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.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Fall 2011 Judicial Council Decisions JCDs 1190-1204

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 could help you understand some important aspects of the decisions. Should you feel I have made an error of fact or interpretation, 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.

Associates in Advocacy publishes updated indexes of all Judicial Council decisions and memoranda. If you are interested, contact Rev. Michael Brown, 158 Saxony Ct.,
Vallejo, CA 94591. The Judicial Council website also offers indices as does the AIA website under HELPS for the Judicial Council.

JCM 1190


Having done some consulting as noted in the blog posts about the respective docketed items on the Philippines case, I have reread every related decision and memorandum rendered by the Council (JCD/Ms 1149, 1152, 1162, 1177, 1182, 1183, and 1184). I am seeing inconsistency on the Council’s part with respect to the case.

The Council accepted a petition from the bishops of the Philippines less than a month after their Spring 2010 session where the Council ruled the that the interim bishop and the annual conference over which he presided was the official annual conference rather than the one headed by Bishop Tangonan (JCD 1152).

But the Council refused to accept a request for an early decision in Bishop Tangonan’s ongoing struggle with the college of bishops. Despite identifying the actions of Bishop Arichea as “convoluted” in changing the site of the annual conference (JCD 1152) and most of the Council being bothered by the six undocumented suspensions of Bishop Tangonan over two years by that college of bishops (JCD 1183), the Council put him off by postponing dealing with his request until next Spring’s session.

Despite their unease about what was coming to them in incomplete bits and pieces, they still went along with their rulings that the Philippines bishops constituted a college of bishops and that Bishop Arichea did no legally questionable wrong. But Bishop Tangonan has been left hanging by those decisions, further deepening the split in the annual conferences which he led prior to his suspensions.

The Council appears to have taken the word of the college of bishops when the Council accepted how the bishops’ petition described the results of a committee on investigation rather than seeing that original document for themselves.

It can be argued that the Council is stuck with maintaining their rules and with parties who do not send all the needed documents. Hence, they put out decisions as best they can. But I fear that the Council, when in doubt, tends to believe those higher in the power structure and not persist in their demand for better documentation.

In JCD 1152, Bishop Arichea said he met with the Cabinet on Feb. 3 and they voted to change the site of the annual conference. Then in JCD 1162, the story changed. The DSs failed to respond to attend the Feb. 3 meeting and a final vote on the change of site occurred on Feb. 18 after he had appointed a whole new Cabinet.

A different reading of JCD 1162 might allow for another interpretation, that a request not to change the site sent in by the lay leader was what the Cabinet refused to respond to. But it is more reasonable to assume the Cabinet refused from the beginning to meet with retired Bishop Arichea because the Judicial Council had not yet ruled that the Philippines bishops did indeed constitute being a college of bishops under church law. That ruling did not occur until many months later. No one knew in February when Bishop Arichea showed up and changed where the annual conference was to be held whether or not he had that authority. The Council gave it to him retroactively. Like enforcing a law retroactively is wrong (see JCD 704), having to justify past actions by making a law change to fit the situation, which is what JCD 1149 did, may also be bad law.

The Council has a way out of this mess. It needs to undertake a review of all their decisions. And it needs to use its authority to obtain documents withheld from it or were not asked for in those decisions. Until the Council does, it may face many and sundry petitions from that group of annual conferences. One hopes that instructions have been sent to all the involved parties to send everything they have for the review of the Council next Spring. In the meantime, it might want to change its rules and find a way to review early requests in an orderly and consistent manner and respond in a timely way to Bishop Tangonan’s request.

JCM 1191


This memorandum notes that concerns left over from JCD 1156 have been resolved. Although it is not clear from what this statement says, apparently the conference has paid the pastor for time lost due to the incorrect application of the 2008 Discipline. Apparently the proper minutes and other documents have clarified what actually happened.

I have no independent confirmation that is what happened but the upshot of this ruling is that JCD 1156 stands.

One hopes this effort by the Council shows they can sort out the sometimes murky personnel actions of the Church and resolve them.

JCM 1192


This memorandum deals with two unrelated petitions seeking reconsideration. It denies both without analysis or comment. The effect is to sustain earlier decisions on both. JCM 1176 was the case where a church closing was challenged because the Conference gave no prior warning to the congregation. JCM 1184 was about requesting reconsideration of JCD 1152 in which the Council affirmed after the fact the authority of an interim bishop in the Philippines case.

The requests were not without merit, as my blog posts on those earlier decisions state. It is a shame the Council chose not be share their thinking as they have on other requests. Their docket was surprisingly small compared to other fall sessions in recent years.

The upshot is that the Council feels all further argument on the respective cases adds nothing to what they already said about them. On these two requests, I wish the Council did not choose to play their “We have the last word” card because I think there still are serious issues left unresolved.

