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.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring 2011 Judicial Council Decisions JCDs 1182-1189

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 or misinterpretation, please let me know so it can be corrected.

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

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.

JCM 1182


Reconsideration of JCD 1149 was denied.

That is what the Council usually does when it is asked to reconsider. No explanation, no legal grounds, no indication that the request had merit or was frivolous, no nothing.

JCD 1149 was the decision where the Council ruled a sentence which implied that all central conference bishops world-wide were the supervisory body of a central conference bishop unconstitutional. Practically speaking, it does not seem there are any grounds for reconsidering. I was not consulted with respect to this request so I cannot tell you what was at issue.

I do know that the respondent Philippines bishop was seeking any legal support he could get against the College of Bishops of the Philippine Central Conference. It was trying to remove him from office any way it could. His argument could have been that the Council answered the wrong question or that the Council over-stepped its authority by declaring a passage unconstitutional that was not at issue in the original request.

But we do not know and the Council’s terse ruling clarifies nothing except that JCD 1149 stands. See the comment on JCM 1183 below.

JCM 1183


This request for reconsideration was about a previous request for reconsideration. This the first time I’ve seen that in my studies of the Judicial Council.

As the concurring opinion signed by the majority of the Council indicates, this ruling is part of the tale of a respondent bishop in his quest for justice against a Philippines College of Bishops antagonistic toward him.

Let me touch on the two previous rulings behind this memorandum.

JCD 1162 was a denial of request for reconsideration of JCD 1152. The Council was generous in providing a rationale for the denial, something the Council rarely does.

JCD 1152 dealt with the legality of an interim bishop changing the meeting place of an annual conference at the last minute using DSs appointed by him at the last minute to change the meeting place. As my commentary on JCM 1162 pointed out, the College of Bishops had not been truthful about that in their brief for JCD 1152.

The Council closes that door about the matter of the authority of the interim bishop with this memorandum. The concurring opinion does not mention the College of Bishops’ fabrication. More of the story that has emerged now did trouble the Council, specifically the six suspensions of the respondent bishop since 2009 used to keep him out of episcopacy despite a committee on investigation dropping the charges against him (see JCD 1177).

JCM 1184


The Council denied the request for reconsideration of their ruling in JCM 1176, that what a person at California-Nevada Conference asked was a parliamentary matter rather than a question of law.

Drawing the line….

I wish a concurring opinion had suggested that the questioner petition the General Conference to include consultation with participants in a local church being considered for discontinuation. Paragraph 2548 allows for it but then says that failure to do so does not invalidate the conference’s vote. I’ll make it my job to make the suggestion. And I can direct the person to people who can help draft such a petition.

Update as of 8/21/12: I failed to do this simple task.

JCD 1185


The Council picked up work on a New York Conference resolution that would have allowed its pastors in Connecticut to marry same sex couples, a lawful option for those living in that state (JCM 1155).

The Council ruled that the church may define marriage in its own way no matter what civil authorities in the various states do. While a pastor has discretion about any couple presenting themselves for marriage, the pastor may not violate the church’s definition of one man/one woman. That can only be changed by General Conference.

Again, the Council has been very careful in examining church law and settling the issues raised by the New York Conference argument. For that reason, this decision is well worth reading.

Some of us wish church law was different on this matter, but it is up to us to persuade the General Conference. If there are any other church law conflicts that the Council could consider to overturn the Church’s current definition of marriage, I do not know what it is.

JCM 1186


A California-Pacific Conference pastor was taken before a conference relations committee facing an administrative complaint. Unresolved at the time of conference, the pastor’s advocate presented a request for a declaratory decision on the way the case was being handled and the fairness of restrictions on what the pastor could do in the hearing, among other concerns.

The Council could take no jurisdiction. The matter had not risen to become an action before the conference. Though not mentioned, JCD 1048 lay behind the Council’s decision to not look at the matter because it was not yet part of the business of the conference even though a conference committee and its practices were involved.

By taking this view, the Council leaves no way for it to intervene when something that could be contrary to church law may be going on. The Council leaves itself stuck until the conclusion of the process when it is too late to prevent unjust practices from occurring.

JCM 1187


California-Pacific Conference took its shot at getting JCD 1032 reconsidered and received a patient response spelling out that the Council does not have to choose to reconsider something after multiple requests that it do so. The issue is the same. The General Conference has to resolve it.

Writers in church law will find the rephrasing of the old arguments quite well done so that it doesn’t come across as “boiler plate.”

JCD 1188


The Rocky Mountain Conference case deferred in November 2010 (JCM 1169) was taken up. The questions of law related to his right of trial and the bishop’s right to end his right to trial. The bishop said the questions were moot and hypothetical.

The Council did not agree with the bishop. It said, “The questions presented were not moot and hypothetical; they were relevant but improper as questions of law to a Bishop.”

The Council stuck by its view that separation of powers prevents the bishop from dealing with such questions. I have argued a contrary position to that in my comments on JCDs 799 and JCMs 1130, 1145, 1153, and 1166.

