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, November 17, 2012

JCD 1230




A year or so ago, the South Central Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy surveyed various officers, pastors, and lay people of each annual conference in their region. The results were compiled and compared. It appeared to the committee that Bishop Earl Bledsoe did not grade out anywhere near the other bishops. Each bishop was interviewed separately about his or her respective grades. The results for Bishop Bledsoe were very disappointing and no one felt good about it. A sub-committee, acting on the consent of the whole committee, encouraged him to consider early retirement “to preserve the dignity of the bishop and of the Church.” He announced it a few days before it met to the North Texas Annual Conference where he presided.

Other jurisdictions were working on similar evaluations with their bishops based on Paragraph 412 which was new as of 2008. In at least one of the others, a bishop was found lacking at some points and was directed into remedial continuing education as a way to improve his episcopacy and allowed to continue as bishop.

A couple years back, according to media reports, Bishop Bledsoe was asked to participate in a coaching program at Duke University only to show no growth, according to the chairperson of the South Central Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee. See http://elections.umc.org/juriswdiction-affirms-bledsoes-removal/

After Bishop Bledsoe announced his retirement, colleagues in the annual conference suggested that he should reconsider because it appeared to them that the process did not seem fair and may have had racial motivations. At the session of the annual conference, he announced that he had decided not to step down after all. There was consternation among those who felt he should have retired. And there were hard feelings that he had been put through this among those who supported him.

Though saying he asked for specifics from the committee and they gave him generalities, media accounts at the time say Bishop Bledsoe acknowledged criticism for how consultations on appointments were handled, that the situation around handling a high profile scandal was difficult, and that the Judicial Council had overturned a reorganization plan he’d pushed. Bishop Bledsoe complained that he had no place to turn for support and advice.

The conference lay leader reported that he had told the bishop that morale was extremely low among the clergy, though the laity liked him well enough. The lay leader also reported that there was upset about the conference having three African American bishops in a row. See UMNS Daily Digest for June 6, 2012.

Having some experience in such matters, to me some things didn’t sound right.

I’ve been through evaluations as a pastor. They get to be pretty specific. They did not always show balance by indicating the numbers or sometimes they were not indicating a time or event, but they certainly pointed in directions a pastor could go to improve. I have not seen the evaluation forms to know how detailed they were but I cannot imagine the format failing to provide something of a clear direction. Therefore, I am not sure the bishop should have said that all he got were generalities.

I know some of what other bishops in that jurisdiction have done in the past that were worse than what was acknowledged by Bishop Bledsoe. I wonder why they were not on the bubble too. I would love to see the evaluation format and would like to know when it was devised in relation to when complaints began coming in to the jurisdictional episcopacy committee.

Another very bothersome thing was that the lay leader even mentioned the three-in-a-row critique EVER, let alone in the committee and then to the media.

The other concern coming out of the June reporting was that the bishop failed to take advantage of the episcopacy committee of the annual conference. The Discipline does not provide that it handle complaints. It has been there to be the support system for the bishop to help move through difficult times. Those who tend to ignore that resource are making a huge mistake.

My conclusion is that the bishop had a hard time with criticism, faced a degree of racism, and probably operated in the classic southern tradition of being “in charge” as a bishop, which meant not needing administrative and diplomatic skills, and presuming authority over whatever he wanted. Even so, the whole situation of being subject to criticism before being told what was expected of him, a problem caused by Paragraph 412 being new and its processes begun after he was elected, was inherently unfair.

Given all that, what followed was not without merit. The bishop was then notified of a hearing to consider his being put on involuntary retirement. There were no charges so none were sent in the notice. Apparently the discussions with him during the evaluation were considered adequate warning as to what the hearing would cover. The hearing itself was handled as if it were an administrative hearing under Paragraph 362.2. He was encouraged to have an advocate. He chose former Judicial Council member Dr. Zan Holmes (1992-2000). The committee is reported to have allowed considerable latitude for Dr. Holmes and Bishop Bledsoe to raise questions and offer responses to the questions of the committee.

Once the committee made its decision, the matter was referred to the body which had elected the Bishop (see Judicial Council Decision 475). That body also granted the bishop an opportunity to present his case. And the Jurisdictional Conference then voted to accept the committee’s recommendation for involuntary retirement.

If Fair Process includes being heard before a decision is made, having counsel, having a hearing, and then having the right of appeal, the committee and jurisdictional conference fulfilled the requirements.

Bishop Bledsoe chose to appeal and the Judicial Council accepted jurisdiction under Paragraphs 408.3a and 2609.9. The former included appeal directly to the Judicial Council and the latter granted that the Council was to do what the General Conference asked of it, namely 408.3a.

The Council did an extraordinary thing. It granted two days of hearings for the bishop and for the bishop to have a different former Judicial Council member, Jon Gray, to act as his advocate. Bishops are Elders and Elders have other Elders identified as eligible to be counsel for the respondent (Paragraphs 362.2c and 2712.4). Retired Judge Gray is a lay person. I am uneasy with that, but I believe that every pastor in trouble deserves the best advocate he or she can get.

Since Paragraph 408.3a is new, new practices were an option since the Council has the authority to set its own rules of practice and procedure (Paragraph 2608).

There is another unusual feature of the hearing with the Council. Its president, the Rev. Dr. William Lawrence, is a member of the North Texas Annual Conference. Traditionally, Council members with such a small degree of separation recuse themselves to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest. When they do not, there is usually an explanation provided in the ruling (see JCD 1032). There was no recusal and no explanation. I’m uneasy with that, though I know of no involvement of Dr. Lawrence with the processes at the jurisdictional level.

The decision itself was based on the appeal that there were violations of Fair Process in the way Bishop Bledsoe’s case had been handled. The other aspect of the appeal, the possible unconstitutionality of Paragraph 408.3a, had been resolved during the Council’s regular fall session weeks before the hearing. See JCD 1229.

Interestingly, that decision to rule the paragraph is constitutional is because fewer than six members of the Council thought it was unconstitutional. Beyond that, the Council did not go into any rationale as to why. It is possible that five members thought it was unconstitutional but a previously unquoted portion of Paragraph 2608.2 was used: “An affirmative vote of at least six members of the Council shall be necessary to declare any act of the General Conference unconstitutional.”

It can be noted that briefs for the Bledsoe case were sent in well in advance of the fall session and Council members may have already begun consideration of its nature and concerns before or at the fall session where JCD 1229 was decided. I’m a little uneasy with that timing.

The substance of the case against Bishop Bledsoe was never considered. The Council reviewed process only.

The decision of the Council overturned the involuntary retirement.


This Council is a body of educators and they meticulously worked their way through the elements of the case and drew up their conclusions in their usual fashion, full of detail and concepts that help the reader follow their thinking. The decision has enough foundation to be used as a precedent for future cases.

First, let me cite several particulars that may provide strengthening of Fair Process. Second, I will note some new elements which are quite significant because they are unexpected, based on previous decisions of the Council. Third, I will suggest some implications that flow from this decision.

I. Particulars that strengthen Fair Process

There are four particulars which the Council held up as their understanding of Fair Process and which we will expect they will look for in future cases.

One, the “Statement of Reasons” that are the grounds for seeking to take action need to be accurate.

In this case, the statement of the jurisdictional episcopacy committee not only tended to be pretty vague, it failed to include some of what was in the original list of problems given in the committee’s reasons for voting to involuntarily retire the bishop. Further, criteria developed in one evaluation study were not brought into the committee’s original decision because it was not ready until after the process began. The bishop was thus up against a moving target, not being sure what problems would be added next before the end of the proceedings.