JCM 1193


The Council was asked for a third time to reconsider JCM 1152 (see JCMs 1162 and 1183). I do not know the grounds for the request from either the originator or from the Council. I hope the Council’s minutes which will be archived contain complete notes on the request and the grounds for denying it. Historians of the future will be interested in how our era thought judicially.

JCD 1194


There were several annual conferences that were impacted by the removal of Bishop Tangonan and his being supplanted by retired Bishop Arichea. The request before the Judicial Council shows there is lingering discontent about it.

The impact of this ruling is that only the session presided over by Bishop Arichea sends the valid representatives to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2012.

I find it interesting that the Council did not cite its own rulings to justify supporting Bishop Arichea’s decision of law saying his conference session was the only legitimate one (see JCD 1149). Interesting, but who knows how significant it is?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

JCD 1195


The parallel situation in a second of conferences previously served by Bishop Tagonan provides the request in this decision. The commentary for JCD 1194 obtains here.

JCD 1196


The wording is different but the issue is the same as in the previous two rulings. The result is the same.

The cumulative effect of all the decisions in the Philippines case is that the college of bishops, no matter what they did, was essentially supported from the United States, further enhancing the power of that group to do as they think is best, whether or not the Discipline is on their side. They have had the Judicial Council, which is even better.

That could fall apart if the Council seeks all the documentation they should have received as these cases came their way. Will the adeptness of JCD 1156 be applied to the spring session’s review or will the tendencies of this whole series, essentially backing up the college of bishops no matter what? We’ll see.

Surely there have been questions in other annual conferences in other parts of the world. History shows that the Church in the Philippines has turned to the Judicial Council more frequently than any other conferences outside the United States. Some historian may find it an interesting study to see why that is so.

JCD 1197


This decision patiently distinguishes between the guidelines provided for incapacity for an annual conference with regard the standing of the pastor and with the guidelines of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for picking up the cost of the benefits upon confirming incapacity for at least six months.

In the instant case, it took the General Board eight months to make that determination. Meanwhile the benefit was paid by the annual conference (Board of Pensions) on the presumption the General Board would pay back what the conference covered plus pick up any future payments necessary. Such a length of time is not unheard of before a determination is made. It is a compassionate risk a conference takes when it grants incapacity leave, knowing the General Board is very strict about what constitutes incapacity.

The question of the pastor’s standing in the conference when the General Board does not grant incapacity was raised at the annual conference session. The Judicial Council parsed the distinctions saying the conference votes the pastor’s standing but the General Board does not. This decision reminds the Church about this long standing principle.

The conference officers were left with the dilemma of continuing to fund the incapacity leave during a period of low financial resources, learning the General Board was not going to bail them out in that specific case. Conference officers did then seek to drop the pastor from incapacity leave at annual conference because the General Board did not pick up the costs.

The payment amounts to only 70% of the conference average salary so no one would be gaming the system. The pastor may also seek Social Security Incapacity (SSI), something that has its own criteria which may differ from the conference’s and the General Board’s. It is not uncommon in some cases that the federal government is more compassionate than the Church. I have been told that the General Board then diminishes its contribution by the amount SSI picks up.

The Council cleared the air on the pastor’s conference standing. It was up to the conference to handle the pastor’s standing no matter what the General Board did. I just hope someone in the conference advised the pastor to seek SSI at the same time he sought incapacity from the General Board because the General Board would have a hard time justifying refusing incapacity when the federal government grants it.

JCD 1198


Our era has seen the rise of the bishop as CEO. In that movement, bishops have sought more authority than the Discipline actually provides. I’ve seen the officers of the conference (the administrative ones under the bishop) take over the determination of which mission projects to fund, taking it away from the annual conference (JCD 608). I’ve seen bishops press toward having the power to fire pastors without fair process (JCD 777, 784. et al). I’ve seen the Judicial Council turn back many reorganization plans which supposedly “streamlined” program and administration in various annual conferences, some of which even granted the bishop a vote in matters the Discipline does not allow (JCD 1171).

What usually occurs in these reorganization plans is that the conference cuts ties with the denominational resources outside the conference by slushing together Discipline mandated bodies into more “manageable” and less regulated groups. The result is that control of the actions within the conference is not “hindered” by obligations to entities outside the conference (JCD 1147) or even inside the conference (JCD 1150).

The Council provided guidelines for restructuring back in 1998 (JCD 835). It seems the bishops have not even wanted to let the Judicial Council interfere with their restructuring ideas. Or maybe, no one has instructed new bishops for the past 13 years about lessons to be learned from the Discipline and the Judicial Council.

This Council is amazingly patient with its explanations covering old ground again and again.

