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.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spring 2012 Judicial Council Decisions JCDs 1205-1211

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. I’ve added subject titles and have continued adding labels that can be picked up by search engines.

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 1205



At General Conference, not all of the Judicial Council decisions were world-shaking, well, denomination-shaking anyway. In this case, reconsideration was sought for JCM 1176, 1184, and 1192, all related to the closing of a local church without consultation, but all based on the fact that the original concern was raised as a parliamentary question rather than as a question of law. This memorandum patiently clarifies why the Council took no jurisdiction. It is as though the Council read my blog post about JCM 1192 and that the one raising the original concern never saw my blog post on JCM 1176. It can be also seen as my failure to contact the concerned parties to consider a petition to General Conference as a means of working on this matter as I promised in my comment on JCM 1184.

For JCM 1192, I chastised the Council for just declining reconsideration without explanation. For JCM 1176, I suggested a question of law that would have engaged the Council’s jurisdiction but apparently no one in California-Nevada Conference followed my suggestion. I need to take responsibility for that because I know pastors in that conference and should have pressed them about my suggestion. And I must thank the Council for its providing a careful rationale for its memorandum

The Council states here as in JCM 1176 that the vote by the conference made moot the challenge that was brought. This might not have been considered final if the proper question had been brought.

Had the following question been asked at the time when the parliamentary challenge was made, “Was the process of closing this church consistent with Paragraph 2548 of the Discipline and if not, is our action to declare the congregation discontinued a valid action?” even a vote by the conference to close the church should not have made the concern moot. Current guidelines for questions of law require an action of the conference in order to provide a non-hypothetical ground to raise the question. The vote of the conference to discontinue the church provided the grounding in conference action that would have supported the Judicial Council taking jurisdiction for that question of law. The Council has previously ruled such conference votes invalid even where the Discipline allowed it when the process leading up to the vote was flawed. JCD 777 is one example.

In this case, the judicial practice that an action by annual conference was made and not properly challenged at that conference session makes moot any such questions of law made one or more years later.

The matter, if I read it correctly, is still devastating to the local church that was closed by fiat of those in power without proper consultation with the church itself. May future closures be done following the Discipline. And if not, then those who are concerned need to be prepared to refer the matter to the Judicial Council at the time of the vote by questions of law or by seeking declaratory decisions.

JCD 1206



The West Middle Philippines Annual Conference under retired Bishop Arichea’s authority faced a resolution calling for a change of time of the conference’s meeting. This appears to be an action by those who may have felt the retired bishop was acting arbitrarily. There is a history reflected in JCDs 1142 and 1152 which may be relevant here.

However, the action was taken in violation of the Discipline which requires involvement of the presiding bishop in the decision of changing the time. That had not been done in the process of passing the resolution. A counter resolution supporting Bishop Arichea was offered and this question of law from his supporters was referred to the Judicial Council. It appears that once again, the bishop used the Council to solidify his position.

Since the original resolution to change the time was not done in any official body of the conference, it could have been ruled out of order by the bishop when brought by the ad hoc group who could have then raised a question of law. However, that did not to happen, though the record is not clear on what all did happen.

It appears that friends of the bishop brought a resolution confirming the bishop’s decision about the conference’s meeting time and then a question of law supporting that was brought in order to get the backing of the Judicial Council.

Ain’t politics grand? Not really. The pain of division within the Manila area conferences who have gotten the attention of the Council over the past several years may go on and on. Hopefully, a new bishop elected this year may be able to bridge the gap between those wanting change and those unwilling to do it.

JCM 1207



From that Manila Area came a request for a declaratory decision from a suspended bishop. Unfortunately, no conference or other Disciplinary body forwarded it so the Judicial Council could not take jurisdiction.

As I have reported in the past, I was consulted on some matters by those related to the bishop making the request. These matters from the Philippines docketed by the Council this spring were not referred to me. I have no idea what concerns the inquiring bishop has other than that multiple suspensions by the college of bishops of the Philippines that he has faced may not be legal. However, the request was not included in the memorandum. The last I knew, the suspensions continue and the central conference is left to figure out what to do about election to replace that bishop or, as the South Central Jurisdiction has done in bishop Bledsoe’s case, leave an opening until the matter is resolved.