The bishop is in a position, especially under the Discipline's Paragraph 415.3, to “ensure” fair process.

For true separation of powers, the episcopal office should not be involved in the nomination of the officers for the judicial and administrative committees and boards. S/he should not have the authority to determine whether a complaint goes judicial or administrative. The Cabinet members should not have the authority to place complaints on behalf of others. The Cabinet should not pick the trial court pool. The bishop should not pick the trial court presiding bishop. But the bishop is given all of those judicial responsibilities by the Discipline. Therefore, the bishop should have to take responsibility when the fair process systems break down and answer questions of law about them in order to get them reviewed by an outside entity with power to uphold church law.

As it is now, people who do the supervisory meetings, and hold the hearings for involuntary leave of absence, and other involuntary options in the administrative track tend to do as they please . . . or as the bishop allows . . . or as the bishop wants. Only if the bishop insists on careful following of fair process can harm be minimized to the respondents, complainants, churches, conference morale, and leadership credibility, as the Council has pointed out in JCDs 777 and 1156.

Bishops will get away with whatever they can get away with because the Council does not accept jurisdiction for questions of law challenges and requests for declaratory decisions (with a few exceptions).

The theory of separation of powers is great, except it is only applied to the back end of the administrative and judicial processes instead of the beginning.

With all the amateurs we have trying to do church law, no matter what the Council rules, there will continue to be attempts to get the conference leaders to follow the Discipline by the asking of questions of law and making requests for declaratory decisions.

JCD 1189


Officers of the Baltimore-Washington requested reconsideration of JCD 1156. They felt the Council was confused over two different cases and some other errors based on errors of fact about the case which the Council said occurred.

The Council did not really need to respond because they have usually not done so in the past.

But having gotten more (and confusing) statements of facts, they leaned back on the official minutes which gave one narrative compared with the multiple stories the Council received from the many briefs sent in.

It takes a real lover of church law to get inside the tight and extended argument prepared in the analysis. In effect, the analysis is a “How To" manual for Cabinets and Boards of Ordained Ministry on the changes in involuntary leave of absence that occurred in 2008’s Discipline.

The upshot is that the Council did not change its mind about what it said in JCD 1156: that the pastor be reinstated and have all pastoral support repaid from when the whole mess began. Then they added what was a real joy to my eyes: “We retain jurisdiction in order to monitor Annual Conference compliance with this decision. Evidence of compliance should be transmitted to the Secretary of the Judicial Council by July 15, 2011.”

You go, Council!

Summary remarks for JCDs 1182-1189

This session was odd because it dealt with so many requests for reconsideration. Five of the eight docketed items were such requests.

The patience to go into the grounds for their decisions not to reconsider as was done in three cases is most unusual and appreciated. They even handled JCD 1189 as a decision and not as a memorandum.

In the cases involving the Philippines and Baltimore-Washington Conferences, they uncovered glaring problems with the handling of personnel. That may give them reason to look more carefully at how they may be inadvertently avoiding similar devastation in other personnel cases by relying on JCDs 799 and 1048 and not accepting jurisdiction.

The 1992-96 Council went through a similar learning curve, facing up to the unfair practices previous Councils had allowed, becoming far more careful to avoid letting conference leaders cause harm.

This group, like the earlier group, says, “It should be emphasized that both the administrative and judicial processes in the Discipline are carefully and specifically designed to protect the rights of clergy and of the church. The steps set forth must be followed carefully and explicitly or injustice results. Lack of diligence, integrity, care, or compassion in dealing with a case almost always results in irreparable harm to both the individual and the church. That has usually happened by the time a case of this nature gets to the Judicial Council.” (See JCDs 777 and 1156)

The 1992 Council began noticing the injustices by their third session (October 1993, see JCD 695). The current Council, besieged by challenges to JCD 1032 among other things, seems to have turned the corner in their fifth session.

This Council persists in sharing their homework in the analysis they do and in their concurring and dissenting opinions. They have been very good teachers of church law.

Re: Fall 2010 Judicial Council Decisions 1152 - 1181

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 or misinterpretation, please let me know so it can be corrected.

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

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 1152


A Philippine bishop was suspended not long before his annual conference was to meet. A retired bishop was assigned to take over and decided that another site for the conference would be handier for him. He sought the Cabinet’s support which finally was grudgingly given. The bishop got his site and then appointed new superintendents to work with him on making appointments despite the fact that the suspended bishop and his Cabinet had already made appointments. Consequently, there was great confusion in the conference and people split on which site to go to for conference. Both sites held conference sessions. At the one where the retired bishop presided, questions of law were raised challenging the change of venue.

The retired bishop ruled immediately that the Discipline supported his choice of site, since the superintendents went along with it. The Judicial Council agreed because by their earlier ruling (JCD 1149), they had supported the Philippine bishops as a College of Bishops who then took action against another bishop under accusation. That action was extended to the assignment of the retired bishop and this decision followed from the retired bishop’s actions.

