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.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Spring 2013 Judicial Council Decisions JCDs 1231-1240

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 put in 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.”

 The Judicial Council will be often be referred to as “the Council.”

 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).

JCM 1231


A request for reconsideration of JCM 1213 was denied.  JCM 1213 was about funding for Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice by the General Board of Church and Society and the Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries.  Because the North Alabama Annual Conference had taken no specific action related to that funding, the original request was not covered under church law as appropriate for them to raise.  So the Council pointed out it had no jurisdiction (authority) to take up the request.

This is one of those legal technicalities that frustrates people.  I would love to see what arguments were made by those seeking reconsideration.  What grounds did they feel they as an annual conference had to challenge an action of the General Conference or of General Conference agencies?

Usually when the Council refuses reconsideration, they do not offer any rationale for their decision.  They offered none here so we learn nothing about their reasoning.  Maybe there is nothing exceptional or new that the Council feels worth sharing about their decision not to reconsider. 

In this case, it seems clear that the conservative faction of the North Alabama Conference wanted to express its (political? conscientious?) position on RCRR and see if it could affect the funding.  With no rationale by the Council, the decision will appear either arbitrary at best or part of the “liberal conspiracy” to allow abortion on demand.  The resulting misunderstanding will further alienate the conservatives and play into their theory of what is “going on.”

The Council might be wise to make it a practice to explain their position in future cases.  It won’t affect the “true believers” but it would help everybody else.

JCM 1232



This memorandum relates to reconsideration of JCM 1217, a request from California-Pacific Conference.  Again the Judicial Council decided not to reconsider and, as usual, did not offer any rationale that might help us.  At issue in JCD 1217 was the request for recompense for the respondent based on P 2701 during appeal.  In 1984, General Conference voted that the suspension of a pastor lasted through appeal and the pastor was owed his support package until the end of the judicial process.  Some of that wording remains in P 2701 and 2704.3 (2008 BOD).  However, another passage was added to the Discipline more recently which says that a pastor’s rights end upon convection and removal from ministry, thus removing his right to pastoral support during appeal, a financially devastating circumstance to the respondent, especially if the results of the trial court decision was mixed.  The Council ruled the request should have gone to the trial court before the trial ended rather than to the jurisdiction’s appellate committee and then to the Council.

At issue, I suspect, was the mixing of civil and church law.  In civil law there are appellate processes that can be used without completion of a trial, such as possible prejudice of the judge, improper procedures used by the prosecution that are prejudicing a case, and so forth. and I wish the Council would take time to explore the differences so that confusion over them would not persist in our system.  With so many secular lawyers on the Council, it is hoped that there would be serious discussion and review of the differences rather than just allowing the continuation of blurring the two.

In the earlier case in which I participated before the Council, one of the issues was over the necessity of objections in church trials in order for an issue to be subject to appeal.  We argued that in every other appeal situation within the church, objections could be raised after the actions were completed and were not required during the respective processes.  We argued that since our denomination does not have a way to appeal based on incompetent counsel, being a church system of justice, we allowed for objections to be raised after the fact upon reasonable reflection (PP 2706.3, 2708.3, 2715.1, 2715.7, and 2715.9).  Even P 2710.6 does not add that objections are required for appeal.  In our case, counsel chose the strategy to not object.  Being a church trial, even that strategy was thrown to the winds on several occasions and objections were raised during sidebar conferences off the record and then not brought up on the record afterward.  The Council was not convinced by our argument because there was no record and ruled that objections on the record at the moment of the action were required   This uncritical mixing of civil court proceedings and church proceedings is most unfortunate. 

Hopefully, future Council sessions will be wise enough to clarify such differences where it can do so rightly, and the General Conference can do what it must to sort out such differences.

JCM 1233


JCD 1230 was the historic case which clarified Fair Process requirements in major ways and preserved a bishop’s episcopacy, giving him a new chance in another conference.

Unfortunately, we are given nothing of the arguments of those who sought reconsideration.  Ordinarily, only parties-at-interest have the right to seek reconsideration, though occasionally the Council responds to bishops who are not parties-at-interest.  We do not even know who brought the request let alone what the substance of their argument might be.  It would be enlightening to know who brought the request, what their argument was, and how that argument was viewed by the Council.

The Judicial Council has been posting its dockets on line for years now.  The General Conference asked them to post the requests for their docket, which means everyone can see in detail what is being brought to them for their consideration.  In the case of reconsideration requests, those are not posted unless they are accepted for reconsideration.  When they are not, as in the four cases here, there is no back-up information posted on the docket list.

