Associates in Advocacy now has two sites on the internet. Our primary help site is at http://www.aiateam.org/. There AIA seeks to offer aid to troubled pastors, mainly those who face complaints and whose careers are on the line.

Help is also available to their advocates, their caregivers, Cabinets, and others trying to work in that context.

This site will be a blog. On it we will address issues and events that come up.

We have a point of view about ministry, personnel work, and authority. We intend to take the following very seriously:


Some of our denomination's personnel practices have real merit. Some are deeply flawed. To tell the difference, we go to these criteria to help us know the difference.

We also have a vision of what constitutes healthy leadership and authority. We believe it is in line with Scripture, up-to-date managerial practice, and law.

To our great sadness, some pastors who become part of the hierarchy of the church, particularly the Cabinet, have a vision based on their being in control as "kings of the hill," not accountable to anyone and not responsible to follow the Discipline or our faith and practice. They do not see that THE GOLDEN RULE applies to what they do.

If you are reading this, the chances are you are not that way. We hope what we say and do exemplify our own best vision and will help you fulfill yours. But we cannot just leave arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance to flourish. All of us have the responsibility to minimize those in our system.

We join you in fulfilling our individual vow of expecting to be perfect in love in this life and applying that vow to our corporate life in the United Methodist Church.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you have any questions or suggestions, direct them to Rev. Jerry Eckert. His e-mail address is aj_eckert@hotmail.com. His phone number is 941 743 0518. His address is 20487 Albury Drive, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

Thank you.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rev. M Stanford Strosahl

Of all the great pastors in Wisconsin that I admired, Stan was at the top of my list.  He was well-organized, had some incredible accomplishments, and really cared about us.
The thing I saw in him that I saw in few others who tried to get things done in our conference was his remarkable awareness of the people and agencies he needed to have on his side when he worked on something.  He worked behind the scenes to develop important things so that by the time annual conference came, he never had to get up and argue his concern from the floor of the plenary.  With very few exceptions, his name was not on important actions.  His political skills were remarkable, all because he did not need the attention.  The work was the most important to him when it came to being active in the denomination. I never found him into seeking prestige or notoriety.
The exceptions, of course, were building up pensions for retirees and the establishment of the Foundation which has grown into a substantial financial institution.  Because these were so important for helping others, he put himself on the line to assure their success.  Every pastor and nearly every church in our conference has benefitted from his very active efforts into which he poured himself.  He led the efforts for retirees and contributed to their special fund everytime a pastor died, even pastors he didn't know.  And he led the Foundation once the conference followed his lead to establish it.  
Along with these major accomplishments, he brought a measure of accountability and sensitivity to the appointment process.  He helped design and implement the consultation process in which superintendents talked with the pastors and churches and got them together before an appointment was set by the bishop.  Once it had been found to be productive and effective, he led the charge to get it through General Conference and succeeded.  Cabinets around the country use it.  Some bishops still think they should have the freedom to move pastors just because they want to, but pastors have been able to challenge such bad behavior because of Stan's successful efforts.
The thing I appreciated most about Stan was that he maintained warmth and good humor in every interaction I ever had with him.  He welcomed me by correspondence and took me onto his district despite rumors that my attending Perkins meant I would not come home to Wisconsin.  He cared so much about his district that he had a heart attack just before I actually came back from seminary.  I had him as my DS some years later and he brought me into his new district to start a new church.  He did all he could to help me succeed, including playing wiffle ball in our parsonage backyard during a picnic for the new church.  He always took my calls and responded in later years to my emails.  He was the epitome of collegiality and support in the "covenant of the clergy."
I asked hm once how he liked being a superintendent.  He said it was hard work but that it gave him a chance to help pastors, especially new ones.  I asked him what was the down side.  He said. "I really miss having a church during the holidays.  I worked closely with the church folks to develop the special services and felt a personal part of the congregation at those times.  As a DS, I really miss that part of being a pastor." 
I hate that he is no longer with us but I am so grateful for the chance to remember what he meant to me.  It is also a chance for me to remind you, in case you had forgotten, what he gave to our denomination, to our conference, and to us who knew him.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

2013 Judicial Council Decisions JCDs 1241-1259


The following observations are intended to encourage you to read the decisions of the Judicial Council for yourself. These blog posts 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 publishes updated indexes of all Judicial Council decisions and memoranda. If you are interested, contact Rev. Michael Brown, 158 Saxony Ct.,
Vallejo, CA 94591. The Judicial Council website also offers indices as does the AIA website (www.aiateam.org) under “HELPS for the Judicial Council.”