Had the questions asked covered more of the circumstances, the Council, as their concurring opinion states, may have been able to sort out more of the problems that were splitting the conference.

Note: This decision was made outside the time frame of the normal Council schedule to facilitate matters for the church in the Philippines. I was not consulted about this matter.

JCM 1154


The Council chose not to reconsider JCM 1145 in which a personnel matter from the California-Pacific Conference was at issue. Where is the flexibility the Council shows on property and polity matters? They chose not to give attention to one of the most effective advocates with many years of experience before the Judicial Council. He is well aware of the rules and all the mistakes that could be made.

Could there be a growing incompetence on the part of conference secretaries? This is not the only case where inadequate minutes caused a matter to fail the Council’s jurisdiction requirements.

JCM 1155


A matter from New York Conference related to the legality of same-gender marriages in Connecticut and therefore the opportunity of United Methodist clergy conducting the services in that state was put off until the spring of 2011 session of the Council.

JCD 1156


The Council assigned some of its most assiduous members to review a case from Baltimore-Washington Conference. A pastor in trouble worked out a just resolution and avoided being forced onto involuntary leave of absence. When she requested return to appointment status believing that she had fulfilled the requirements laid on her under the just resolution, the bishop’s assistant determined that she needed to do more to get back in. Her advocate submitted a request for a declaratory decision, despite what JCM 1048 said.

The Council tends to go along with what happens at the annual conference level so it was a moment to rejoice when they clearly ruled in favor of the pastor.

This decision is clear. Conditions set prior to a leave of absence may not be amended by the Cabinet at the end of the leave to prevent a pastor from returning to appointment status. The only way to add new terms is to restart the supervisory process and follow fair process.

Unfortunately, that can be done in conferences where the bishop’s influence over the Board of Ordained Ministry is very strong. After all, most Cabinet members are appointed from the ranks of the BOM. All on the BOM were nominated by the bishop in the first place with no nominations from the floor possible. And all are subject to the appointive power of the bishop so their careers are on the line when Board members balk at what the bishop wants.

This decision points out the separation of powers that the Council perceives to be in effect. In this case, the Council enforced it. Hopefully, it will continue to do so.

The Council is to be commended in this case for the care they took to identify the polity properly and save the Conference from further embarrassment for their treatment of the pastor.

I wish the Council had asked for the Conference to report back on what happened. Frequently, in these kinds of cases, conference leaders find ways to punish the pastor rather than follow up in a reasonable way.

JCM 1157


A policy on sexual conduct of the Baltimore-Washington Conference was the subject of a request for a declaratory decision on its effect and application in light of Paragraph 605.8. The conference voted to forward the request to the Council. The Council held a hearing with the parties at interest.

The analysis was not of the issue in question but of what allows the Council to have jurisdiction. This is the longest discussion of their criteria I have seen in one place.

They ruled they had no jurisdiction!

It appears there was no specific case on which to base the request. I think the Discipline allows requests for declaratory decisions that could have an effect on someone but so far, the Council has not agreed with me. My argument goes back to their JCM 1048. (See my argument related to that on this blog dated January 11, 2011.)

JCM 1158


Arkansas and Northern Illinois Conferences sought to get the Council to reconsider on its own Decision 1032, the five year old ruling that has caused so much controversy, namely the right of a pastor to have the discretion about whether or not a person is ready for church membership. And you thought it was about a pastor who turned away a gay constituent from joining the church.

As I understand the facts of that old case, the pastor did not refuse the gay man. In fact, they were on very friendly terms. The man chose not to join a denomination that was so strongly against sexual activity between same sex couples.

The issue was that the bishop wanted that discretion over membership and did not want the pastor to have it.

In all my years of ministry, I always thought I had discretion about an applicant’s readiness for membership and even exercised it once with a confirmand. I never expected to have to do it and, with that one exception, I didn’t.

I could go into a long dissertation about how that weakness of discipline has so mixed our denomination that we are becoming more Southern Baptist than Methodist. But not for this review.

So I agreed with JCD 1032 on the basis of the facts and the traditional role of pastors indicated in Paragarphs 214 and 225.

I disagree with the anti-homosexual portions of the Discipline, strongly! But because I view JCD 1032 differently than the bishops and the church media, no one is paying attention to my opinions.

In this memorandum, the Council says the requests do not rise to the standard of a manifest injustice or clear error of law, and were not brought by a party to the original case. They took no jurisdiction.

The really good stuff, other than ignoring what I think the real issue was in the original decision, is in the three concurring opinions. They add humor, history, and mostly good legal thinking and are well worth reading.

JCM 1159


A question from South Carolina Conference about the authority of the General Conference Secretary to determine the number of delegates to be allowed to each annual conference under the Discipline was not answered because the Council took no jurisdiction.