Update: United Methodist Reporter, just before it ended its century of publishing church news, provided some but not all issues that were involved in reconsideration.  It can be found on line at http://www.unitedmethodistreporter.com/2013/05/costs-are-in-implications-still-debated-in-bishop-bledsoe-controversy/

For a complete critique of the article, contact me.  But let me note a few things brought out in the article.

The spelling out of the costs incurred related to Bishop Bledsoe’s case should shed light on what current church litigation actually costs.  For example, an average church trial costs a conference $100,000 in housing, transportation, and meals for the trial court (jury) and the trial staff (presiding bishop, his legal counsel, and an administrative assistant;  the Counsel for the Church and the lawyer who is assistant counsel; the secretary and sergeant at arms; the witnesses for the church which may require experts; and the thirty or so others brought in as the pool for the trial court.  The services of the transcriptionist, custodial services for the site, a stipend for wear and tear on the facilities used for the trial, and miscellaneous other things add to those costs.  The administrative costs for the hearings for Bishop Bledsoe were not as expensive but they were notable enough to be included in the article.  Has anyone ever reported such costs to the annual conference where a trial was held?  Has the budget General Conference passed or audited ever detailed such costs?  Church funds pay for the prosecution. 

The pastor facing a major hearing on his/her performance or character has costs that are often quite close to what the church pays or may even be more depending on how long the proceedings leading up to the trial (hearing) and appeals takes.  Bishop Bledsoe’s costs were noted by the Judicial Council and they ordered that the Jurisdiction pay all of his costs including legal fees.  The average pastor trying to survive the hearings and appeals faces those same costs!   The Judicial Council has put a spotlight on them.  This is the first time there has been a serious attempt to make whole a pastor’s life and finances after having a case against him overturned. 

The denomination has hidden the costs it has to prosecute and never acknowledged the costs to the respondent.  No wonder there was so much consternation when the costs Bishop Bledsoe had came to light and had to be paid for by the Church.

A second concern relates to the “precedent” of having a third party intervene between the jurisdiction and its handling of bishops.  What is overlooked is that the Judicial Council is constantly called in to settle other disputes and has jurisdiction to do it.

A third concern noted in the UM Reporter article was the fear of involvement of lawyers in church matters.  Overlooked by that concern is that the bishops and denomination have used lawyers for generations but practically disbar use if lawyers by pastors or laity against the Church.  The instant case sheds light on the reality of how one-sided the upper levels of the Church feel about lawyers.  When the upper echelons have the privilege of legal assistance and the lower levels are not allowed similar possibilities, then maybe we need to take away the privilege from the elite to level the playing field.

A fourth concern that may have been raised was conflicts of interest which I think were not really there in the direct sense indicated in the article.  The Council did not even agree with much of the argument of the former Council member who represented the bishop.  The painful problem of the advocate’s legal fees being fully paid by the jurisdiction from apportionment funding was not contrary to church law.  Respondents have been paying comparable costs out of their own pockets for years and this is the first time those costs have become public and have had to be reimbursed by the church, as stated above.  The appearance of “revolving door” politics where a former Council member can invite work from bishops is novel but the use of former members of the Council to do legal work in the church is not new.

I do not wish to appear to dismiss possible ethical questions.  My own experience has been to provide help to people in trouble at no expense other than occasional costs for things like travel, housing, and printing.  Pastors in trouble can rarely afford to pay for church legal services, though those who push to prove their innocence tend to deplete their financial future resources seeking justice at the cost levels the bishop did.  The introduction of the idea of a person seeking business and financial recompense in the church because of previous experience within the system needs to be given serious review.  In addition, the appearance of possible conflict of interest when the advocate was an instructor of the Council in its orientation needs to be examined.  Though no cases were discussed at the time, no one knows that for sure but the advocate and the Council.

What would be closer to ideal would be for the Church to acknowledge the actual costs of legal actions and seek other ways to resolve contentious events using alternative dispute resolutions and being willing to pay for them.  Minimize the higher cost legal action to be genuinely the last resort.

JCD 1234

RECONSIDERATION OF JCMS 1176, 1184, 1192 and 1205

For the fifth time, someone in California-Nevada Conference raised a question about the closing of a church without all of the proper steps having been followed.  In two of the four previous Council responses, the argument was that the original request was parliamentary and not a question of law.

The Council resolves this request for reconsideration in the same way.  However, it presents much more of the story so that its decision has that much more historical context.  For one thing, they report that the bishop okayed the closing without there being a vote of the Cabinet as the Discipline requires.  However, at some time, possibly in 2011, the bishop allowed the lay person speaking on behalf of the congregation to make his argument and then asked the conference to vote.  The result was a conference vote to consummate the closing.  That fulfilled an unusual Disciplinary passage which says that the Discipline did not have to be followed in order for the matter to be settled by the conference.  Is that even constitutional?