Editor’s note: Compare this with JCD 1094 where such specificity in church trials is not required.

Two, the notice for the hearing, given thirty days before that meeting, must include the “Statement of Reasons” and the documentation which supports each of those reasons.

In this case, the thirty-day notice specified in Paragraph 408.3a was ignored. The “Statement” was held back until twenty days prior to the meeting and the documentation came out in spurts, some of it came only when it was requested just prior to the meeting and some was even refused. The bishop not only faced a moving target, he did not have all the evidence that the Church was using for the involuntary “action.”

Three, even though Paragraph 408.3a is brief, it contains the basic elements required for Fair Process: notice, hearing, and appeal. Here, though, the Council inserts the “mandate of Fair Process” which is to be presumed to be operative because it is a “long standing policy.”

For me, that is only twenty years. Fair Process was introduced in 1992 and we have only occasionally seen it actually used. Rather, what we have seen are “alternative methods” and “innovation” with respect to how a pastor should be treated under Fair Process. See the posting in this blog about JCD 1226 for brief descriptions of Cabinet’s typical “alternative methods” and “innovations.”

The Council understands Fair Process “mandate” to mean that notice includes not only the date, time, and place of a hearing as was given thirty days before it, it means that the one facing involuntary action has the right to the two things noted above, specific reasons and full documentation.

In this case, the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy did neither, thinking it was subject to an administrative procedure parallel to Paragraph 362 and Paragraph 358.3, though no one appeared to mention the latter.

Since most administrative actions done with pastors tend to be based on subjective reasons (usually whatever the Cabinet says) with no standard of proof and no requirement for documentation which they can keep safely hidden away in the pastor’s supervisory file, the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy felt it was doing things even better than common practice.

The bishop still faced a moving target which could change at any time without any proof except what his advocate could cajole out of the committee. What the Judicial Council thinks of as the “mandate” of Fair Process was not so thought among the committee.

Four, not only were the reasons for putting the bishop on involuntary leave in flux and not written in clear statements, the committee failed to identify what was “in the best interest of the bishop and of the Church.” Paragraph 408.3a adds that to fair process for bishops.

In this case, the Council felt the committee’s attempt to tie the poor statistics of the annual conference to that was incomplete and not clearly shown to be applied to all of the bishops in the jurisdiction.

The bishop felt he could argue about that but the Council didn’t even consider any substance of the committee’s case against him. That argument became irrelevant in the final decision. Because the committee’s “best interest” phrase was not clear, the bishop really did not have a chance since the vagueness could have illegally allowed the committee to slide over into any other rationale it wanted.

In the Council’s eyes, despite what appeared to be the good intentions of the committee, the bishop really had no chance because of the lack of understanding the committee had about Fair Process at its most crucial initial stages.

In effect, it was a “garbage in – garbage out” circumstance where because of what the Council saw as major flaws in the set up to the hearings for the committee and then for the jurisdictional conference vitiated their respective decisions against Bishop Bledsoe.

II. Unexpected elements of Fair Process

There are four surprises that the Council included in their understanding of the “mandate of Fair Process:” annual conference committee on episcopacy, transcripts, legal fees, and return to seniority and tenure in office.

One, concerns that might lead to involuntary retirement should first pass through the annual conference committee on episcopacy.

Traditionally, as stated above, that group has been a support group. Complaints are to go to the jurisdiction under Paragraph 413. Paragraph 637.3 does not include handling complaints before they go on to the College of Bishops. Bishops rarely thought their episcopacy committee had authority to look over their shoulder except near the end of their first quadrennium.

The implication here is that the annual conference committee should be involved just as the Staff-Parish Relations Committee should be before any concern or complaint enters any involuntary process against a pastor.

That means that the jurisdictional episcopacy committee should refer administrative concerns back to the annual conference to be handled there before taking up a process to retire a bishop against his/her will. That would require referring bad evaluation results as well. This is precedent setting.

Two, transcripts are now reintroduced as critical among the documents required for the Church to provide as evidence. In JCDs 691 and 698, the Judicial Council insisted on written documents, including transcripts, as part of Fair Process. However, General Conference made sure that never was included in the Discipline and the Judicial Council has not previously acknowledged it if it was brought up to them before in administrative cases like this one.

The committee included transcripts in its outline of what it would provide to Bishop Bledsoe. The Council depended on a transcript in its search for clarity about “best interests.”

Such importance of transcripts changes the requirements for future administrative hearings because this decision has set that precedent.

Three, “making whole” a person after a church process is overturned has changed over the years. Prior to 1980, a pastor could only get minimum salary to cover the period he had been improperly removed from office until he was returned to appointment. In JCD 492, the pastor was granted the full pastoral support package including housing, mileage, health insurance, pension rights, etc. General Conference enacted legislation to counter that by stripping housing out of the remuneration but that was later added back.

This decision adds other things to the list of what needs to be repaid by the Church:

"The Judicial Council orders that Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe is entitled to be made whole for all sums, costs, and expenses incurred by him in defense of this action, including, but not limited to, salary, benefits, pension accruals, health, hospitalization, and major medical insurance for himself and his dependents, seniority and tenure of office, relocation expenses, travel and lodging expenses, fees, costs, and related expenses. This amount will be reduced by any funds already received by any contributions provided for the support of Bishop Bledsoe and his defense" (Emphasis added.).

All “fees, costs, and related expenses” owed to the bishop in this case are extended to cover “his defense.” This precedent raises the cost of future flawed procedures against pastors.

Four, in addition to covering legal fees, this decision includes returning the Elder to “seniority and tenure of office.”

Up till now, pastors who won their appeals usually dropped to the bottom of the appointment chain and could look forward to minimum salary appointments the rest of their careers. This precedent requires putting the pastor back into ministry at the same level in which he or she was when the administrative process began.

Imagine, having a denomination that channeled concerns through the support/liaison group between the pastor and the Church, required transcripts of administrative hearings, paid all expenses incurred in the pastor’s defense as well as all other living costs when the process is overturned, and returned the pastor to the same level as he or she had before the mess began. . ., why it would be like belonging to a Christian organization!

III. Implications

As I have observed before, this Judicial Council group continues its practice of careful analysis that treats its readers like adults who want to understand what the law means. This decision like JCD 1156 and many others gives excellent explanations and clarifications about church law and provides a textbook for counsels, advocates, church leaders and wonks like me who have to deal with church law. The decisions of this Council are mostly superior to anything written in the GCFA Administrative and Judicial Procedures Manual.

Besides, this is church law where the manual is not!

I see at least three major implications that flow from this decision of the Judicial Council and a question:

It clarifies how involuntary retirement for bishops can be handled.

It offers a real opportunity for genuine appeal compared to some previous precedents.

It raises the bar for understanding Fair Process.

Will it enhance or discourage holding bishops accountable?

First, this decision does what is very much needed: it clarifies how involuntary retirement procedures for bishops should be handled. While it cannot legislate and does not intend to, the Council does provide definitive steps for Paragraph 408.3a:

(a) inclusion of the annual conference committee on episcopacy in the evaluation process;

(b) the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy’s written notice to the bishop of at least thirty days, with a clear statement of the reasons for such action attached to or placed in the body of the notice;

(c) submission to the bishop, at least thirty days prior to the hearing of all records, documents, etc., relied upon by the jurisdictional committee on episcopacy in the statement of reasons;

(d) a hearing (Editor’s note: including having an advocate with voice);

(e) finding by the Jurisdictional or Central Conference Committee on Episcopacy that involuntary retirement is in the best interest of the bishop and/or the Church, as clearly defined by the Jurisdictional or Central Committee of Episcopacy; and

(f) appeal (Editor’s note: added to complete the steps).