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

 Decisions of the Council may be referred to as JCDs (Judicial Council Decisions) or JCMs.  Judicial Council Memorandums 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.

I make reference to the style matter of capitalization in one of the posts.  My own is not always consistent, just as the Discipline is not always consistent either.  An agency name is always capitalized as are the titles and names of people when the title is part of the name.  When the mood hits me, I occasionally capitalize a key concept.  If I challenge someone else’s style, then I want you to know the grounds for challenging mine.  And no, I do not believe the term “bishop” should be capitalized unless it is the title of a particular bishop whom I am naming.  I do capitalize “Pope” because that title is unique to one individual so I handle that as I would a personal name.

JCM 1241



This memorandum deals with the decision made last spring (JCD 1238) where the Council ruled on three items, accountability for use of funds contributed by Western Pennsylvania Conference; accountability for passing along a specific payment to a particular pastor; and accountability for handling of a complaint.  

The Council ruled that there was no way they could determine who was telling the truth about a breakdown in communications between the African bishop and the American group in Western Pennsylvania, something they might have been able to handle had the funds gone through either the Board of Global Ministries or General Council on Finance and Administration where accounting is more tightly handled.

The Council ruled that the pastor should be paid and would follow up on that.

The Council felt it was in no position to deal with the complaint issue because it had no way to determine the truth where the two parties differed about what happened to the process.

See the posting on this blog about JCD 1238 of last spring.

This memorandum states the Council will not go beyond its previous decision.  The concurring opinion, signed by a minority of the Council, states the Council will continue to take responsibility for the second and third issues which supports the call for payment to the pastor and adds a little more assurance that the complaint will be dealt with.

JCM 1242



The practice of the Council is to not explain themselves outside of their sessions and their rulings.  That sometimes leaves appellants and other interested parties at a disadvantage because they are given no guidance as to how they should have approached the Council or what their options are outside of the Council.

Associates in Advocacy tries to provide some of that kind of information through these posts on our blog and in our website at  HYPERLINK "http://www.aiateam.org/" http://www.aiateam.org/.  It happens that we are having a workshop on advocacy which will include a couple hours of discussion around dealing with the Judicial Council and its rules and procedures.  There are others, including former Council members, who could also be worthwhile consultants for those trying to get their concerns before the Council.

Linkages may need to be established with participants in the African activist group in order to help them work through the system.  With the electronic revolution which now crosses the globe and facilitates linking up, it is only a matter of time before such consulting will begin.

In the meantime, such denials for reconsideration offer no help to the appellants, especially those overseas.

JCM 1243



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

JCD 1244



A member of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference raised questions of law related to a personnel issue.

This is a remarkable response by the Judicial Council in some unusual ways, four to be specific.

One, the pattern of capitalizing certain words may illustrate some very important attitudes of those whose writings are directly quoted.  Two, the Council chose its own grounds for jurisdiction rather than take the one presumed by the one bringing the questions of law and the responding bishop.  Three, the Council made a major ruling on a question that was not asked.  And four, they may have overturned a major precedent about the kind of answers a bishop may give in a personnel case.   

First, in the matter of capitalization, this is never considered in viewing decisions of law because the pattern is so inconsistent.  The Discipline itself is inconsistent with respect to how it treats names of groups and officers as are the statements written by the Judicial Council itself.  Consequently, the matter never comes up.  But in this particular ruling, the bishop discussing the situation is very consistent.  And whether anyone agrees with this analysis as significant or not, they may be interested that it is noted here.  

The particular quote appears to have been transcribed by the conference secretary not from the recording of the speeches read into the microphones but from the actual text the bishop wrote with regard to the situation.  Conference secretaries prefer to use the written text of those whose words are to go into the minutes.

Here is the normal protocol for capitalization:  When a major branch of the United Methodist Church is written down by any news or official entity, it is always capitalized.   The quote of the bishop’s statement to the Annual Conference on June 7 contains only two capitalizations that are not a person’s name and title: “Bishop” and “Discipline.”   He does not capitalize “Annual Conference” or “Clergy Session.”   And most revealing, he does not capitalize “Judicial Council.”   