JCD 1208



I’ve been trying to get to that “Aha!” moment where I understand the implications of this decision. I’m not sure I got there. I have a premise shared below which you may take seriously or may take with a grain of salt but first, let me discuss what was decided.

The decision’s meaning is fairly clear even to someone like myself who is not really good at “following the money”: General Conference may not hand off its authority to other bodies to do its work. The Discipline provides that it handle the formula for apportionments and may not allow anyone else to modify that.

The proposals before General Conference were to allow the General Council on Finance and Administration to negotiate the formula for each missionary conference in the United States and with each Central Conference. This sounds reasonable in an era when financial instability characterizes the world and does so in different ways in different places, depending on the local economy.

At the hearing before the Council were four bishops and one agency head fighting against the proposals and one legislative committee chairperson who was caught up in other demanding issues to represent the response to the challenges. GCFA sent no representative. There was no representative from the missionary or central conferences either.

The Judicial Council ended up supporting the bishops’ challenges. Their rationale is clear and follows from precedent of church law.

It was the Council of Bishops who raised the question about the constitutionality of such proposals. I have no direct knowledge of the dynamics of the challenge. But I do have a premise that the Council of Bishops is setting up its own program in parallel with that of the denomination and would end up having a much more difficult job dealing with the finances for that if GCFA made many different funding arrangements among the missional regions of the United Methodist Church.

Let me expand on that premise. Many observers feel the denomination needs to “regionalize” in order for United Methodists in each part of the world to carry on their mission more efficiently, without the baggage of United States domination and control. It appears the Council of Bishops has joined the conservative wing of the denomination to retain that domination and control. “Leadership” is always easier from a centralized position. It’s called autocracy.

It appears a major change in the constitution will be needed to allow for missionally-sensitive financial arrangements. As it stands, GCFA will continue to be in the position of handling financial shortfalls by missionary and central conferences at the end of each year of the Quadrennium instead of anticipating and accounting for their likelihood at the beginning of the four year cycle.

Somehow the Council of Bishops feels that is okay. While only an accountant can figure out if they get their money first, it appears the Council of Bishops likes things this way.

It must be noted that Council of Bishops’ requests for rulings on constitutionality of proposed legislation under Paragraph 2609.2 supercede a request for additional matters of meaning, application, and effect allowed for under Paragraph 2610. The Judicial Council refused to go beyond determining constitutionality.

Further, having the authority to handle a docket item is terribly important to this Judicial Council. As can be seen by studying the Council’s own struggle to determine its actual jurisdiction and limits, those who seek rulings from the Council have got to be very careful in developing their questions so as to fit the many criteria which the Council uses to determine jurisdiction.

JCM 1209



For years, attendance at annual conference sessions has usually been around sixty percent laity and forty percent clergy. The formula for trying to balance membership between the two has been one lay person for every clergy member. As clergy have lived longer and had resulting health problems which interfere with their attendance, the percentage of laity present at annual conferences has risen.

A petition removing those elderly and infirm pastors had three arguments against counting them toward the balance formula. Clergy have no alternates who may attend in their place if they cannot come; those infirm pastors are still counted toward the balance even though they don’t attend; and the extra lay members add to the cost of annual conferences. This item was quite thoroughly discussed in plenary on Thursday, May 3, the day before the end of General Conference (pages 2730 – 2732) and was passed.

At the beginning of Thursday’s evening session (p. 2737), a motion was made with no discussion to refer the action on this matter to the Judicial Council and it passed nearly unanimously.

But the Council was busy sorting through the very long and involved decision they needed to make about denominational reorganization as well as the matter they were working on for JCD 1208 so they deferred this item to this fall’s session.

JCD 1210



At the instigation of the Council of Bishops with little or no input from the Boards and Agencies of the denomination, a wide-ranging plan named “A Call to Action” was developed over the past quadrennium. It had many features and many critics. By the time it reached General Conference, it had been broken up into various parts, as discussed in my posting on this blog of “April 25 – Dr. Chomingwen Pond,” under which I included a section called “A Call to Action.”