Unfortunately, the writers of Paragraph 408.3a had not thought through what they were saying. Fortunately, the Judicial Council now has.

Second, this appeal is real in that an impartial group evaluates what happened free of the pressures from the parties and conflicts of interest and brings fresh eyes and minds to a situation that could be harmful if mishandled.

In many previous rulings, the Council has deferred to the body and presider closest to the action and to a vote of a conference as making moot any challenges. In this case, despite an earlier decision (JCD 475), the Council has overturned a voted conference action because of bad procedures leading up to those votes.

When in football, there is an appeal for a replay, the details of the play are examined by someone who is not a player on either team for any violations of the rules of the game, and a more fair determination can then be made, sometimes reversing the original call on the field.

The appellate bodies of our Church like the Judicial Council now have precedent to do just that, reviewing what happened and having authority to enforce action against those who improperly cross boundaries even if the original calls about their fairness were made by those closest to the events.

Or put in historical terms, the appeal can show that the end does not justify the means.

Third, this decision raises the bar on applying the “mandate of Fair Process,” especially for administrative hearings. The Council is asking for specificity, documentation including transcripts, timely service, avoidance of shortcuts or variations of process, and involvement of the main personnel body related to the one facing involuntary processes. It also shows the consequences of failing to follow Fair Process, that “making whole” includes the whole pastor support package plus all other costs to the pastor including legal fees plus returning the pastor to the same level of ministry previously held.

To those who would say that this ruling is restricted to only this case, let me point out that that stricture is not included in this decision.

Far more important, if the rules apply to an Elder who happens to be a bishop, then they should also apply to an Elder who happens to be under appointment. Further, Fair Process when applied to anyone else’s case does not belong to one class of members of the denomination but to all. I would be very uneasy if that were not the case.

JCD 1230 sets serious standards for handling of Fair Process in our Church.

IV. Will this encourage or discourage holding bishops accountable?

People in our denomination are going beyond personal disrespect for church leaders who have shown little or no sensitivity to the reality of local churches, pastors, and parishioners. The votes against initiatives of the Council of Bishops at General Conference this year are the most obvious sign that the denomination is standing up to them. That Paragraphs 408.3a and 412 were passed four years ago and that the jurisdictions have implemented them to evaluate bishops points to the trend that bishops will be held accountable, sooner or later.

The Judicial Council’s clarification of what seems like the simplest and lowest key process means that holding bishops accountable can be done following the understandable steps they have laid out.

But will anyone be willing to try, given the expectations are so high as are the costs if the process is flawed no matter what the facts of the case may be?

There is a growing body of people knowledgeable about church law. Thanks to the growing body of decisions from the Council that instruct us as to how to go about following church law in some areas, they can help church leaders charged with handling Fair Process to do it correctly.

But will the Council of Bishops tolerate allowing accountability of their members or their respective superintendents? Can they handle the idea that they are wrong in their presumption that they are above evaluation and some blame for the direction our denomination is heading? Will the General Conference consider legislation that cuts into the power now held by Cabinets and bishops, such as their being able to initiate involuntary procedures against pastors, selecting their own successors, and being the only nominators of all of the groups and individuals who handle personnel and judicial work for the annual conference?

So far the answer to those questions is a resounding “no!”

My guess is that administrative failure by bishops will not be directly addressed by threats of early retirement under Paragraph 408.3a. It will continue to be handled by moving them each four years until they retire. I do anticipate that for the rest of this quadrennium inept or arrogant bishops will be pressured into remedial training and coaching opportunities which would be good even if ineffective.

Let us hope that jurisdictional conferences have become much more astute at picking competent people to elect to the episcopacy and less susceptible to being manipulated into electing “politicians” more interested in power than in helping the Church.

Will bishops face hearings like Bishop Bledsoe did? Probably not.

Had the Council supported the action against him, then all of the bishops might get serious about their administrative and diplomatic skills. I do not see that happening in the current cultural milieu in which the Council of Bishops operates.


This decision is historic. Its implications could be far reaching. It may be used to challenge the cavalier way many conferences do Fair Process which could lead to a significant upgrade in dealing with pastors in trouble, or even bishops in trouble, for that matter.

If past experience means anything, nothing will really change because those who should be most affected will go on, presuming their colleagues in the episcopacy will be better leaders and be loath to challenge or let others challenge their handling of their annual conferences or their own authority.

But a shot has been fired across the bow. Will enough people and enough bishops notice?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fall 2012 Judicial Council Decisions JCDs 1212-1229

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 (email at aj_eckert@hotmail.com) 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 publish 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 (www.aiateam.org) under “HELPS for the Judicial Council.”

In the closing comment about the spring session, I pointed out that with three Council members from overseas, there would be a greater chance that alternates would be involved. That would mean possible shifts in theological bent depending on which members needed the alternates. One of the three, Rev J. Kabamba Kiboko, now resides in the United States so the problem is lessened.

The Judicial Council will on occasion also be identified as the Council.

Page numbers (p. or pp.) in a comment refer to those of the Daily Christian Advocate published for 2012 General Conference. Paragraph numbers (P or PP) are from the 2008 Book of Discipline.

Decisions of the Council may be referred to as JCDs (Judicial Council Decisions) or JCMs (Judicial Council Memorandums which do not provide decisions of law but everything else from refusing to take jurisdiction to remanding to showing a question is not legally appropriate under Council rules).

JCD 1212



This matter was deferred from the spring session by JCM 1209. I repeat the summary of the case from my comments on it posted last May.

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.

When they took up the issue in this fall session, the Council found two other places in the Discipline that relate to the balance between clergy and laity. Neither entered the discussion on the floor but they may have been a part of the discussion in the legislative committee. The request for referral to the Council was made based on the first of the two, P 32 of the constitution. Neither P 32 nor P 334.5 provide for clergy to give up voting rights. They would both have to be changed as well as P 604, subject of the request for a ruling.

There are two parliamentary implications and one of a political nature to this decision.

Parliamentarily speaking, first, the original petition came from an individual and such petitions will not take up the time of the General Conference in the future, thanks to the passing of a petition eliminating an individual’s right to petition. Second, the Disciplinary rule restricting petitions to only one paragraph (P 507.2) needs to be revised to encourage searching for other relevant passages, not just parallel ones.

The political implication is that laity will eventually dominate annual conferences because they will eventually get smart and realize they do not have to take the bishop’s or a big church pastor’s word about what is in the best interest of the laity and conference. They will realize their power and utilize it.

As respect for authority continues to diminish in our culture and church officials are seen to be human and not divine, the laity will become the voice of the conference. Church leaders who love to dominate will think the blind are leading the blind since they will no longer have control! I’m thinking the Holy Spirit will return to where it belongs in the life of the United Methodist Church, out of the Council of Bishops and back into the annual conferences.

Sometimes little “side issue” decisions of the Judicial Council could change the life of the Church.

JCM 1213



A Local Pastor at the North Alabama Conference requested a ruling from the Judicial Council on the legality of the apparent support of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice by the General Board of Church and Society and United Methodist Women. The challenge states that their support is in violation of Paragraph 161J of the Social Principles.

The Council had the problem of whether or not the motion forwarded to them was something over which they had jurisdiction: in particular, was it a request for declaratory decision? The text of the motion did not include anything to that effect.

The matter could have been dropped for that reason alone.

But the Council decided to take the word of both sides whose briefs treated it is a request. I hope that future Councils will be that lenient because it is not easy to know for sure how to refer something to the Judicial Council.