Their rationale is identical in wording to several other such decisions in the recent past. I expect we’ll see it in the future again . . . and again . . . and again.
The Council provided a rationale to the requesting conference.

I happen to agree with the dissenting opinion because a decision would affect the numbers in all of the conferences with respect to the coming elections in conferences around the world as they choose delegates to General Conference.

Here there are two issues.

One, there has been a competition among the southern conferences over getting more votes at General and Jurisdictional Conferences because each vote means that much more power to elect bishops. Political power is the ambition in the southern conferences, compared to the programmatic ambitions of the northern and western conferences. So the question raised in South Carolina is a critical part of their view of church life.

Two, resolving the issue of dealing with the huge number of United Methodists in Cote d’Ivoire was put off in JCD 1128. Though not mentioned here at all, that elephant in the room haunts the church in the United States, especially those conferences in the Southeast and South Central jurisdictions. The southern church has a greater ability to understand and use power than the other three jurisdictions. The Africans may be more skilled at it and that could become a problem.

Watch for these two dynamics to return again and again to the Judicial Council over the next eight years.

JCM 1160


Northern Illinois persisted in seeking clarification re: JCD 1032. They also asked if revising Paragraph 225 by replacing the discretionary “may” with the absolute “shall” superseded JCD 1032.

The Council pulled out the “boiler plate” (legal slang for stuff that becomes standard language in similar cases) they used in JCM 1158. They took no jurisdiction.

Beth Capen added her two cents worth in an extra mixed opinion. Her material is not a straight repeat. While starting as she did in JCM 1158, she explores the Disciplines since 1939. The trend is to show less discretion available to the pastor as the passages are modified through 2008.

The Disciplines I read in my early years were much the same as the 1939 Discipline written when the northern and southern churches merged. It says, “When the Pastor is satisfied as to the genuineness of their faith, their acceptance of the baptismal and membership vows, and their knowledge of and willingness to keep the rules and regulations of The Methodist Church, he shall present the candidates to the congregation….”

I was in seminary when the Discipline said, “When they shall have given proof of genuineness of their faith…,” presumably to the pastor responsible for their membership training, the pastor could then present them for membership.

In the north, the church followed the Lutheran/Catholic milieu and had confirmation classes. In the south the milieu was Baptist, membership training was Sunday School, and people, and children as young as 5 or 6, could present themselves for baptism and membership at any public service (worship, revival, Bible class, or prayer group) and could join on the spot at the discretion of the pastor which he rarely used unless an ethnic person was involved.

That oversimplifies how people became members but both show that the pastor was presumed to have some discretion. Practice led most pastors to never use their discretion in order to expand the membership of their churches. And the Disciplines tended to follow that while retaining the word “may.”

This memorandum, like that in JCM 1158, lays at the feet of the General Conference the responsibility to clarify what we should be doing.

Unlike what I’ve seen from Council rulings and members’ opinions, I believe JCD 1032 was not an activist decision “making law.” It was very conservative in the sense that it described where the Discipline really was, no matter what the bishop wanted. That was pretty gutsy, but not surprising given the Council’s membership at the time.

What worries me is that with the requiring of pastors to take in anyone who presents him/herself for membership, I can see a small ultra-conservative church joining one of our congregations, taking it over because the pastor could not stop them under the 2008 Discipline. More realistically, I can see Southern Baptists dissatisfied with their pastor, joining one of our churches and asserting their polity once they became officers of the local church and sending off people into the ministry in our denomination who practiced a congregational polity once they joined an annual conference.

JCD 1161


An oral question of law was given during a plenary session of Mississippi Conference about a provision that allows the conference to respond to emergency financial situations between sessions of conference.

Despite taking no jurisdiction, the Council took the time to try to state the problems and describe what the conference wanted to do before vacating the bishop’s ruling.

Those who like such intricacies surrounding church finance, this decision appears to be down their alley.

Mississippi has had Katrina in 2005 and tornadoes this summer which might just trigger a financial crisis. It is important that conferences have a way to respond. Even if such catastrophes are not identified as the emergencies which drop conference receipts below a certain percentage level, good procedures would be wise to have in place.

JCD 1162


The Philippines case returned in the form of a request for reconsideration. Usually such requests get no space in the memorandum. In this case, it appears the interim bishop may have not been truthful about having met on Feb. 3, 2010, with the Cabinet to get them to change the site for the annual conference. He answered the request for reconsideration of JCM 1152 and in his argument said that the Cabinet had not responded to his requests for meetings. That raises the issue of the credibility of the interim bishop. The chances are that he did not meet the Cabinet on February 3 as the statement of facts in both 1152 and 1162 provide but unilaterally changed the site of the conference for his own convenience. He had to appoint new superintendents in order to finally get the "Cabinet" authorization on February 18. If he already had the old Cabinet's support for changing the site, why did he need to appoint new DSs to get that vote?

The Council did not sense that possible question when it considered the case in JCM 1152 and despite being told by the brief from the opponents of the interim bishop for this docketed action, they found nothing egregious about the interim bishop’s actions and ruled he operated within church law.