The history added to this decision (note it is not called a memorandum even though all the Council does is turn down a request for reconsideration) describes a number of breakdowns and conflicts but only from the point of view of the pastor, superintendent, and conference committees involved and not from the church members.  Were the conflicts in the church because of a few people who were trouble-makers and had a disruptive history in that church?  Was there a better way to handle that possibility?  Or was the pastor being arbitrary and heavy-handed in seeking to resolve the problems?  Were the pastor’s actions legal under the Discipline?  Was a bad situation exacerbated by bad appointments to that church where sensitivity to cross-cultural and cross-racial issues were critical?  Did Cabinet members take arbitrary actions that worsened a tough situation?

In some ways, the Council needs to be commended for its patience (five requests for relief based on one event that would ordinarily be cut off after the first request for reconsideration).  In some ways, it appears that the situation was handled badly and the Council’s hands were tied by rules governing their authority.  In some ways, those seeking to resolve the conflicts which arose from processes and attitudes failed in their attempts to get it before the Council in a proper way.  In some ways, it feels like the Council passed up an opportunity to resolve a situation which was not really out of their reach.

Even what seems to be a simple case can be far more complex and far less tractable to our legal procedures.  To me, the more that is actually known about everything, the better chance there is to resolve it justly.  And if there were misrepresentations made, can any resolution by the Council in this case mean anything?  Technically, because the Discipline gives the Council the last word, we all have to move on.  But with what confidence?

JCD 1235


This docket item was sent in by an activist group in the West Africa Central Conference.  The Council does quite well telling about what happened and who brought the matter to them.  It even cited the concerns of the Council of Bishops who challenged the African group’s request in support of the bishop that the group said was improperly elected.

Again calling this a “decision” instead of a memorandum despite ruling that it had no jurisdiction, the Judicial Council pointed out that the group raising the challenge had no standing to do so under the Discipline.  They said there were irregularities that did not have “legal merit warranting a judicial (Note: “Judicial Council” is intended by the word “judicial”) decision.”

I wish they had said, “While these irregularities warrant legal attention, unfortunately, this is not the forum to handle that.”  Someone needed to let the activist group know about attending the central conference meeting and raising their questions there.  And they could have brought written complaints against the person in question so that the person’s annual conference could investigate and perhaps try the person involved.  Occasionally, there are political factions that protect one of their own from such investigation and that faction might have included the bishop who would have received and dropped the complaints that may have been sent in.  The Council of Bishops might want to be a little more discreet about how they approach the Judicial Council because they could have been triangulated into a bad situation and they really should avoid appearing to rule on a church law matter where potential complaints may be involved.

What is left for this activist group is to challenge any misconduct they see after the newly elected bishop in question commits a chargeable offense. 

The Council provided some understanding of the situation by sharing the information that it did.  Hopefully, this commentary supplements that for the consideration of the activists involved.

JCD 1236


At the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, there was a discussion of a resolution in support of the LGBT community and someone challenged whether that discussion was in order.  The bishop ruled it out of order, though this decision is not clear why or even which side of the issue’s statements were turned back by her ruling.  When the resolution was passed, the one against it again rose and asked about its appropriateness under the Discipline.  Somewhere along the line the bishop realized there was nothing in writing about the challenge and was not able to get it until after conference had ended.

The Discipline is clear.  Referrals of questions to the Judicial Council have to be in writing during conference.  That apparently did not happen.  The Council could not take jurisdiction to rule on the question.

Because the bishop tried to get the process right, the Council might have considered overlooking the technicalities in this docket item . . . .  

JCD 1237


At the Western Jurisdictional Conference, a resolution was passed which said that if any bishop appointed a homosexual pastor was tried and convicted of violating the Discipline by doing so, that the penalty “would be” suspension for 24 hours.  A person rose to ask what was the force in law of that resolution.  That question was done in writing but contained several typographical errors.  The presiding bishop chose to lean on those errors and say the question was moot because it was flawed.

The Council disagreed and said the typos were easily correctable just from the context of the situation and that the bishop had thirty days to rule on the question and that the Council retained jurisdiction, which means they will rule on the bishop’s decision when they meet in November. 

It must be noted that the Council has held special sessions and may have done a number of its decisions by electronic exchange and conference calls in order to save time at their twice-a-year meetings.  They may feel free to hand down a ruling on the bishop’s response at any time.  It will be interesting to see if they choose to do that.