Right after lunch on the day it was passed (May 2, two days before adjournment), the plenary voted with no discussion to refer this variation on reorganization called “Plan UMC” to the Judicial Council. This was such a high profile set of legislation, having taken up all the oxygen in the room at General Conference that the Judicial Council took it up immediately.

As they have done with so many reorganization plans submitted from annual conferences, they discerned the primary flaw of this one, an attempt to move decision-making from the bodies granted it by the Discipline, and placing it in other bodies.

Here again, as I’ve written before, the Council of Bishops was seeking to gain control over more and more of the organizations of the denomination. Nowhere in any version of the segments of “A Call to Action” was there an effort to look at where the bishops in their duties may have contributed to whatever malaise they were trying to resolve with their plan. The problems of the denomination were with everyone else, as the plan clearly pointed out.

But the Judicial Council stuck with examining the plan for constitutionality, not for its inherent weakness. With care, they laid out the constitutional flaws of this reorganization attempt, the same ones they have explained over and over in previous rulings dating back to JCD 364, a decision given in 1972. See also the most recent, JCD 1198, from 2011.

One special feature of this decision is that it did not restrict itself to the possible constitutional issues identified by the one making the request. Under the general rubric of determining constitutionality, the Judicial Council found its own grounds for determining that the legislation lacked constitutionality. Again with careful argument, the Council was clear about what it found. Future efforts to reorganize the Church better take these into account.

I do not expect those who cobbled together “Plan UMC” will do any better when they try to revive this kind of thing for 2016.

The immediate effect of this decision had a serious impact, though, in three ways.

First, the years spent over the past Quadrennium working on “A Call to Action” suddenly were seen by many observers to be the waste they were. And the hours spent trying to keep it alive at General Conference despite its questionable objectives were not lost on the majority of the delegates in Tampa.

Second, the impact of this effort led by the Council of Bishops further eroded the respect with which they had been held by the rest of the Church. Many episcopal leaders expressed dismay at the lack of trust they were being shown by the actions of the General Conference. See my posting of May 29 on “Trust of Bishops.”

Third, two agencies, the General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, were preserved. Under Plan UMC, they would have been merged and would have had next to no resources to continue in any serious way, if at all.

In conversations I had among bishops during General Conference, I found every one of the bishops with whom I talked stunned at what had happened to their “wonderful” ideas meant to “enliven” the denomination. We can look forward to similar efforts for 2016, though this General Conference did not fund a new study. I do not see that stopping those energetic leaders from bringing many petitions professionally packaged to sell in the next conference’s prime time. The Judicial Council better be ready for more work in Portland, OR, in 2016.

JCM 2011



Part of the “Call to Action” legislation was getting rid of the guaranteed appointment. For many quadrennia, petitions have been before General Conference to remove the right of pastors to have an appointment if they were in good standing. None had passed before. The Methodist principle that every church shall have a pastor has as its corollary that every pastor shall have a church. On the basis of this contract, every church would have seamless leadership changes and pastors were committed through conference membership to be available to assure that promise.

In 1956, the General Conference added phrasing to the Discipline that guaranteed appointments for pastors. The purpose of the addition was to support those who were minorities or were women. The impact was significant. The good bishops had been very conscientious about making sure every pastor had a church and they continued to do that as women and minorities entered their annual conferences. But not all bishops were good. The law was needed.

Beginning with the Korean War and continued during the Vietnam War, both of which had the draft, a number of people entered annual conferences who were not as competent because they were safe from conscription as long as they could get through seminary. By the late 1970s, their ineptness came to the attention of bishops and efforts were made to remove them.

Those efforts led to a change in 1980 that allowed superintendents to initiate complaints against pastors and that allowed Cabinets to initiate involuntary leaves of absence. By 1984, as I watched morale plummet in my own annual conference, I realized that their new power changed superintendents from “pastors of pastors” to “enforcers.” The gap between pastors and Cabinets grew immense. The very power to remove incompetent pastors actually produced pastors who pulled back from doing anything that would draw the Cabinet’s attention. Their ministries languished, as a result, and Cabinets had even more pastors not being as effective as they could be. Further, the stress of being between critical superintendents and laity who could be critical led to stresses that affected the health of pastors which increased the appearance of ineffectiveness.