One party seeking reconsideration was chastised for not copying his request for reconsideration to the other parties at interest.

The Council was in a situation where they did not know for sure who to believe.

Over the years, Councils have tended not only to believe the bishop’s side of the story but rarely ever have acknowledged anything said from the pastor’s side. Decisions like JCD 1156 occur about once a decade.

In this case, there was some acknowledgement that there were issues against the episcopal rendering of the situation. I appreciate that whenever the Council does it.

JCD 1163


The New York Conference faced dealing with a resolution about welcoming LGBT persons but which the bishop ruled out of order. Despite efforts to amend the resolution, the bishop persisted in ruling it out of order. Finally, the bishop asked for a motion to support his ruling, which the plenary did. The Council was left with a parliamentary situation that it has no jurisdiction to resolve.

It has to be frustrating to advocates for resolutions when they cannot overcome a parliamentary move which passes the house though the bishop had no real grounds.

Even though the resolution took up a large chunk of time in the Conference's agenda, by being voted as out of order, made all that work legally meaningless. The vote in support of the bishop meant it was not before the conference and hence, the Council had no jurisdiction.

This Council often provides enough history to understand the circumstances and their decision.

JCD 1164

JCD 1164


All earlier attempts by annual conference to define the word “status” in Paragraph 4 have been in reference to persons seeking or holding ministerial standing in our denomination. Northern Illinois Conference was trying to apply it to church membership. By opening the definition of “status” to include sexual orientation and transgender identity for their annual conference, the hope was to provide a precedent other conferences could follow.

The Council pointed out that they have persistently said that the definition of “status” as they do in this decision was the task of the General Conference.

The analysis is a helpful study of the judicial efforts of our denomination to consider this issue. I find such good research by Council members helps clarify where we are in this issue, making the Council’s work more helpful, and therefore more interesting.

JCM 1165


Minnesota Conference jumped into the fray over JCD 1032 by asking if that decision was consistent with the “civil rights” paragraph in the Book of Discipline, Paragraph 4.

The Council responded exactly as they did in JCMs 1158 and 1160 verbatim, (they have no jurisdiction) even to the opinions added at the end . . . with one little twist. Beth Capen called on church leaders not to misinterpret JCD 1032 as saying homosexuals may not join the church.

JCD 1166


In Kentucky Conference, an advocate raised “five questions related to administrative and judicial procedures concerning a clergy person in the conference.” Under their policies since JCD 799, the Council ruled the questions were moot because bishops are not part of the judicial processes and cannot be used as a means of judging what other bodies are supposed to judge.

Here’s the problem. When the bishop decides to direct a complaint against a pastor into the administrative processes under the Board of Ordained Ministry, the appeals process has a logical progression, just as it does in the judicial track which moves toward a church trial.

If there is a violation of the Discipline perpetrated by one or another of the persons or bodies handling the complaint, the respondent has the right to raise those as questions for a ruling by the presider over the next hearing body. That is the route of appeal. So let us say that errors are made at the last step before annual conference, at the meeting of the Board of Ordained Ministry where the respondent is fighting administrative location. His/her advocate raises questions about violation of church law with the chair of the Board who is presiding and the chair allows the Disciplinary violation to go unchecked. The respondent pastor wants to appeal to the clergy session as the place to stop the action against him/her. The Discipline says that appeals of violations of the Discipline are to go to the presider at the next hearing body. Some clergy sessions have the Board chair presiding and she/he may be the one who already ruled on those same Disciplinary violations, so under ordinary definitions of what an appeal is, the BOM chair has to be replaced.

There are two options for who is to preside. One is the vice-chair of BOM who has already voted on the motion against the pastor. The other is the bishop. If the vice-chair does as the chair did and allows the Disciplinary violations to go unchecked, what is the recourse of the respondent? If the bishop chairs the clergy session, then JCD 799 applies making Paragraph 2715 meaningless, contrary to JCD 331.

If the respondent was in the judicial process, appeals would go from the trial to the jurisdictional appellate committee to the Judicial Council.

But in the administrative process, the appeal ends at the annual conference. The clergy session makes the crucial vote. Everyone in that body is subject to the appointment of the bishop and Cabinet. Since the bishop has already given credence to the complaint by referring it, having been involved in the supervisory process sufficiently to know the complaint and having an opinion which leads to referral into the administrative process, the self-interest of the pastors in the clergy session can lead to a faulty decision against the respondent. And the only way to get an outside review of the matter where no one has a vested interest in the case is through the questions of law to the bishop as presider of the conference plenary which has the vote to support the report of the BOM. Such questions of law go to the Judicial Council but it can use JCD 799 to block that line of appeal as it did in this case as well as in JCMs 1130, 1145, and 1153. And the respondent’s search for justice is ended without a final appeal beyond the milieu and influence of command within the annual conference.