It has been my contention that bishops tend to not honor those beneath them.  In fact, the reason so many Judicial Council Decisions seem the same is because the bishops tend to ignore Council decisions and make the same mistakes which the Council had tried to tell them were illegal under church law.

I believe the bishop showed his perception of the situation by capitalizing his own stature and that of the Discipline which he uses to support his view and he showed his disrespect of the Annual Conference and especially of the Judicial Council.  

The other quotes from him in this Decision are not direct and have the more usual capitalizing.

If this seemingly irrelevant observation has any value, it will be reflected in other things said and done by that bishop.  Has the unnamed bishop been disrespectful in other ways not reflected in the text of this Decision?  One has to wonder when the other three most unusual points to be made here may have come as a response to the attitude of a particular bishop.  Over the years, it has been clear to me that the Council has favorite bishops and some others, not so much.

Second, when the Council takes jurisdiction, it is usually clear.  Questions of law are taken under P 2609.6.  Requests for declaratory decisions are taken under P 2610.  I am painfully aware of their care on this having had my own experiences with them over many years.  

In this case, they leave aside paragraphs usually taken from the 2600s and go directly back to the constitution, something I have not seen them do before.  I believe that where the Discipline allows, the Council should have the flexibility to choose its own grounds for jurisdiction provided they are reasonable and cause no harm.  I hope they consider this possibility in the future, something I argued for in the past.

Third, the Council did the unimaginable.  It answered a legal question that had not been asked and did not even have to be asked in this case.  The 2012 change in the Discipline requiring a one-fifth vote in support of a question of law was in previous Disciplines along with a provision that did not require any vote.  The one-fifth vote provision was parallel to most other circumstances under P 2609 where questions were forwarded to the Council.  But the voteless question of law that had been in all previous Disciplines allowed an individual to have access to the Judicial Council to seek redress.  

I have been aware of how bishops have resented that option because a single person could challenge a bishop during an Annual Conference and thus be an embarrassment to the bishop.  It seems one of the points of pride among the Council of Bishops is how seldom a bishop is called before the Judicial Council.  

In this case, the matter of the vote was not even a factor because when the bishop asked for a vote on forwarding the question of law, it easily surpassed the one-fifth requirement.  That makes the ruling about its unconstitutionality extraordinary.  The Council is loath to go outside the narrowest interpretation of the Discipline and the issues raised before them.

They are exactly correct in ruling against the change in P 2609.6.  It is just so strange that they did it without anyone asking.  That makes this an “activist” court by comparison with previous groups who made up the Judicial Council.  Provided that no harm is done when they do it again, I’m all for it.  There are a bunch of things I would call unconstitutional if I were on the Council!  And, if I were a Council member, I’d bring them up if there was the slightest excuse!  

Four, the Council broke with their own common practice of simply accepting any questions of law about personnel matters as moot and hypothetical, thus supporting bishops who may have allowed serious violations of fair process to occur but who washed their hands of it by hiding behind JCD 799, which the Council unwisely made part of its Rules (see Appendix B, Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Council).

In that ruling, they justified taking away bishops’ responsibility to deal with personnel issues by pointing to the separation of powers, that once a complaint entered either the judicial or administrative tracks, it was out of their hands.  

In the judicial track, the bishop should have no right to pass on the substance of a complaint because that belonged to the judicial processes which could end up on appeal before the Judicial Council.  That would be the proper body to deal with any appeal, hence the bishop was out of that loop.  

While the Council did not similarly argue the administrative question in Decision 799, once the complaint enters the administrative track, under separation of powers, a complaint becomes largely a matter for the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Administrative Review Committee to resolve, with appeal to the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference which has the last word on personnel matters.  Appeal should be possible from there to the Judicial Council but that has been taken away by JCD 799 (Appendix B).

Under Appendix B, the bishop is out of the loop because of separation of powers, and questions are moot (wrong place to appeal) or hypothetical (theoretical in nature because the bishop was out of the loop).