Thus, by 1984, a cycle of destruction of pastors had begun. Standards to enter conference membership were raised and all the new pastors entering the ministry came in with glowing reports of their energy and competence. Those standards have become so high that many seminarians do not even bother to join our denomination. And the bright and promising new pastors disappeared into the ranks. Even with high standards, the talk of incompetent pastors has only grown over the years. See my post of May 4, “A Persistent Theme” under which is an article about “Incompentent Pastors.”

There has been two demographic twists to this issue. Because of the denomination’s declining size as older people die and younger people do not join as they used to, many conferences have had to close churches and thus have a surplus of pastors to account for at appointment time. The short term fix, of course, would be to drop pastors from having to be appointed. In the Council of Bishops’ view, the only legitimized way to do that was to end the guaranteed appointment system. Transfers to other conferences needing pastors and changing the structures which have destroyed morale and broken trust of superiors in office were not considered.

The second demographic twist is that older pastors are retiring at an alarming rate, going out early whenever they can. These two lines have not crossed yet. Very soon, in the next few years, there will not be enough pastors for the churches that are still going.

On Tuesday, May 1, the petition removing guaranteed appointment was passed by General Conference. There was no provision saying it went into effect immediately so it will become effective on January 1, 2013, along with nearly all the rest of the legislation passed this year.

On the last day in Tampa, a delegate moved referral of the legislation ending guaranteed appointments to the Judicial Council and it passed. The Council, having barely completed work on the “Plan UMC” decision before the end of General Conference, had no way it could deal with this request so it deferred it to their Fall session.

Summary Remarks for JCDs 1205 – 1211

The group forming the Judicial Council for the past four years showed its poise and maturity during their work in Tampa. They were not caught in controversy between the left and the right wings of the church as the previous Council had. However, they faced off with individual bishops and the whole Council of Bishops many times and sustained their stance that reorganization has to remain within the guidelines provided by the Discipline and could not be “streamlined” in ways that put more power into the hands of the bishops. They did it by playing by the book without prejudice.

The group got better and better at getting full disclosure from the respective parties bringing or contesting referrals to the Council. The General Conference has directed them to post all requests for their rulings on line so that everyone can see what has been docketed and would therefore be in a position to aid the Council get adequate information to do their work. The items docketed for the fall session have all been posted. Now everyone can see just how difficult their work can be, especially when all the facts are not available. Hopefully, the Council will get the benefit of friends of the court making sure all the facts are brought forward.

And the group has become adept at teaching the Church through its decisions and memoranda. Church law scholars and advocates have much more specificity, consistency, and clarity with which to work. Hopefully, bishops will avail themselves of this form of “continuing education” that comes to them in the form of rulings to them twice a year. Their track record has been terrible when it comes to knowing about and following Judicial Council decisions.

This General Conference elected two African legal scholars, thanks to the successful caucusing by the delegates from that continent. The Central Conferences provided other gifted candidates as well so there is an enlarging pool of good church law people watching and learning and helping. That should give good support to the new Council and assure competent candidates for future Councils.

A word of thanks needs to be expressed to the outgoing president of the Council, Rev. Susan Henry Crowe whose quiet, patient and professional leadership brought many newly elected members from 2008 into becoming a fine team, despite many bumps in their road. Thanks to Judge Jon Gray for his enthusiastic service on the Council. Rarely did a significant decision come out to which he did not add insightful concurring or non-concurring opinions.

Finally, the coming four years may lead to some interesting decisions. With three members now coming from overseas, visa and travel problems may mean differing mixes of members and alternates at times. Will they vote along conservative lines? Liberal? Will the overseas members help the Council be less susceptible to manipulation by other overseas parties? Chances are greatest that the Council will tend to be cautious about taking jurisdiction and that they will stick with what the Discipline actually says. I believe their work will continue to be educational as well as judicial.

Now if only the rest of us pay attention and provide insights and information useful to this new Council, the denomination will benefit the most.