The Council decided they had no jurisdiction to deal with the request because the annual conference had no jurisdiction over the General Conference.

I wish they would have ruled that passages in the Social Principles are not law and therefore may not be used as the basis of a question of law or request for declaratory decision as if they were.

JCM 1214



Just before the conference finance and administration committee presented its budget at the North Carolina conference session, a pastor felt it was necessary to have the bishop clarify what constitutes promoting “the acceptance of homosexuality.” Apparently he felt that by supporting the conference budget which included apportionments to support the budget of the general church, he would possibly be voting for items in it that promoted homosexuality in some way.

I’ve read and reread the Council’s decision and still am not clear what it can teach us.

The bishop’s response included saying the question did not connect with any action actually being taken by the annual conference. I agree with that. But the Council did not . . . exactly. The rest of the bishop’s response was essentially that the questions were moot and hypothetical, which really does not answer the questions, but the Council felt that it did, which is something that is a little hard to understand.

I have three problems with this decision, it shows one of the inconsistencies of the Council, it shows a lack of clarity, and it suffers from the complexity of where and how to raise legal questions in our system.

With respect to the first, sometimes in the past, the bishop has specifically answered the questions and the Council has said they were really moot and hypothetical and disregarded the bishop’s answers. Sometimes the Council simply accepts “moot and hypothetical” as the answer. Sometimes, the council has chastised the bishop for not answering the question even if it was moot and hypothetical.

I hope the Council clears that up so bishops provide what they should in responding. The rest of us who are interested in the Council’s work could be better at helping identify them.

The second problem, occasional lack of clarity, is probably due to the rushed nature of the work time of the Council. Each item on the docket is assigned to a team of two or more to write up a decision for the Council and then the whole body critiques it. When any rewording is completed, the item is voted on by the whole body. When they are hurried, sometimes things pass without full consideration.

I have frequently commented on the desire of this Council to teach as well as decide.

In this case, that desire obscures the law rather than clarifies it. Consequently, a relatively simple matter of law, that the questions do not clearly link to the action of the conference, and that the questions are not really questions because they are pretty self-evident but the answers would change nothing.

For example, "Does the performance of same sex union or same sex marriage ceremonies constitute promoting the acceptance of homosexuality?” which is the first question, pretty clearly answers itself but the answer does not really change anything because it fails to connect with a specific item in the conference budget or even in the budget of the general church.

I’m sure in the mind of the questioner there is a connection, but the legislative process already tested the degree of connection during General Conference and determined there was no connection.

But I found hard to follow the decision’s language because it obscures that lack of connection.

That could be me. Sometimes I feel very dyslexic when I read church law! The truth is that sometimes the dyslexics are the ones explaining it! I am teasing, of course. I confess to not always being very clear in my explanations so it can happen to anyone.

The way the Council handles its workload does not always leave them sharp and clear and willing to edit decisions like this one.

The upshot may be that those who look at this decision will think the Council is intentionally obscuring its decision for political purposes, namely “acting liberal.” I do not think that is true in this case but others may think so.

Finally, as stated in my comments on other decisions, it is difficult to know how to ask questions of law or enter requests for declaratory decisions. Some of the most knowledgeable ask them in the wrong place or do not ask the questions correctly.

While I believe the Judicial Council and the various ways to approach them can be and have been effective in clearing up tangles in church law, we still have problems with inconsistencies, lack of clarity based on overload, and complexity of process.

JCD 1215



A Wisconsin Conference pastor was put on trial for two charges, for being a self-avowed practicing homosexual and for conducting a service of union for two gay partners. The trial court found her not guilty of the first charge because it would have required a third party to observe whether or not the “self-avowing” was actually true and not just a political statement. She was found guilty of the second charge, was suspended for twenty days, and instructed as part of the trial court decision to prepare a report exploring the issue of reconciliation among those who disagree over the church’s stance on homosexuality.

The report is worth reading because it shows considerable research and is well written. The entire text is found at http://www.loveontrial.org/pages/covenant.document,pdf/.

The report was presented this June at annual conference. After they accepted her report, church counsel from the trial rose to challenge that action. He presented two questions, one related to the report’s calling for ending discrimination against LGBTQI folks in violation JCD 1111 (no conference may ignore the Discipline even for conscience sake); two, relating to funding a group to work on that project, does that funding constitute promoting homosexuality contrary to P 613.20?

If the respondent in a church trial appeals a decision of the trial court, church counsel then has a chance to argue the case upon appeal. Otherwise, church counsel has no appellate rights except in a case that is handled egregiously (P 2715.10). He chose not to make that kind of challenge, though there are some who wish he had. In my way of thinking, he would have had a hard time proving his case since the pastor was found guilty and the trial court had determined penalties. The Council had been very clear lately that it does not want to overturn the decisions in a church trial (JCD 1094, particularly).

So church counsel chose to raise questions about the report as a way to get a modest kind of review by the Judicial Council.

The bishop responded that the Discipline calls for an end to discrimination so the request in the report for a committee to explore the concern is in order and until the committee assigned with the task has delivered its report in 2013, the first question of the church counsel is hypothetical and need not be answered. The bishop said the second question is also moot and hypothetical because the funding of the study committee enables it to function but does not require a particular answer to how to end possible discrimination.

The Judicial Council concurred. Until the study committee reports next year, the questions asked by the church counsel are hypothetical.

Again, those who feel strongly about homosexuality as contrary to Scripture may see this decision as evading the question. Is any examination of the issue of homosexuality legitimate in the denomination simply because treating any form of study about it is encouraging it? But that issue is long settled in a number of previous Council decisions. Innumerable studies have been supported as within church law.

Those who feel that there is discrimination in the church over homosexuality may be heartened that these kind of studies may legally continue but they know the Council has struck down any actions taken as a result of the studies because they violated the Discipline’s current strictures about homosexuality.

Maybe this Wisconsin effort will find a new path toward reconciling the differences. The United Methodist Church needs help on this divisive issue. Until the General Conference finds a better solution than it has during the past four decades, this conflict will be with us for awhile.

Note: The pastor’s report adds a new wrinkle to the size and shape of the LGBT community. She adds a “Q” and an “I” (LGBTQI). She includes a glossary at the end of her paper. The “Q” represents those who are “questioning” their own sexual orientation and the “I” represents those who are “Intersex” (having both sexual organs at birth – see http://www.isna.org/).

One of the more recent scientific findings is that homosexuality may be a matter of degrees in some people because it is based on the hormones of the birth mother. So, while many gay people are gay by genetics, many are more or less homosexual based on the level of hormones of their mother at their birth. So for many people, their potential confusion over homosexuality may be seen along a spectrum rather than either that they are or they aren’t.

That would underscore the addition of the “Q” to the pastor’s identifying initials of the community.

JCD 1216



Baltimore Washington Conference’s officers were challenged in a declaratory decision request to the Judicial Council as to whether they followed the Discipline and conference policy in 2010 with respect to the status and to the appointing of a pastor in good standing.

The facts are that the pastor and her local church realized the church could not afford a full-time pastor and asked for a change that acknowledged that reality. The Cabinet accommodated the church but the pastor sought a full time appointment. The Cabinet said they could not find one that was “appropriate” so they suggested several alternatives, one of which was that if she did not take voluntary leave, they would initiate complaints to force an involuntary leave. The pastor chose voluntary leave.

She requested leave again in 2011. The record does not show what she decided to do about seeking appointment in 2012.

The Council reviewed the request about the propriety of the officials’ actions in 2010 and ruled the pastor had been coerced to take voluntary leave and ordered that she be reimbursed at the level of the full pastoral package for 2010-2011. No one questioned her leave of 2011 or of 2012 so the Council did not order reimbursement for those years.