JCM 1167


The text for this memorandum responding to questions of law from Rocky Mountain Conference is the boiler plate used in JCM 1166. And another pastor’s attempt to seek justice is blocked by JCD 799.

The bishops have a successful anti-pastor deal going here….

JCM 1168


Sometimes I really like this Council. In this memorandum, they refuse jurisdiction because the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops wanted the Council to make a ruling at their request. My initial response to the opening of this memorandum was that the bishops were at it again, stretching their authority over the limits set by the Discipline. When I got to the Council’s decision to not take jurisdiction because the executive committee does not have authority to access the Council, I said, “Yes!”

I hope the question is properly raised by an authorized group because it is important that there be clarity about the terms of bishops and their election.

Some parts of Africa have the tradition of their bishops having to be re-elected every four years. When missionary bishop Ralph Dodge was working in Africa, he never presumed on a longer term but always insisted on that re-election process. He was honored with re-election each time until he retired. I wish that process was in effect in the U. S. It might curb the overreach of bishops that I have seen during my lifetime.

JCM 1169


Rocky Mountain Conference’s bishop seems to have a lot of questions of law raised about the administration of personnel issues. This set was deferred by the Council to the spring of 2011.

JCD 1170


Questions of law from another conference in the Philippines relate to re-election of trustees. The people raising the questions also asked for a declaratory decision by the Council on the same matter. The Council accepted the questions of law but not the request that had been voted on.

I always thought the higher the vote count, the more it impacted the attention of the Council. I guess that rule of thumb may still be operative except in the unusual situation where the same concerns are raised using both channels to the Council.

The Discipline does not disallow Trustees from succeeding themselves. That seems so obvious that one wonders why the question was raised, especially in a conference whose culture is different. I wish someone would have given the back-story in a concurring opinion as has sometimes been done in the past. Or maybe not….

JCM 1171


Indiana Conference (newly merged) set up a steering committee on which the bishop had a vote. That is contrary to our tradition that the bishop may preside but not have a vote on conference matters. A lot of the restructuring done around the country features bishops adding another illegal arrow to their quiver of authority. Since the Council overturned the bishop’s supportive rulings on the questions of law, I hope bishops elsewhere will stop the overreaching they’ve done.

JCD 1172


Indiana Conference was challenged about how it handled its finances as the respective committees prepared the reports, especially the distribution of apportionments. The issue may have been the use of the conference website to disseminate apportionments information or it may have been that there was a question about proper consultation along the line as was raised in Texas the previous spring (JCD 1150). The Council reviewed all that and came to the same conclusion the bishop did, that all the proper steps had been taken under the Discipline.

Those who enjoy thinking through financial processes may find good information in this Decision but I was not greatly helped by it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

JCD 1173


Iowa Conference established rules that restricted campaigning for General Conference for delegates and resolutions. Someone was concerned that the restrictions were too strong and in violation of the Discipline. While the Council was very spare in affirming the bishop’s rulings that they were legal under the Discipline, Beth Capen again provides church law readers with more insight into the issues and circumstances, concluding with the advice that as long as the people passing out literature outside conference allow people to be able to avoid them if they wish and as long as the conference avoids certain requirements that inhibit candidates in conference-sponsored events and processes, the restrictions passed were appropriate.

JCD 1174


In a question raised in the North Alabama Conference, the bishop was asked if appointment consultation had occurred according to the Discipline. The bishop, of course, said it had. The questioner said it hadn’t. The Council said it wasn’t a fact-finding body so it went along with the bishop.

I have difficulty with that for two reasons.

First, in JCD 629, the Council said, “Ambiguities must be construed in the favor of the person affected.” In this case, the person affected was the pastor.

Second, the Council ruled in JCD 595, "The Judicial Council has authority to determine factual matters which are essential to decide the legal questions involved." In this case they had conflicting information and faced the question of how to determine if one or the other statement contained sufficient facts to make a determination.

Did the bishop provide copies of his documentation to back up his telling? Did the pastor challenge what the bishop said occurred? Did he have any documentation showing the bishop was inaccurate? Or did the matter come down to “He said/He said.”

The Council members do not have research staff. They do have knowledge of colleagues with the skills to do research and analysis and, under the rules of practice and procedure, can integrate such research into the work on the case.

I have been critical of the lack of examination of the materials coming to the Council. Too many times, it was not discovered until too late that necessary materials, especially minutes of annual conference or clergy session, have not accompanied the questions of law or requests for declaratory decisions. The Council had to remand cases, postponing for six months the work of the Council to resolve what in some cases were time-sensitive matters.

I urge the Council to establish a process to check each set of materials when it comes in to be sure all the required records are included and to check to see if differences of fact are documented. The Council cannot let itself be in the position of guessing about facts that should have been documented by the parties at interest. The Secretary should have the authority and the help to do that checking when cases arrive for docketing and should have the responsibility to insist to the parties that they document all of the pertinent facts before docketing the case.