A careful reading of JCD 799 shows just how tenuous it is as a basis for their Appendix B rule.  There were two trials and the matters brought in the questions of law from them both were procedural and not substantive.  In the judicial track, procedural issues can be challenged as objections to the next level of hearing, finally ending with the Council.  However, procedural issues in administrative processes end with the Administrative Review Committee under the Council’s rule because when bishops preside over the clergy session, they are not allowed to answer procedural questions under Appendix B.  In some conferences, the Board chairperson presides and is in a conflict-of-interest position to be the one to answer procedural questions.  The right of appeal on procedural issues disappears for those in the administrative track.  Hence, the appeal to the Clergy Session is inoperative and, in effect, appeal of a decision of the Clergy Session to the Judicial Council is fruitless.  While I can count on one hand the exceptions the Council has made, I don’t have enough fingers to count the times the Council has let the bishops allow harm to pastors where processes were inept or worse.

The Council has begun to realize that something was wrong with applying Appendix B to all cases.  It took seriously questions of law in a personnel case where the Cabinet intervened to change the terms of return to ministry by a pastor on voluntary leave (see JCD 1156).  The Council was exquisitely more careful in the analysis of the case of a bishop who had been involuntarily retired (JCD 1230).  Both had been handled administratively.

Since the 1980s, most personnel cases which came before the Council where the administrative action against the minister were taken during the Clergy Session. That was not usually perceived as part of the business of the Annual Conference by the bishop or by the Council.  In this case, the bishop affirmed that the Clergy Session’s tasks were a part of the business of the Annual Conference (interestingly, the actions of the Clergy Session relate to an agenda of voting and reporting on conference relations issues which is called “The Business of the Annual Conference”).  This is the first acknowledgement by the Council of that essential tie between the Clergy Session and the Annual Conference.

One of these days, the Council is going to have to acknowledge that the separation of powers is almost non-existent.  In practice, bishops have significant power in both the administrative and judicial tracks in at least four ways.  

One, they have a vested interest in how each case turns out because they were involved in referring the case to whichever track in which they thought it should be handled.  No referral would have been made if the bishops felt the complaint was not true.  Their judgment would be in question if a complaint was dropped by one of the hearings groups.  

Two, to protect the bishops’ decisions, they can use what to me is an unconstitutional authority, direct and nearly exclusive nominating powers over the various groups that handle both judicial and administrative tracks.  They can put their own people into those groups.  

Three, bishops can enforce their prejudice about each case because they have appointive power over each member of the respective groups involved in the processes.  

Four, the bishop has the last word as to the meaning and application of the Discipline in the conference.  The place that is done formally is at Annual Conference only if someone is willing to challenge the bishop’s interpretation.  

Contrary to Appendix B, procedural questions should have been in order all these years.  The Council should have taken jurisdiction over all those personnel cases it sloughed off by pushing those bishops to do as they are now asking this bishop to do: answer the questions.

Unfortunately, in practice, the Council does not always apply the same energy to insist on fair process every time.  There is an unwritten rule in the United Methodist Church that each decision is unique to that case and therefore does not apply (unless the Council so chooses) to any other case.  There really is no such thing as precedent in Council Decisions but is solely at their discretion to apply when they want to apply it.

In conclusion, it still must be said that this decision, JCD 1244, is extraordinary:

The Council determined its own authority for jurisdiction.

It answered a question it was not asked.

It ignored the precedent of some thirty years of letting bishops off the hook from ensuring fair process (see P 415.3), allowing them to simply say that the questions of law were moot and hypothetical.

(Note I did not mention the capitalizing in the summary.  But it fuels my speculation about why the Council went so far afield from what the bishop and the rest of us expected in this case.  See JCD 1251 where there are no such capitalization variations.)  

When the Council gets it right, it is a thing of beauty.  

Update: The Council took jurisdiction over its nineteen docket items by reconsideration of three of them, having retained jurisdiction on three more, found two were still under the 2008 Discipline, and the remaining nine after JCD 1244 was noted.  So it was easier for the Council to clear away the unconstitutional passage than have to fight it for half of the rest of their time together.

JCD 1245



This is another case where the Council has critiqued and monitored a conference re-organization and finally was satisfied, so it can happen.  North Texas Annual Conference is the beneficiary this time.

Most Annual Conferences re-organize in such a way as to marginalize Commissions on the Status and Role of Women, Religion and Race, and Archives and History in the name of stream-lining, and establish the bishop as the head of the main steering committee directing the actions of all conference agencies, particularly Finance and Administration,
in the name of efficiency.  The result of all these re-organization efforts, and they come up every year, when they are referred to the Council for review, is that they are all thrown out and have to be revised to remove the bishop from direct control and make sure that marginalized groups are not swept away.  The grounds for keeping them is that the Discipline defines the connectionalism of the church as requiring those functions to be clearly defined at all levels.  Most bishops appear to think “connectionalism” only refers to their requirement that pastors do what the bishop says.