Three issues bother me. Advocacy for the pastor leading to the request which was limited to 2010, the overriding of the annual conference’s vote in 2010 by the Council, and the Cabinet’s decision that there were no “appropriate” appointments for the pastor in 2010.

The first issue, adequacy of advocate, is to some extent my responsibility. It is hard to provide help to an advocate who does not know of Associates in Advocacy’s existence and we have obviously not succeeded in getting word out everywhere that we are available to help.

In this case, the advocate might have been asked by one of our more experienced associates to raise the question including 2011 and 2012 if there was any doubt about the issue of coercion. The statement of facts seems to show there may have been in 2011 where it seems the DS wrote a separate recommendation for voluntary leave indicating problems existed with the pastor but which was not signed by the pastor. Nor did her request for leave indicate problems.

Not having seen the brief, I do not know the specifics which were included there. I do know that past Councils have usually only read what was sent by the bishop and ignored what was sent by the pastor, and ruled as if there were no contending over facts or church law in the case.

Councils during the 1993-1996 period and since 2008 have tended to look at both sides. At least most of the time the Council acknowledged what the appellant raised. And on some occasions it ruled in favor of the one raising the questions.

While advocates have no control over what the Council perceives about a case, we can provide information that the Council may take seriously and find helpful. But the skill and experience of advocates varies and the pastor may or may not be adequately helped.

Each advocate operates within the milieu of an annual conference and what the pastor is concerned about. An outsider like me may not have enough information to criticize. But this case may have had enough more to it that the second year and this year could have been in play for reimbursement as well as the first. My hope is that the pastor is satisfied with the Council’s decision and that the advocate did the best job possible under the circumstances.

The second issue, the Council’s willingness to override a vote of the clergy session about the leave of absence in 2010 is of interest because the Council has taken such a vote as making moot anything not raised at the time of the decision (see JCM 1205).

I am in agreement that the Council was correct in overriding the annual conference in this case. I hope the Council will be ready to override bodies whose decisions were reached without proper procedures having been followed before those decisions were made (see JCD 777). Perhaps JCM 1227 relates to one such case.

The third and most disturbing issue I see in this case is the acceptance by the Council of the statement that the Cabinet could not find an “appropriate appointment” for the pastor. That means that of all the appointments that were open at the time, the Cabinet felt it had none into which they could place her.

In other words, the Council inadvertently supports the Cabinet’s having the authority to determine a pastor is unappointable without fair process showing otherwise. This is contrary to precedent such as cited in JCD 702: “It would be necessary to follow the correct procedure before a bishop could refuse to appoint.”

The Cabinet is stuck all the time with having to place pastors in appointments that are not “appropriate.”

That’s the weakness of our polity, especially when the last matches are made. That problem is illustrated by a game devised by Bishop Dan Solomon for his colleagues and for training Staff Parish Relations Committees wherein no pastor’s gifts and graces match the needs and desires of any of the churches described in the game.

The strength of our denomination is that it seeks the highest quality clergy who should be able to perform adequately in any appointment. More important, the role of any supervisory entity is to help those “inappropriately” matched to succeed together and assure both that a change will be made when more “appropriate” options are available. Every new pastor starts out that way. When our system is functioning, the superintendent and/or mentors help where the match is problematic.

By making the unilateral judgment that the pastor in this case was not appropriate for an appointment somewhere, the Cabinet violated the primary covenant pastors enter when they join the conference. By that judgment, the conference leaders are judged: they are unwilling to perform the ministry to which we have set them aside as Cabinet members.

Of these three issues, competence of advocate, overriding a conference vote, and a Cabinet’s determining “appropriate” appointments as grounds not to offer an appointment, I hope the Council will reconsider the last in this case in order to prevent such abuses and incompetence by Cabinets.

UPDATE: The Council has not docketed reconsideration on this point about "appropriate appointments" as of this update.

JCD 1216 is significant in that it defines "coercion." Coercion has been prohibited in one previous decision (JCD 798) where a withdrawal is final unless it was done under coercion. In this case, coercion was seen by the Judicial Council in the simple fact that the pastor was given only two options, a voluntary one (voluntary leave of absence) and an involuntary one (involuntary leave of absence).

If the Council uses this as precedent, then when a bishop tells a pastor that the only options available are withdrawal or trial, one is voluntary and the other is not, the bishop is coercing the pastor. In the dissenting opinion, it is suggested that the mere mention of those two options is not coercion if that happens outside of the administrative or judicial processes. In JCD 1230, following the precedent of JCD 704, that the submission of a written complaint is the true beginning of Fair Process, then contrary to the the current practice of acting as though contacts with the pastor whether informal or formal under "supervisory response" is not judicial or administrative, a bishop can "mention" just the two and would technically not be coercive. But the message is clear to the pastor. That was the bishop (or superintendent) who said it and it is intimidating. And therefore, it is coercive even in the non-forml process setting.

Besides, offering only two options is a lie. There are always other options like written reprimand, referral for medical or psychological evaluation, continuing education, putting the complaint in abeyance until a related civil action is concluded, or even withdrawing the complaint for its violating fair process requirements or because different information comes up which disproves the complaint. There are also always the possibilities of using restorative justice or mediation (PP 2701.5 and 363.1c).

Coercion occurs when the choice is between a voluntary and an involuntary option to the exclusion of all others that are always available such as postponement for medical, legal, or variations on negotiations to settle the matter.

JCM 1217



A counsel for the respondent in a case from California-Pacific Conference requested an urgent ruling on whether the respondent was due compensation during appeal. The Western Jurisdiction, which had not elected a committee on appeals, turned the request over to the committee which was elected in 2004, whose chairperson refused jurisdiction before the urgent request could be argued. The counsel then forwarded his request to the Judicial Council to get them to urge the jurisdictional committee to hear the request and consider it.

The Council also refused jurisdiction and supported the jurisdictional appellate committee chairperson’s right to refuse authority to make a decision.

The Disciplinary issue behind this request is the problem of which paragraphs to take as having priority.

Is the Conference obligated to help a pastor found guilty by a trial court by providing pastoral support during appeal as seems clear from reading P 2701 (“The judicial process terminates at the end of any appeal or right of appeal.”) and P 2403.3c (“…the bishop may suspend the person from all clergy responsibilities pending the outcome of the judicial process”)?

Is the right to pastoral support terminated by the trial court’s finding of guilty as stated in P 2711.3 (“The penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately unless otherwise indicated by the trial court.”)?

The Council’s decision says that this question, while it clearly shows a difference between the two passages on one side and the passage on the other, is not properly before them or before the appeals committee of the jurisdiction. The ruling is that the question should have been raised with the trial court presider and trial court itself at the time of the trial.

The Council said further that it will not enter into a legislative decision, choosing between the disparate passages, but urged referral of this matter to the General Conference to sort it out through the legislative process.

Meanwhile, the even though the trial court’s decision was mixed like the case in Wisconsin (JCD 1215), the pastor is left on his own with no means of support to be able to afford to appeal, let alone to survive. Something is wrong with this picture.

Note: In a case I worked on, this issue was said to be resolved by a member of the Judicial Council who asserted the priority of P 2711.3. The Council refused to deal with my objections at the time. The counsel in this case is well known to me as one of the most astute advocates for clergy in the denomination. But neither of us thought to consider that part of P 2711.3 which says “unless otherwise indicated by the trial court.”

This is why church law drives many of us crazy. It is a mix of church and civil court practice not always clear in how it is handled.