Here’s a hint:  if the resolution is aspirational (see JCDs 426, 1044, 1053, 1111, 1120, 1163, 1218, and 1220) and not binding, then it stands.  

JCD 1238


More than a decade ago, Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference entered into a working relationship with the East Africa Annual Conference over projects in Uganda.  The one working with them from the beginning was Rev. Daniel Wandabula.  When members of the American conference toured the sites of the projects, they found incomplete work at one, no financial payment at the second, and a well bored in the wrong place.  During the years of attempting to sort out what happened, Rev. Wandabula became bishop and there was no resolution of the problem over the projects, despite Bishop Wandabula’s promises.

The Judicial Council responded to three issues raised by the Western Pennsylvania group.  With respect to the funding of a church building, the Council felt it had no way to resolve the problem under church law, citing that the funds were handled by the annual conference and not through the General Board of Global Ministries.  Without saying it, the Council was telling Western Pennsylvania, “Buyer beware.” 

There was sharp disagreement as to why so little was done on the church building.  The bishop said there was no response from the Americans when problems arose at the site.  The Americans said there were no communications about the problems prior to their trip to see what was happening.  The Council did not try to resolve that dispute but basically went along with the bishop.

The Council did demand a payment be made to a particular pastor because some records were found that showed the cash had made its way to Uganda and had just not been used for that purpose. 

The third issue had to do with whether or not the complaints brought by the Americans had been processed.  The bishop said they had been dropped and the Americans said they had heard nothing whatever about what happened to the complaints.  The Council ruled that the process was still open until they heard otherwise but did not order anything be done to conclude the process or to have a report forwarded to them about the case.  They will wait for an appeal at the conclusion of the process in order to take a look at the matter.  In practice, that means that the complaints are dead in the water.  If the African Central Conference refuses to act one way or another, the complainants have no recourse.  They cannot appeal something that did not happen nor can they appeal since they are being represented by the Church who cannot appeal a judicial decision except in extraordinary circumstances (usually meaning the matter related to homosexuality).

In effect, the Council found no way to hold the Africans accountable in this case other than to be sure a pastor was paid.  The two African members of the Council were not involved in the East African Conference in any way so they did not need to recuse themselves in this case.

The upshot is that the enthusiasm of the American church to work hand-in-hand with churches and conferences outside the United States may dwindle.  The Board of Global Ministries and the General Council on Finance and Administration are trying to deal with the accountability issues in the financial realm just to minimize discouragement of our desire to help in mission projects.  To see more on that, read the side bar to the article written about this case in the UM Communications article at

As a point of disclosure, Associates in Advocacy was asked to provide an advocate for Bishop Wandabula before the Judicial Council’s hearing.  We were able to offer an experienced pastor advocate and he was present, working with the bishop’s group.  

JCD 1239


Because I was counsel of record for the bishop in this case, I will not comment on it.

JCD 1240


Questions of law were asked at the Congo Central Conference about the retirement age of bishops.  The Council took jurisdiction but made no ruling because it needs to have the minutes of the session to clarify the context of the questions.

The bishop prepared written rulings that were recorded in this “decision” and the Council notes that a brief was sent which challenged the written statement of the bishop with what was heard at the conference.

The Council kept jurisdiction and will hopefully get all the information it needs so it can rule at its November session.

Concluding thoughts on the 2013 Spring Session

This was a weird docket for the Judicial Council.  Of the ten items on it, there were two actual decisions, both dealing with bishops in trouble, one of whom they relieved and one of whom they didn’t.  In addition, there were four items seeking reconsideration which were all denied, there were two where the Council held it had no jurisdiction, one case was remanded to the bishop to answer the questions and one was held over because the secretary of the conference did not send in the minutes.

That the session was not apparently very productive was largely because of rules of procedures.  The wrong group tried to raise an issue, questions were asked but without written texts, jurisdiction was not properly taken into account by those appealing, and the Council had the authority to refuse to reconsider without rationale.

In most of the cases, the Council provided pretty good statements of facts so that the reader can have a good taste of the grounds for the attempt to get a ruling as well as some measure of explanation for their decisions.  Even so, my sense of the Council’s work this time is that they did not “bring their ‘A’ game.”  It appeared to me that they missed the wisdom of two of their experienced members who were unable to attend the session.

The Council, like the rest of the Church, is a very human institution.  Like the rest of us, they do not always get everything right.  It is incumbent on the rest of us to be all the help we can so they can rise to the occasion and do the right thing for the right reasons as often as possible.

And the Council has to be ready to stand up to the prejudices and pressures they face in order to do their job.  That is not always easy. . . .   And they may not be the best option to rectify a situation even if they are the court of last resort.