are on the conference pensions and benefits committee.

JCD 1133


Western North Carolina Conference, in the midst of working through a motion related to housing policy for clergy couples, voted to ask the Judicial Council for amendments that would bring their motion into compliance with church law. While the Judicial Council properly took no jurisdiction, they were kind enough to remind those folks of previous decisions which indicated every pastor had the individual right to have housing as one of the parts of their support package.

JCM 1134


An advocate for a pastor asked the Wyoming conference’s clergy session to pass a request for a declaratory decision in hopes of getting clarifications that could overturn the actions taken against the pastor in trouble. The vote to forward it to the Judicial Council was not a majority so the Council did not take jurisdiction.

JCD 1135


This decision based on a case from Wyoming Conference, while the proper one in this case, leaves this question: How is it that a pastor facing involuntary retirement, an administrative process, may raise a question of law of the bishop who is supposed to be out of the loop on administrative personnel matters and have the Judicial Council actually rule on the bishop’s answers and overturn the situation? I believe that in some past decisions, previous Councils have done that when a particular bishop or the bishop’s theology was out of favor with the respective Councils.

I also believe that the Council has usually abrogated its responsibility when questions of law presented in writing and entered on the minutes should be answered. See my commentary on JCD 1130 above.

In this case, the decision is over a case described as so badly handled that ruling the questions “moot,” etc. would be a manifest injustice. In the rare cases like this one that the Council rules against a bishop and for the pastor, I would encourage the Council to require a report back on how the bishop and conference responded to the decision and what happened to the pastor. (I happen to know and it isn’t pretty!)

JCM 1136


This case from Texas Conference was deferred to the spring session, a sign that the Council needed to preserve time to do its work and chose to hold off on a case not requiring immediate attention.

JCM 1137


The Council chose not to reconsider their ruling in support of the Bush institute at SMU. One of the details they indicated in that earlier decision was significant, the price of the lease. They were not for anything less than market value of the property:

“The question posed alleges that the lease agreements were negotiated at less than fair market value. Nothing in the record, other than the question itself, makes reference to fair market value. Because the Judicial Council is not a fact-finding body, we cannot determine whether that portion of the question is true or untrue. The allegation that the lease agreements were negotiated at less than fair market value is not a self-proving assertion. There are portions of the question that neither the presiding bishop nor the Judicial Council can or should answer. Stripped to its essence, however, is a question that could have and should have been answered:” (JCD 1113)

After that ruling came out, the following information about the lease was passed on to the Council: 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. This information comes from a Feb. 28, 2008, copy of THE DAILY CAMPUS, an independent SMU campus newspaper.

If that information is correct, the Council had serious grounds to reconsider JCD 1113. They must have decided it was too late to overturn the project because ground was already broken. It is not hard to speculate that there would be huge financial problems for SMU and the UMC if the Council did act. Some of the donors to the Bush project are big donors to the university and the Church.

JCM 1138


The Council chose not to reconsider its ruling on the questions related to the closing of a California-Nevada church. That ruling was JCM 1112.

In my commentary on that memorandum, I assumed the matter of the closure was before the conference when the questions were raised. I missed one little detail: The vote had occurred the year before so my comments were in error on the matter being part of the business of the 2009 conference and the possibility that the questioner was still an active member of the conference. The way for the questions to have been raised in 2009 were to have someone who voted for the closure to ask for reconsideration of that vote. If the conference voted to reconsider, then the matter would have been the “work of the conference” that year and the questions raised by an active member of the conference would have been in order.

My earlier conclusion that superintendents might pull the same stunts in the future as the one did in that case still stands. However, the advocates trying to bring justice erred and the Council had no other way to follow through than by telling the history in the concurring opinion. That does not have the authority of a decision of law but it does shine a light on what happened. Hopefully, those who read JCM 1112 and its concurring opinions will see and work to stop such tricks in the future.

JCM 1139


This case was remanded. The Baltimore-Washington conference secretary did not send in the minutes of the session where the action was taken to refer a matter to the Council. Is this another situation where the Council’s secretary failed to see if the materials were complete when they came in prior to docketing? Is it a matter that the conference secretary is not informed of his/her full responsibilities in the case of any kind of referral to the Council?

JCM 1140


The Council could take no jurisdiction over some questions raised at Northwest Texas Conference about materials passed out prior to voting on constitutional amendments. There was no record in the minutes or in the materials sent to the Council of a written set of questions or request for referral to the Council so jurisdiction on the matter could not be taken.

The bishop was wisely covering all his bases by reporting the incident.

JCD 1141

JCD 1141

This case from California-Nevada is another wonderful trip through difficult terrain for most people, determining pensions rates under conflicting Disciplinary passages and varying policies of related agencies. I will leave the details of the decision to those same experienced folks I noted above in the review of JCD 1132.

The Council reiterates a principle of law that must be noted. Where there are conflicts between related Disciplinary passages as there are in this case, the resolution of which passage takes precedence lies in which passage is the more recently passed by General Conference.

For those interested enough to read this blog, in situations where there is a conflict within the Discipline, you need to be ready to do one of two things:

1. check past Disciplines to determine which of the conflicting passages appears most recently, and

2. check past copies of the Daily Christian Advocate of General Conference, particularly if the conflicting passages both came from the same General Conference.
Another principle of law dates back to 1970 (JCD 331). “Acts in relation to the same subject or object should be constued together.” There may be a way that the apparent conflicts can be resolved by finding a frame of reference that allows both to be true.

In this case, however, the issue was clearly numbers which meant there was no way to construe them together, one or the other had to be chosen.

One other feature of this decision that is of special interest is that it is a case that came up after the docket’s deadline. The Council accepted jurisdiction under its own rules for emergency appeals. This is the first time I have been aware of the Council doing this in its history. If they did it previously, it was not mentioned in the decisions.

Summary Remarks for JCDs 1119-1141

The Judicial Council during this autumn session of 2009 tended to business, giving some very helpful and educative rulings like 1129, 1132, and 1141. They went beyond to kindness by citing other decisions related to a case over which they had no jurisdiction (1133) and to thoughtfulness by reviewing case law on handling resolutions (1120). In neither case did they take jurisdiction and could have not bothered. When they were asked to give legal advice (1129) or to amend a resolution (1133), they were proper in drawing the line for what they do.

There were surprises when the Council took jurisdiction over two cases that did not appear to fit the criteria for handling questions of law (1126 and 1135). What is the business of the annual conference? I believe that particular criterion is not appropriate. How else can off-the-wall cases like 1126 be handled? Why is the bishop not supposed to be able to answer questions of law on personnel matters, especially the processes used to administratively remove pastors? As I showed in my review of 1130, what the Council did in 1135 (and several years ago in JCD 1031) is proper and necessary in order to have the full line of appellate procedures for personnel cases handled under administrative processes. How many other cases of injustice have slipped through the fingers of the Council under the current criteria?

Disconcerting were the number of cases that showed incomplete records. The Council could find a way to minimize that.

As disconcerting to me was the number of mistakes made by the questioners that failed to do the key things to be sure the Council could take jurisdiction. Been there, done that! Now I’ve got to do something about it through this blog and AIA’s website.

There were 23 docket items to be handled over the summer and the four or so days of the Council meeting. To have to deal with geo-political, pension, personnel, apportionments, and who can serve on local church committees is a mind-blowing range of concerns. And then to have conference personnel not turn over all the needed records or who failed to keep good records, I can understand how Council members have many more gray hairs than two years ago.