At least now there is a precedent which directs advocates to the place to raise this issue. In this case, the trial court would have had to face the two alternatives the Discipline provides. It could have deferred to the General Conference as the Council has done here. Or it could have made a decision based on the mixed results of the trial it had just concluded.

Hopefully, advocates will learn from this.

JCD 1218



The New York Conference was offered a petition calling upon its members to consider not discriminating against LGBT members and their families. It was challenged by means of a question of law requesting the bishop to rule it null and void based on extensive church law.

The Judicial Council ruled the resolution was aspirational and does not have legal enforcement behind it.

Such resolutions have survived testing before the Council in the past, as noted in the decision. That was the ruling of the bishop and that ruling was affirmed by the Council.

The term “discrimination” enters into the judicial discussions in this session from two places, New York and Wisconsin. The New York resolution and the report of the Wisconsin pastor may be the result of discussions at General Conference among those who find the church’s laws on homosexuality oppressive.

It will come up in other places next year.

Will that argument forward the discussion or will it be neutralized some way?

Who says church life is boring?


JCD 1219



A clergy at the Tennessee Conference requested a decision of law with respect to the possible violation of the Discipline of a resolution against bullying.

However, the question was submitted in writing after conference and thus was not presented in a timely fashion to meet the requirements for the Council to take jurisdiction and rule on it.

The resolution against bullying stands.

You can read it by going to the website for Judicial Council Decisions at http://archives.umc.org/interior_judicial.asp?mid=263
And then click on “View the Current Judicial Council Docket” where you can scroll down to Docket Item 1012 – 17.

The concerns behind the questions were not reflected anywhere in the docket report or in the memorandum.

JCD 1220



A resolution passed by the California-Pacific Conference was challenged by a request for an episcopal ruling of law. The resolution renounced the stance of the General Conference with regard to incompatibility of homosexuality with Scripture and a number of other points of church law related to the LGBTQ community. The other stipulations had to do with affirming the sacred worth of those folks, building inclusive communities with them, and inviting churches and individuals to live out these principles.

The Bishop supported the whole resolution as aspirational. The Council supported him on all but the first stipulation and only those parts of the fourth stipulation related to the second, third, and fourth.

You can read it by going to the website for Judicial Council Decisions at http://archives.umc.org/interior_judicial.asp?mid=263
And then click on “View the Current Judicial Council Docket” where you can scroll down to Docket Item 1012 – 18.

The Council pointed out that a conference can “announce” or “denounce” but it may not “renounce” without stepping over the line on relating to a church law.

To those in the world community, including the ones in the United States and Western Europe who do not agree with this resolution, you will see it again and again in coming years in some form or other. I pray for the day when people on both sides of this issue can understand why these resolutions will keep coming and how they can possibly be worded to reflect a consensus. As long as there is the stance that “We are right so you cannot possibly be,” the best we can do is to not let it turn into a stumbling block to our being in mission together.

JCM 1221



A layperson raised a request at the North Alabama Conference that the Judicial Council review a bishop’s dismissal of a complaint against a superintendent.

At issue was the fact that the Cabinet had failed to consult with a local church
about a number of pastoral changes that had occurred, were angered that the bishop dismissed a complaint against the superintendent who failed to consult with them, and when church members pursued a complaint against the bishop for failing to deal with the lack of consulting, their case against the bishop was also dismissed at the jurisdictional level.

However, unfortunately, the dismissal of charges against the superintendent and bishop were not legislative matters before the annual conference and therefore, since they had been dismissed in the complaint process under the Discipline (P 413), no matter whether or not those dismissals were fair, the request was ruled by the Council to be moot.

There are times I hate church law. This is another of them. It is especially difficult to sort out just how a lay person can seek redress when something unfair happens, especially when the adjudication process is put into the hands of the closest colleagues of the respondent Cabinet officials!

This is one of those situations where the “Pharisee” in church leaders can take over.

The effect of this decision by the Council to be legalistic is to allow Cabinet members to avoid accountability for clear violations of the Discipline. Bishops will feel they can continue to make arbitrary appointments unilaterally. The Council of Bishops will feel it can continue to ignore holding bishops responsible to consult in appointment-making.

Maybe what might be tried is to take the complaint about failure to consult to the Council of Bishops to see what would happen. The Discipline gives them the responsibility to inquire annually about it (P 431.2). The question then becomes, “Where do the complainants go from there if justice is not done?” The Discipline is inadequate so only people of integrity among the bishops can do something about it if the law does not.

In the current administrative culture of the Council of Bishops, it appears taking the easiest way whether it is legal or not and protecting one another are their priorities. Obeying church law is not.

Update: In researching for JCD 1230, I found that the annual conference episcopacy committee is also responsible for implementing the consultation process. See Paragraph 637.3f. That might also work in getting accountability about consultation since JCD 1230 directs such concerns go through the annual conference committee as well as the jurisdictional committee. - No mention of the Council of Bishops....

JCD 1222



South Carolina Conference, in response to JCD 1204, offered documentation of its corrections to the reorganization plan overturned by the Judicial Council.

Again, as in the reorganizations of North Texas and North Carolina, there is a measure of compliance and some things were left out in efforts to respond to the Council’s overturning of reorganization plans of various annual conferences.

Reorganizing shows the priorities of the bishop supervising the discussions about how the conference “should” operate more efficiently.

In this case, the committee on Archives and History was not honored properly, which is common among the bishops who believe in reorganizing. I believe that is very short-sighted and unhealthy.

In this case, missions is given short-shrift. To me that is extremely scary!

JCM 1223



A Western Pennsylvania pastor presented a referral to the Judicial Council challenging the use of funds from his district by a person in the Eastern Africa Annual Conference and the validity of complaints involved.

The matter was deferred to the spring 2013 session.

One colleague knowledgeable about the matter stated that the Council was making sure it gave the bishop every chance to respond to each of the allegations brought in this referral. There were communication and mailing problems related to preparations for the hearing that needed to be addressed. Under the pressure of the large docket the Council was handling this session, the hearing the Council held only further showed the complexity of the situations under consideration.

We are a global church when a lay person in the U. S. can charge a person on another continent with illegal use of funds and a body that is one third international gets to adjudicate it. That’s pretty neat! At this point in time, it also slows the judicial process….

JCM 1224



A series of questions of law were raised at the North Carolina Conference about the failure to consult regarding the reorganization of the Cabinet and administrative staff which changed the location and role of superintendents.

The bishop responded that permissions for all the changes were made at the 2011 annual conference and by the respective districts.

The Council, however, found none of these claims of the bishop documented. Further, they were left wondering if the conference even had real district lines anymore. Under the plan, superintendents are to have assistants whose job description is vague enough that the Council could not determine where one role left off and the other began.

So the whole matter was remanded back to the conference for review and correction and then to be returned to the Council within thirty days after the 2013 annual conference session.

In this plan, it appears that all the superintendents are to have their offices in the conference center. Each is to have an assistant. I have no idea where the assistant is to live and I have no idea if the assistant is a part of the Appointive Cabinet.

But this sounds like setting things up so that the superintendents become much handier to the bishop and may actually fulfill the old joke about Cabinet meetings becoming personal support groups (for “hand-holding”) for an insecure bishop than the infrequent meetings required to work on appointments.

Having all the superintendents in one location with the bishop centralizes episcopal power logistically. Maybe this structure will lead to superintendents becoming the assistants to the bishop and the assistant superintendents will become a personnel committee to do the appointment-making independent of the bishop’s office, much like the Roman Catholic model.

Probably not…!

JCD 1225



In light of JCD 1198, a member of the North Texas Conference shared the changes the conference believes fulfills the requirements of the Judicial Council regarding reorganization.