There is a reason the three bodies are usually targeted.  They have the job of monitoring the treatment of women, the treatment of ethnics, and the treatment of conference history, all of which offer insights into what is actually happening and may be embarrassments to conference leaders.   

Having final control over conference finances is the dream of every ambitious bishop.  The separation of powers is critical to maintain for that very reason.  Good bishops are persuasive in order to get things done.  Impatient and autocratic bishops are control freaks and need to be curbed.  It is also possible that some bishops are simply copying what they are told by other bishops is the way to re-organize and don’t realize the pitfalls inherent in such plans.  

So far, the Judicial Council has largely done its job of halting bad plans and getting conferences to work toward better structures.

This ruling relates to JCDs 1198 and 1225 where the conference plans were reviewed and found not adequate.  They will have to do the same for several other conferences because each bishop thinks s/he can use the same basic plan and get it past the Council, as if the Council’s previous rulings are meaningless.  With luck, the Council will hold firm and maybe someday, the bishops won’t think of the Council as “lower case.”

JCD 1246



In JCD 1224, the Council deferred their decision about a North Carolina conference reorganization plan in which District Superintendency was radically changed to put all the superintendents in the Conference Center and leave to one or more assistants with no designated residences most of the responsibilities usually handled by the superintedent.  At issue was the separation of tasks between superintendents and their assistants and whether all of the proper permissions had been obtained.  The bishop had said they were but had sent no corroboration of his assertion.

Unfortunately, the only issue definitively decided in JCD 1246 was whether or not all the proper votes had been taken as directed by the Discipline.  The conference leaders pulled together the documents from the meetings and sent them in.  I do not know if the conference implemented the new structure in the meantime or if that was held up until the Council ruled.  The Council accepted the respective job descriptions.  

What remains as my question was somewhat handled in a concurring opinion where Reuben Reyes brought up the problem of where the assistant was asked to do what only the superintendent should do.  He saw two and I would have listed every one of the tasks being passed off by the reorganization.  Rereading the bishop’s responses to the questions of law in JCD 1224 is like reading a science-fiction utopia set in the garb of the United Methodist Church.  

I understand virtual offices.  Mine is wherever my laptop gets a wifi signal and my cell phone has bars.  But I have not put my physical presence into the cases that come my way.  For me, it is economically not feasible.  I bet that the new model of behavior called for in the reorganization will not put the superintendents into the field, especially the distant rural areas.  I just do not see it happening.  I think it will appear as physically daunting and as costly as I find it.  But there is one further factor: the position of privilege to which both bishops and superintendents have evolved will defeat the ideal pattern envisioned.  

The Superintendency is the most difficult and complex job in our whole system and needs to be defined more reasonably by the Discipline so that it can be done by a human being!  Help should be provided where possible.  I hope the Council will review the job descriptions again either if reconsideration of the decision is requested or if new requests for rulings come up in the future. 

For comments made to the original ruling, see the post on this blog for JCD 1224, made in November of last year.

JCD 1247



South Carolina Annual Conference has been subject to restructuring for some time.  The Council was first approached about it in April of 2010 (JCD 1147).  This decision is the fourth in this series (JCDs 1147, 1204, 1222, and 1247)..

The persistence of the Council in following through on its concerns has minimized violations of connectionalism in the reorganization in South Carolina, one hopes.  The previous decision pointed out the flaw in the plan regarding the significance of the Board of Global Ministries (JCD 1222).  Although no details are supplied in the instant decision, the Council has approved whatever amendments the conference made.  

All reorganization plans that have been detailed in decisions by the Council tended to centralize authority in the episcopal office and downplay groups that tend to have a mind of their own, based on the realities which they serve.  I hope the acceptance by the Council minimizes those tendencies.  In my experience, church law has not changed the heart of those who want control.  Watchdogs, beware.

JCD 1248



Applying the Book of Discipline outside of the United States is worse than applying it here.  There is also church law done within Central Conferences at different times in different places in response to the culturally sensitive needs that differ from Central Conference to Central Conference as well as differing from American culture.