I must concede that since I have not seen what was included in either brief, I cannot say definitively that the Council did not have the facts. In writing legal materials such as in summarizing a statement of facts, inadvertent changes in wording can leave an impression that is not consistent with the reality.

But it is disconcerting when the Council cannot say what the facts are and excuses itself by saying it in not a fact-finding body when it has the authority to press the parties to provide more information. It is even more disconcerting when rushed by a huge docket for the short time they have to work each session, they simply accede to the bishop rather than to follow their own guideline on ambiguous situations.

JCD 1175


The Arkansas bishop was asked to rule on whether a pastor who received denominational financial help had to fulfill five years of service in the conference that helped the pastor get the student loan. The bishop ruled that even though the pastor started out in Tennessee, she was only obligated to do the five years somewhere in the connection. The Council pointed out that the funds were from the general church and that the conferences were just trustees of the fund. We have no idea how the Tennessee bishop would have ruled.

The Council may run into a turf dispute on this kind of situation in the future. Hopefully, they won’t because of the inclusion of the “trustee” factor. It will depend on how highly a bishop values a particular pastor.

And what a treat for the Council that the facts were uncontroverted!

JCM 1176


This kind of situation is so sad. A church is seen by the California-Nevada Conference (though it can happen anywhere) as no longer worthy of being open for whatever reason; it decides to close it without going through all the consulting or prior notice; and someone from the church tries to stop the process. Annual conferences end up facing situations where there is a lonely voice protesting a leadership position and wisely or unwisely makes the choice.

What makes this even sadder is that all the lone voice did was raise a parliamentary question and not a question of law. If he had asked instead, “Was the process of closing this church consistent with Paragraph(s) so-and-so of the Discipline?” the Council would probably have taken jurisdiction.

JCM 1177


This is one of those kinds of rulings that drives advocates nuts. Arcane laws disrupt what should be a clear decision. Having done some consulting on this case, I share the advocate’s frustration.

This Philippines case has been brought to the Council three times before on other matters (JCDs 1149, 1152, and 1162).

What the Council does not (or cannot?) say relates to the six items the committee on investigation acknowledged. The committee simply said that those six items identified that someone brought accusations. When it came to the specific items that were the allegations, the committee did not accept them as true and so they dropped the case and did not forward it to trial.

That would ordinarily end the matter. The church may not appeal a decision favorable to the respondent unless egregious errors were made. The Council figured failure to report the committee on investigation’s ruling on the two other charges was worth something. I wish they had specifically remanded the case back to them. By being unclear about that, the advocates and the church were left in limbo.

The college of bishops used a request for a declaratory decision on the legality of the committee on investigation’s failure to forward the charges instead of appealing to the central conference appellate committee, essentially circumventing the Discipline’s block to a church appeal.

Instead of calling the action of the college of bishops an inappropriate way to get around a decision in the judicial process, the Council used their jurisdiction requirements to avoid a decision.

Again, the Council did not call upon anyone to report back to them, though that would have been hard to justify if they felt they had no jurisdiction. And if they had no jurisdiction, they could not really comment in a ruling about the end-run the college of bishops was trying. I wish someone had written a concurring opinion which spelled out in a little more detail some of the problems within this case. But who had time given this busy docket?

JCD 1178


Northern Illinois used creativity to try to get around JCD 1032 by directing its BOM to train pastors that they could only use “no more than a profession of faith and vows of the Baptismal Covenant to be required of new church members in this Annual Conference.” They made the legal decision that some things in the Discipline superseded JCD 1032 and then asked the Council if they were correct.

The Council did not take kindly to the conference’s pre-empting the responsibilities of the Council and they did not take kindly to the conference asking them to rule the correctness of their actions.

The concurring opinion was not a straight repeat of previous such opinions. But the point was the same: This is a problem for General Conference.

JCD 1179


This request for a declaratory decision from Northern Illinois dealt with a minor shift from what they asked for in JCD 1178. In that decision., the matter related to transfers of membership. This request relates to those seeking membership by confession of faith.

This time the Council put in its ruling the different routes to membership that the General Conference left when it only modified Paragraph 225 and not Paragraph 214. While sending the two separate requests might have covered that difference, the Council overturned the Conference resolution for the same reasons it did in JCD 1178.

Again, the concurring opinions add a little more background in church law that are of value.

JCM 1180


A district in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference has grown so much that it could be an annual conference of its own. But the Discipline is not exactly precise about how that can be brought about. This is a nice problem for the Council and they did a good job of sorting it all out. Only the General Conference can make it happen after the proper consultations show the requirements for formation of a provisional annual conference are met.

A member of the Council concurred dubitante. That means he went along with the decision but still has some doubts, probably not enough to identify them in a concurring or dissenting opinion.

JCD 1181


This ruling is an ad interim decision for the Council of Bishops which appears to have been needed so the conferences they served would have timely guidelines for the elections that lay ahead this year. The Council of Bishops meets right after the Council’s meetings so the request would not have been heard until this past April. Hopefully, this special session of the Judicial Council does not turn into a privilege that only the Council of Bishops may enjoy.