The Council appreciated the efforts of the officers from North Texas to meet the goals set in JCD 1198 but pointed out the new plans excluded Race and Religion, Status and Role of Women, and Archives and History. So the matter was remanded back to the conference to include those bodies.

My concern about the power accruing to the bishop stated in JCD 1198 is not mentioned either in the conference’s response or in the Council’s remanding.

JCD 1226



This decision was also deferred from the spring session and I repost my comment on JCM 2011 from last May. It deserves repeating:

“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 ethnic 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. As a result, their ministries languished, 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 antagonistic 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 “Incompetent Pastors.”

“There have 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, closure of churches and high rate of retirement, 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 would 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 by a majority vote even though only twenty percent support was needed.. 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 the Fall session.”

Upon careful and educative review last week, the Council declared the changes voted at General Conference to be unconstitutional because as part of itineracy the right of appointment was being removed and the right of trial and appeal were also being removed.

Cabinets are going to have to get smart. In addition to arranging appointments in other conferences needing pastors or offering golden parachutes to get pastors to retire early, they will need to find other positive options.

The chances are that in some conferences, Cabinets will take the low road and continue to take any complaint as an excuse to put a pastor on involuntary leave of absence and then keep changing the requirements to re-enter the ministry as the pastor seeks to return to appointment.

There is an unusual aspect to the full decision. Because the appellants pointed out the interconnection of other legislation passed by General Conference, the Council struck down as unconstitutional a number of other amendments brought through other Calendar Items to Disciplinary paragraphs passed by General Conference that were not directly included in the original request but were Discplinary paragraphs noted in the changes to P 337. The Council agreed with the appellants that those amendments had to be addressed or they would undermine the decision about the change to the paragraph that was addressed. Thus transitional leave remains voluntary, and associate members of the conference remain available for appointment.

As noted by church media, P 338 which allows bishop-initiated appointments to part-time churches, was not noted in the changes to P 337. Under the new law, bishops can make an appointment that was voluntary before but now could be involuntary.

It will be interesting to see which conferences fire off requests for a ruling from the Judicial Council on that. So from January 1, 2013, until late October of next year, bishops will be experimenting with using part-time appointments on “incompetent” pastors.

In conclusion, clergy are only slightly more secure in their jobs than they were before the unconstitutional changes to P 337 and its ancillary amendments that got through General Conference. Bishops still have the authority to appoint pastors to the smallest churches available, take any minor complaint and turn it into a big deal to get rid of a pastor they don’t like, or intimidate a man over 50 or an ethnic or a woman into retiring early or taking leave of absence by designating them as “unappointable.”

Even the Council’s staunch endorsement of fair process as required before a pastor can be left without appointment will not have an impact as long as bishops are not held accountable for such violations.

Update: I have read the Brewington-Nelson-Riss brief which shows they added the other legislation related to Paragraph 337 and have changed the text above to reflect that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

JCM 1227



Reconsideration of JCM 1205 and its predecessor JCMs 1176, 1184, and 1192 was sought. The case originated in June 2010 when a church in the California-Nevada Conference was closed without any consultation by anyone in authority with the local church or notice given that a vote to close the church was to be held at conference time.

The Council ruled in JCM 1176 that it had no jurisdiction because the question had been a parliamentary question and not a question of law. JCMs 1184 and 1192 simply denied reconsideration, the usual way the Council deals with such requests. However, in JCM 1205, the Council patiently spelled out the jurisdiction issue reiterating that only a parliamentary question had been asked. In its last sentence of their analysis, they added another important argument.

As I wrote in my commentary on JCM 1205, “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.” I also indicated that other cases did not hinge on that (JCD 777). See also JCD 1216.

The persistence of the person seeking the Council’s attention for the fourth time says to me that the conference action is “still devastating to the local church that was closed by fiat by those in power without proper consultation with the church itself” (from my commentary on JCM 1205).

The appellant’s approach is that the Council has not clarified the difference between a parliamentary question and a question of law in the context of his church’s discontinuation done in violation of the Discipline.

I expected that the Council would simply say, “Request denied,” having carefully laid out its rationale in JCM 1205.

Instead, the Council has deferred a decision until their April, 2013, session.

The deferral has no rationale or concurring or dissenting opinions to say why the Council chose not to respond. The significance and difficulty of several of this session’s decisions means that there was no time to consider every request for a ruling. One would think that since JCM 1205 shut the door on further reconsideration and that this request could be settled in a matter of seconds, it might be that there were not enough votes to close the case.

The obvious violation of the Discipline in the actions of the conference to close the church must haunt enough of the Council members that they may have won the day in keeping the request alive, even if only till they finally close the matter on strictly legal grounds. Who knows? Maybe this Council group will not just be legalistic….

JCD 1228



A question of law was raised at the Baltimore-Washington Conference about its policy on consensual sexual relations among pastors, staff, and church members. A section of a policy on sexual misconduct included a means by which to solve a real problem: how may the dating of single consenting adults within a church be wisely addressed?

Unmarried pastors, staff, and church members fall in love just like everyone else. And like everyone else who is an adult, consensual sexual relationships may feel right to the respective couples. Such sexual ties have been allowed in some church contexts when the matter came to being defined in church law: for example, “bundling” is allowed and even encouraged in some Christian groups.

The solution put forward by the new policy was to allow such a relationship if permission is granted by a person in authority in the church. Presumably, that leader knows both parties and trusts their relationship and discretion. That leader might also be able to assess the dangers of abuse of power or conflicts of interest in the relationship and affirm those are irrelevant. And if they were relevant and potentially toxic, the permission would not be granted. If the relationship was consummated in that latter circumstance, one or both of the couple would be subject to sanctions under church law.

One flaw is that the private relationship between two people would no longer be private.

Another flaw is that the United Methodist Church has not dealt with this issue outside of normal institutional practices and guidelines of recent years. Church law is clear: no sex outside of wedlock.

I have not seen the briefs so I have no idea how mature the arguments were with regard to the sensitivity to the dilemma that single pastors and staff face in their dating life. So it is hard to assess the depth of the consideration by the Council of this difficult subject.

The Council did give a bit of a clue, though. It appears they have no sensitivity to single people.

In a unanimous concurring opinion, the Council stomped on singles’ needs by asserting that the only factor involved is the power relationship that the Council presumes always exists in a relationship within the church.

There is always that danger. But not every relationship is tainted by it. Before the furor over clergy sexual misconduct began in the 1990’s, nearly every widowed or divorced pastor I knew found love and marriage within their respective congregations or staffs.

Propinquity reigns as a significant basis for establishing relationships. It always will. Again, it is not the only factor when love comes our way.

It is clear that this Judicial Council group will not allow for propinquity. The concurring opinion makes it sound like a moral matter. But it is a combination of fear of law suits and a fear that people can operate in a mature fashion when it comes to their love life. Ideologically, the Council joins with those who do not trust people in matters of love. The Pharisees would be very at home with them on this issue.

Please understand that many if not most women have experienced cruelty and abuse related to their sexuality by some man in their lives. Their concern about power abuse is well-grounded and deserves as much attention as any other form of abuse in our society. But that does not excuse fierce legalistic rules which are destructive of responsible relationships.

This is not to say the Baltimore-Washington proposed policy is a good option to solve this dilemma. This is not to say there are not dangers of conflict of interest and power abuse. What worries me is the lack of sensitivity to single people’s dating issues. Unfortunately, as a denomination, we are not having an adult conversation about that.

JCM 1229



The South Central College of Bishops challenged the constitutionality of the involuntary retirement of a bishop by the jurisdictional episcopacy committee.