In this case, apparently a Central Conference “Discipline” from 1990 was used in an attempt to clarify just what is required of aging bishops with regard to retirement.  Fortunately, a resolution could be made to questions of law, based on less than specific but adequate church law of related Disciplinary passages.  General Conference would be well to sort this out officially.  It won’t be simple because of the way some Central Conferences cannot meet until after a particular Discipline has gone into effect, long after most other Central and Jurisdictional Conferences have met under the rules set out in the previous Discipline.  

Based on observation, I must warn the Church that views of the nature of the episcopacy vary from one continent to another and between conferences within a continent.  The concept of “authoritarian chief” has come to my attention as I’ve had more contact with overseas pastors.  I have met leaders from other continents who have been anything but that kind of bishop.  I would love to have them teach some of our American bishops how to undertake the task!  Nonetheless, clarifying any rules about tenure for bishops overseas will not be simple because of the wide diversity of leadership practices.

For now, bishops not yet 68 at a particular time may remain bishops until their seventy second birthday, after which a different bishop must be assigned to finish out the term.  Got it?  I’d like to think I have.

JCD 1249



The Philippines Central Conference secretary and the presiding bishop sent in questions of law and the bishop’s responses but neither bothered to send the minutes so the Council would have the full record of the discussion surrounding the request for the ruling.  Nor were the documents in question sent along so that the Council would know what they were talking about!  Reminds me of some conference secretaries I know of in the United States.

Consequently, the Council cannot provide a ruling that might have implications with respect to financing or implementing the policies or programs under question.  Could that in turn cause harm or undermine good that might have been done?

The Council must have all of the germane information or it is handcuffed to the detriment of the ones whose issues are before the Council.  

Perhaps the Council’s president, secretary, or clerk should have the authority to evaluate the materials sent in and be able to pursue the rest of the materials as soon as possible in order to try to get everything needed by the Council.  Perhaps the Council should list in its letters of contact with those approaching the Council the materials that should be included.  The current posted Rules and appendices do not make it clear what back-up materials are most frequently needed.

JCD 1250



In JCD 1237, the resolution passed by the Western Jurisdiction was not ruled upon because the bishop chose to rule that the original question was so flawed by misspellings as to be moot and hypothetical.  The Council did not drop the matter but told the bishop to answer the questions because the misspellings were easily correctable from the context of the request.

The bishop responded to the Council’s request and ruled that the resolution penalties appropriate for conviction of the church “crime” of conducting ceremonies for same sex couples to be was suspension for 24 hours was aspirational.  (No surprise: see the post on JCM 1237 in this blog.)

However, the Council reversed the bishop’s ruling because the resolution went over the line.  Like the Northern Illinois Annual Conference’s resolution dealt with in JCD 1201, this resolution pushed the envelope farther than the Council would allow, so it is null and void.

This resolution, illegal under church law, is kind of like a bell that has been rung and there is no way to stop the sound once it has left the bell.  The idea is out there now and there will be the potential of trial courts considering such brief suspensions offered by the resolution.  

Will Counsels for the Church appeal such trial court decisions by calling them “egregious” in light of this and other similar rulings, the only grounds on which the Church can appeal results of a church trial?  See JCD 1215 and the posting in this blog related to it for one alternative that was tried.  Because of this ruling, look for a church appeal in the future.

JCD 1251



This decision is disappointing until the concurring opinion.  When in doubt, read only that.

The reputation of Rev. Dr. Bill Lawrence as a Discipline hawk with respect to protecting the rights of clergy gets a boost with his critique of the “Clergy Triad Process” used in the Texas Annual Conference.  I truly wish the concurring opinion was the Decision for the instant case so that the serious flaws of the use of triads could be noted in church law rather than just as observations in a concurring opinion.

.It can’t be (though the Council has turned into church law an answer to a question not asked.  See JCD 1244) under the circumstances of the instant decision.  The first question about the standing of a pastor was moot because it should have been brought when his situation was under review of the Clergy Session during a previous year.  The second question, though it triggered the Lawrence statement, was hypothetical because there was no action during the whole of the Annual Conference to which the question could be tied.

The re-use of JCD 799 was irrelevant and certainly confuses readers of this docket who saw in JCD 1244 that bishops must answer questions of law about process.  Let me quote the key line in that decision.

“The removal of a candidate’s name from the list of candidates proceeding forward in the ordination process is clearly a matter that falls within the purview of the business of the annual conference regarding the ordination of clergy.”