The bishops are going to have to realize there are limits to their power, that they are part of a connectional system that only works when all the parts are properly connected, and that connectionalism means more than “Obey the bishop.”

One other note about this decision. It includes the same rationale for a Council member not to have recused himself from voting on a decision that was used in JCDs 1131 and 1132. At least a reason was given for the sake of transparency.

JCD 1199


I’m a devotee of being able to ask questions of law and seeking declaratory decisions to resolve personnel problems.

In the instant case, I wish the request had not been made because it appears the conference was open to granting the pastor’s wish of applying five years of previous service to the two years required after graduation, given the pastor’s impending retirement.

The implications related to pensions, health insurance benefits, and other factors are a little beyond me, though I do not think they would have been affected. It seems the matter is one of appearance rather than substance, though there could be other factors involved not mentioned in the Statement of Facts. Hopefully, the ordination of a retired pastor is not out of the question.

But the Council was drawn in. And the gracious intent of the conference and petitioner was set aside. The simple statement of the law shows that the Council did not trivialize the matter but took it too seriously.

JCM 1200


There is a lot of history behind this case. One should read JCDs 301, 665, 794, 847, and 871 to understand the issues well. The first three essentially affirmed the right of conferences and churches to consider dissent from law, whether civil or church law, if there were no mandates or regulations requiring specific actions. Hence a church body could identify as Reconciling or Confessing or Transforming. While JCD 301 dealt with conscientious objection, the others dealt with aspirations related to welcoming homosexuals. However, in the last two, the Judicial Council said that identifying with one movement or another was a doctrinal matter even if such designations were not regulatory. Hence, they argued, becoming one or another was divisive and therefore contrary to the Discipline.

Interestingly, JCDs 665, 847, and 871 originated in the same place JCM 1200 does, the Northwest Texas Annual Conference.

In the instant ruling, the Council took no jurisdiction for two reasons: one, “the request has no direct and tangible effect in the work of the petitioning Annual Conference;” and two, they already clearly ruled on the same thing before.

In a concurring opinion, three members felt that the Council had no authority to direct how a conference or church identified its mission aspirations, thus making JCDs 665, 794, 847, and 971 inappropriate. The General Conference should provide by legislation for resolving the matter. Another member noted the reason the request came was because there is little compliance. Church bodies continue to identify with one or another of the movements. He writes the Council has done its job and now the legislative and administrative bodies need to do their job to bring every conference and church into compliance.

Bishop Norris pointed out in his ruling from JCD 847 that there was no enforcement mechanism.

The upshot of this series of decisions is that, just as the Council raised parts of the Social Principles related to homosexuality to the status of law (JCD 833), so the Council has raised aspirational affiliations with movements to the status of doctrine. These are peculiar to the issue of homosexuality and no application of the decisions to anything else in the life of the church has occurred.

But the Council is not insensitive to the aspirational. Affirmed in JCM 1200 without specifying it is the following from JCD 871. “We do, however, reiterate the proposition that local churches like Annual Conferences can freely pursue principles and causes affirmed in the Discipline and by the General Conference with the mandate of reconciliation and healing being required of the whole church.” They just can’t use affiliating with a movement to do it.

JCD 1201


Picky over whether or not the Judicial Council has jurisdiction, I was as surprised as the concurring opinion writer was that the Council took jurisdiction over a bishop’s forwarding a resolution about trial court penalties as if it were a question of law. But the Council did so they could tell the Church that only the trial court can set a penalty in a guilty verdict.

I hate to think that because a bishop said something, the Council took that as sufficient to take jurisdiction. The Council, in any case, is a human institution, subject to the same vagaries as the rest of us.

In our annual conference (Wisconsin), we have rules and we have policies. They are codified and published in the conference journal every year. The policies can change year to year with a simple majority vote and are not regulatory. The rules are as binding as regulatory just as is the Discipline, provided there is no conflict between them. They are subject to vote only after 24 hours for review.

Even policies may not contradict the Discipline which, in the instant case, the policy did as the Council points out.

Now that the matter is cleared up, despite the questionable basis for accepting jurisdiction, conferences cannot set penalties in cases where pastors conduct same sax marriages or union services. If nothing else, the Council has advertised what one conference wants to do. It will be interesting to see if a pattern develops where there occur trials of pastors on the violation noted. Will it influence trials in Northwest Texas Conference?

JCD 1202


The statement of facts about this case does not include the bishop’s ruling. Even though the Council vacated it, one wonders how a bishop could justify telling a pastor in any circumstance, without prior fair process (JCD 702), that s/he was unappointable.