They had five questions, the first of which asked about constitutionality and three others that followed up with hypothetical questions. They withdrew the fifth which asked the Council what its rules were for the hearing the Council was authorized to have if the bishop appealed the decision.

Their questions were actually sent in prior to any final action taken by the jurisdiction and its episcopacy committee.

The Council’s review noted no restrictions in the constitution to the General Conference providing for involuntary retirement through the jurisdiction and therefore ruled P 408.3 to be constitutional.

This decision is well after the fact following the request of the college of bishops, because the committee held a hearing with the bishop and his counsel, decided to retire him involuntarily, which decision was then supported by a vote of the jurisdictional conference.

I wonder if the committee would have thought to ask the conference to vote on their recommendation if the bishops had not gotten their questions referred to the Council.

Years ago, in JCD 475, the Council ruled that only those who elected a bishop could hold him/her accountable. That is why the Council of Bishops no longer is where complaints against bishops are handled. Unfortunately, the parallel related to superintendents (P 429.3), written at the same time that the one where bishops were held accountable by the Council of Bishops, still stands.

Since 1984, petitions seeking to take accountability for superintendents out of the Cabinet have been voted down by General Conference. I know. I submitted them from then all the way through 2012.

The bishops get around JCD 475 by having General Conference put their accountability in the college of bishops on the jurisdictional level. While that has been modified to allow for the supervisory response to be handled by one bishop plus two members of the episcopacy committee rather than two bishops (see P 413), it has been impossible to hold a bishop accountable for Disciplinary violations outside of those related to sexual misconduct (see JCMs 1221).

Until this year….

The Judicial Council has scheduled a hearing for the bishop. He has appealed the episcopacy committee’s decision to involuntarily retire him. That hearing will be held Nov. 10 in an extraordinary session.

If the Council does not overturn the involuntary retirement, a whole new chapter on accountability of bishops will finally open up.

Note: P 413, which is the route taken to hold the bishop accountable for failing to use consultation in appointment-making in the North Alabama case (JCM 1221 above), provides the other way to handle a complaint against a bishop. P 408.3 does not appear to require a complaint to arise through P 413. Provisions of P 413 can end up in the hands of the episcopacy committee of the jurisdiction under P 413.3e). In the case of Bishop Bledsoe, no complaint was ever brought so P 413 was not used. They went directly to the jurisdictional episcopacy committee under P 408.3.

I hope JCM 1229 means that P 413 as it is now written will eventually become superfluous and bishops will no longer have a hand in handling their own accountability. By all means they should challenge one another to go on to perfection and to obey church law and to avoid harm. That would be characteristic of a good professional relationship. But they should not participate in the processing of one another’s violations of the covenant of clergy and church law.

Update: In researching the decision of the Council when they met in November to hear Bishop Bledsoe's appeal, I discovered that the Council president is a member of the annual conference presided over by Bishop Bledsoe. In the past, when a Council member was from the same conference as a case, the member recused himself or explained why he or she did not. There was neither recusal nor explanation in either this docket item nor the Bledsoe hearing.

The rationale he might use is that he was not part of the jurisdictional processes and therefore recusal is not an issue.

But with their respective offices being close in Dallas, and with Dr. Lawrence being under Bishop Bledsoe's appointment to be Dean at Perkins, I am uneasy about the situation.

Summary Remarks for JCDs 1212 – 1229

1. The new group seems to have picked up where its predecessors left off, avoiding being factional and sticking with church law pretty rigorously. The new Council has also shown little propensity to side with the bishops automatically and has opened the door to accountability of bishops beyond the cases where one may be involved in sexual misconduct.

2. That objectivity about accountability of bishops will face tests in a special hearing set up in November reviewing an appeal of a bishop who was involuntarily retired and again next spring when a former bishop may seek readmission to being a retired bishop.

3. I personally appreciate the posting of the original requests for Judicial Council rulings as they were sent to the Council.

4. In the past, the Council has been unable to resolve cases because of the lack of needed materials that should have been sent in by appellants and conference secretaries. For this session, the New York Conference (JCD 1218) was alone in not sending in all the minutes that would have helped the Council get the full context of the case from them. Another bishop made assertions that he did not document (JCM 1224), something that was not the fault of the conference secretary. This degree of discipline getting documentation asked for by the Judicial Council is admirable and certainly helps facilitate the Council’s work.

5. With the one exception (JCM 1214), the Council wrote in ways that were good continuing education for those needing to know church law.

6. Consistency is always a goal and some questions about it could be raised on the basis of these decisions from the Council (especially JCM 1214).

7. Because of the absence of a “regular” member for whom an alternate had to sit in, there were three “first-timers” dealing with this very big docket. The overall quality of the decisions approaches the level reached by the previous group who had worked together for four years.

8. Even so, there were some things that will have an impact that cannot be fully anticipated (JCDs 1212, 1215, 1218, 1226, and 1229). And maybe some which I think the Council may need to reconsider or they will leave in place some things that hurt the church (JCDs 1216, 1221, and 1228).

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

Note: Many have honored my request for their critiques of these posts as I worked on them. I take full responsibility for what each of these posts says but much wisdom has been shared to improve them.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Holy Spirit and the Council of Bishops

Today's Daily UMNS News Summary carries an article about the retreat our bishops are conducting. You can access it at http://www.umcconnections.org/2012/11/02/bishops-to-gather-for-closed-retreat/.

I have posted my opinion a number of times about the Council of Bishops feeling more and more like it is the repository of the Holy Spirit for the United Methodist Church, the mistake that the Roman Catholics made and which led to the Reformation.

It seems fitting that I should respond to the article in an attempt to give others something to think about. Here is what I wrote:

"Your report on the meeting of the Council of Bishops is well done. Your quote of Bishop Wenner that they hope the Holy Spirit will guide them is in physical juxtaposition to the sidebar about the Council’s decision to hold a closed retreat. You can’t even go! So no one outside the Council will be able to be a bearer of the Holy Spirit in their midst. That kind of insularity is frightening to me and part of what is taking them further and further onto the other side of the chasm from their clergy and annual conferences and further into Groupthink. I hope they realize that things like the legislation that was turned down, the Judicial Council’s rulings, the actions of the SC Jurisidiction against Bishop Bledsoe, and critics of the Council may also be expressions of the Holy Spirit.

"The more I think about the bishops’ efforts to build their “Beloved Community,” the more I fear they will ignore the support systems available to them in their respective annual conferences. That’s why there is no Disciplinary requirement for their episcopacy committees to handle complaints. Those groups are to help the bishop in times of need, not be their judges. And rather than seek emotional support from old friends (when he served in Wisconsin, Bishop Ralph Alton and his wife frequently played bridge with lay friends who treated them like real people), they now seek solace with their episcopal brothers and sisters so they inadvertently are not tainted with opinions and ideas coming from wherever the wind blows (John 3:8)."

I sent this comment to a couple bishops I know well. I used a conversational tone in adding to their email note:

" I have a doctrine of the Holy Spirit so I am really a trinitarian! I do not give the Holy Spirit lip service. You may not agree, but I want you to have a chance to hear this for yourself from me.

"I hope you all will pay attention to Rick Rettberg's summary of changes in the Discipline. The bishops should be gathering for continuing education, especially for the rookies. But I really sense that all the other elaboration on the Council of Bishop's role seems to be a serious breach of United Methodist polity. The Council is not a program body (it has become more and more so and for ecumenical purposes, it clearly has a program function). But it has become one in competition with the denomination's own program bodies."

I do not have time right now to go further, though I am anxious to. Maybe this is enough?