The decision itself is carefully parsed, with some slight discontent stated in the brief partial-dissenting opinions.

In effect, the Council said the amendment regarding electors for General, Jurisdictional, and Central conferences are all pastors under appointment who have met certain educational requirements and who have been under appointment for two years. Ambiguities arise because the amendment does not get more specific, which is why the bishops raised the questions.

This is a job for General Conference to sort out.

Summary remarks for JCDs 1152-1181

The Council faced thirty-one docket items. Around half were memoranda, rulings that mainly included lack of jurisdiction, deferrals, and requests for reconsideration. But only a small handful showed no rationale. This Council has helped clarify church law, precedent, and their grounds for such rulings. By doing so, they perform an invaluable service to anyone trying to approach them with issues needing adjudication.

The other half also provided extensive analysis and careful interpretations which showed their thinking about how they reached their decisions.

The Council’s judicious use of concurring and dissenting opinions continues to be very informative and valuable for legal and historical reasons. This body of work, built on research, provides immense help to those who seek legal information to deal with complicated issues, from property insurance to forming provisional annual conferences.

The next step in the development of a mature canon of church law is the collation of the hard work showing up in the decisions of this Council. Indexes available from Associates in Advocacy and whatever is used by the Judicial Council already provide outlines for such a canon.

The Council is reaching its stride for the Church and deserves much credit for its effective service.

A large docket raised many issues. I identify six important ones.

1. JCD 1032 got a lot of attention with requests for reconsideration, with about a fourth of the items on the docket. The Council properly called upon the General Conference to resolve the issue but they, like the rest of the denomination, tend to see the problem as one of unwisely restricting pastoral authority and not of episcopal over-reach as I do (see my rationale under the comment on JCM 1160). Northern Illinois provided five docket items in their effort to overturn JCD 1032 and the Council began using “boiler plate” passages to simply say, “Work through General Conference, not us!”

2. I was deeply disappointed in the continuing pattern of the Council relying on their 1997 JCD 799 and failing to face up to violations of church law in personnel cases whenever an advocate used questions of law to appeal. Previous Council sessions have chosen to take jurisdiction in JCDs 1031 and 1135. If the Council accepted my arguments under JCM 1166 as well as what I’ve written in this blog about JCD 799 on January 11, 2011, and chosen to look into the things done by local church and conference leaders to the pastors seeking justice through the Council, in most of those cases, they would find as they did in JCD 1156, “Lack of diligence, integrity, care, or compassion in dealing with a case almost always results in irreparable harm to both the individual and the church. That has usually happened by the time a case of this nature gets to the Judicial Council.”

3. I was equally elated to see the Council’s JCD 1156 where a request for a declaratory decision was honored, and not summarily dismissed under JCD 1048. This Council can do exceptional analysis on many things as this set of decisions from November of 2010 shows. That excellence was applied to the personnel case brought in this docket item. The Council has just seen the tip of the iceberg of dirty tricks and machinations certain bishops and certain conferences have done to pastors.

4. I am glad for the flexibility that provides for Council action ad interim. But the trend so far, though small, is worrisome. Two decisions were handled outside the Council’s normal sessions at the request of two different sets of bishops. Is that showing some kind of privilege allowed to bishops?

(Ed. Note: I wish the Council had a way to handle personnel matters ad interim in order to sort out questions about abuse of fair process while it was happening rather than long after it happened. I think an annual conference judiciary team or maybe one on a jurisdictional level could handle such claims, especially in the administrative track.)

5. The number of Central Conference requests was unusually high. That appeals came from Africa and Eastern Europe is a sign of their growth. The Philippines has used the Council for a very long time.

(Ed. note: The Council’s four responses over the past year to one case may be giving them a better view of what is happening there. One clue is that for JCD 1152, the College of Bishops reported that the DSs went along with the change of site for an annual conference. In their report to the Council for JCM 1162, they admitted that the interim bishop appointed his own DSs to make that decision when the true DSs chose not to respond to the interim bishop. No matter which DSs were properly appointed, the College of Bishops was caught in a lie to the Council. I pray the Council will watch that situation carefully.)

6. Not having the actual questions of law nor other facts in front of me, I can only guess that JCM 1156, like JCM 1130, were seen by the Council as their best way to handle what may have been antagonistic questions meant to embarrass the respondents in those cases. My experience has been quite the opposite, that questions of law have been raised to help a respondent out of a bad situation. I can believe, as the concurring opinion in JCM 1130 states, that confidentiality was an important factor in the Council's decision. The problem remains though how to maintain it but not let a bishop off the hook for unfair decisions he or she made in a case.

7. Finally, I apologize to those seeking wisdom on financial and property matters for my not knowing enough to be sure my observations provide you with help on the decisions of interest to you. Your observations would be valuable. The material in this blog can be easily changed when the facts warrant it.