In the cases of Revs. Winslow Wilson and Nathaniel Grady, both of whom were in prison, were put on leave of absence. Their respective conferences felt that they had each been incarcerated unjustly. Their appointability was never seriously in question. If church complaints were initiated against either pastor, no committee on investigation forwarded it to church trial.

In the instant case, after the bishop put in writing to the imprisoned pastor that he was unappointable, the formal complaint process has been begun. Appointability is a determination to be made by the conference, as I understand it in church law, and is not the prerogative of a bishop to determine. I do not know who advised the bishop to write such a letter or who gave him the impression such a letter was appropriate. I can guess, based on how frequently I have heard about bishops who thought they could make that determination on their own.

The Judicial Council, on the grounds of separation of powers, has stood up to the incursion of episcopal authority into employment matters. I hope their ruling receives better attention than has the Council’s rulings on some other matters (for example, JCD 1200 and its predecessors).

JCD 1203


Behind the question of law presented, there must have been a concern about an agency not fulfilling its responsibilities to pay a retired pastor. Unfortunately, the question was not tied to a specific person nor was it tied to a specific action before the conference. Consequently, by rule (JCD 799), the question was judged moot and hypothetical.

In a dissenting opinion, one member felt the bishop failed to offer an answer to the question of law. JCD 799 is clear. “The duty of the bishop is to respond with a ruling to all submitted questions of law. A ruling is required even if the ruling is simply that the question is moot, hypothetical or improperly submitted.” No such response to the question was offered.

Unfortunately, the Council overlooked its own rules (JCD 799 is incorporated into the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Council) and allowed a bishop to get away with refusing to send in her response to the question asked. There is no indication the bishop is unaware of the circumstances that precipitated the question of law. She just refused to answer it.

What if the Council had ruled the question of law was appropriate? That has occurred before when a bishop thought the question was moot and hypothetical. The Council would have to remand the matter to the bishop for an answer and keep jurisdiction until they received it. The bishop would have been in violation of the Discipline, returning the answer well past the thirty day limit. That would also have put off a resolution of the issue, a delay that could have caused harm to the pastor in question.

As the Council said of others in JCD 777 and others, that irreparable harm is done because of failure to follow the Discipline in personnel cases, so it may need to include itself among those required to obey the Discipline.

JCD 1204


Another conference attempted to restructure and had its plan forwarded for review by the Judicial Council. And again the Council had to point out significant flaws, remand the plan back to the annual conference, and retain jurisdiction to be sure the flaws were corrected.

Streamlining may seem like a good idea for administrative purposes and for cost effectiveness. What it usually shows is how low in priorities of key leadership are things like ministries to young people, maintaining an active mission outreach, and keeping adequate archives. What makes it worse is that certain conference leaders must have refused to respond to questions about such concerns during the decision-making process and forced the matter to be forwarded to take up time of the Judicial Council.

Summary of the Fall 2011 Session

The biggest beneficiary of this fall’s decisions is the college of bishops of the Philippines on whose side the Judicial Council ruled. As I pointed out, if the Discipline is not on their side, having the Judicial Council is even better! Of the 16 items (2 were dealt with in one decision) before the Council this fall, 6 were related to the Philippines. The result of the Council’s rulings further entrenches the power of the college of bishops and their appointment of an interim bishop. That bishop may be a nice guy and popular with folks in the United States, but his actions should be compliant with the Discipline and they may not have been.

I have watched groups in the denomination triangulated into one power struggle after another, usually causing harm to the other side and the whole Church. I hate it when it happens at the highest levels of our Church.

Compliance issues with church law, as this session’s docket illustrates, ranges from individual failure to follow the rules for questions of law (JCD 1203) to annual conferences (JCDs 1198 and 1201) to the Council itself (also JCD 1203). Is church law breaking down? Is everybody so busy they don’t take boundaries and guidelines seriously but “roll their own” because they are in a hurry? Are things so complicated that nearly everyone misses the finer points intended to help? Even when the Council shows immense patience and offers significant teaching in its decisions and opinions as it does in JCDs 1197 and 1198 in particular, there seems to be a low level of responsiveness (JCDs 1200, in re: 847).

The struggle to minimize episcopal incursions beyond their Disciplinary authority continues to go on (JCDs 1191, 1194-6, 1198, 1202, and 1204).

Homosexuality continues to haunt us (JCDs 1201 and 1202) as do questions about handling of personnel (JCDs 1191, 1199, 1202, and 1203).

Still bound by arcane rules, lack of adequate information, and the discretion about what they report, this Council sometimes is not able to perform consistently. And the Council sometimes shows some awareness of its occasional lapses.

Maybe those of us who watch and understand the significance of what the Council does need to become more vocal in commending the good things the Council does in hopes of encouraging them on to consistency and authority so people pay more attention and accept the helpful guidance they offer.