The substance is not at issue, only the process (“removal of a name”).  As I argued in the posting on JCD 1244, the bishop is authorized by the Discipline to “ensure” fair process (P 415.3) and as the one under law to monitor it in process, must intervene when fair process is endangered.  Who else but the bishop can answer for failures of process in those circumstances?  

Bringing up JCD 799 muddies the waters.  

The real problem for the questioner is this:  The triad procedures are not under either the Discipline or the conference rules but are designed, directed, and controlled by the Cabinet, as interpreted by the Bishop.  

How does one go about drawing attention to the imbalance of power and the misuse of the triad process to handle complaints when the advocate has to deal with his/her bosses?

Very carefully….

It is possible that the advocate contacted the superintendent of his pastor friend to discuss the imbalance and potential harm of the triad process.  Since that may not have worked, he may have gone to the bishop about it.  Most bishops tend to be loath to accept challenges to the procedures they like and find effective.  So the advocate may have approached the Board of Ordained Ministry about the case to see if anyone there would support some way to challenge the triad system.  Such efforts, in my experience, can take at least a year before the advocate finally learns what he feared, that no one in that set of people was willing to join him in standing up to the practice of the bishop and Cabinet.  That took him well past the time when the case should have been brought to the floor (immediately after it was in the Clergy Session).

Being a reconciler when dealing with power usually does not work   But this being the Church and seeking to act in a Christian manner, it is worth a try.  Matthew 18:15 and all that.  I have to say that when it works, it does not come to my attention or to the Judicial Council’s!  Only the times when it does not work does it cross over to where church law has to be formally applied and enforced.  

Reconciling efforts did not help the questioner or his pastor friend.  Working through the Annual Conference is the option given in the instant case by the Council.  Good luck with that.

There is an option that has possibilties.  Since the main obstacle to dealing with the Cabinet’s procedure is somehow getting it into the business of the Conference, the advocate might offer the following motion:

“I move that the “Clergy Triad Process” be added to the rules of the Annual Conference.”  

It could be offered during the Rules Committee report or during the report of the Cabinet.  Once the motion is before the body, it becomes part of the business of the conference and then requests for Judicial Council rulings would be in order.

Another would be to bring up the use of the Triad in the case of a particular pastor during the Clergy Session and make a motion that the pastor be considered under a different category (return to appointment) because the use of the triad in that pastor’s case violated fair process.  By making the motion, including the name of the pastor and identifying the triad process in the motion, it becomes part of the business of the conference and then request rulings.

Something needs to be done through the Conference and those are some possibilities.

I mention above the confusion engendered by the ignoring of JCD 799 in JCD 1244 and then bringing it up in this Decision.  I would like to address how divergences from precedent may occur at the hands of the Council. 

When a docketed item reaches the Council, the president assigns it to a working committee of one to three Council members to study and present a draft decision.  Each group may receive more than one item.  Sometimes the working group gets cases that are similar and sometimes not.  Some working groups shift so that two of the three remain to work on a different docketed item with a different member.  At least this is what I hear happens.  Once the working groups conclude their work on some of their assigned cases, the Council meets to review, critique, and suggest alternative thoughts.  The groups then resume their work to revise and edit their drafts.  Once all of the cases have been reviewed and revised, the Council goes to open hearing on any cases where that is granted.  Any new concepts or facts that arise from the hearings are considered for editing into the drafts by the respective working groups.  The whole Council then reconvenes to finalize its decisions.  

What may not happen, as the Council gets down to the end of their time together, is checking for consistency in their rulings.  I can imagine many scenarios why that “quality control” step does not occur.  I have already hypothesized that a particular bishop or appellant may rub the Council (or a majority thereof) the wrong way, thus allowing for contradictory decisions.  It is also a possible strategy to diverge on purpose to allow the Council to always have an out on a different case to go the other way with an alternative precedent.  Neither bit of speculation is a positive consideration and Council members could very well be offended by both.  

The point is that it is stunning to track the handling of cases over the years and see the Council go back and forth between opposing precedents.  The chances are that given the short number of days they work together, the Council simply runs out of time.  

Some day, soon I hope, someone will take a scholarly interest in the Judicial Council and will take a look at the history of decisions, of divergence on precedents, and the impact of rulings on the Church’s actual practices.  Maybe another scholar will tell the stories about the major conflicts within the Church and how the Council’s actions influenced those conflicts.  Maybe someone else will do the personal side, providing biographies of appellants and members and their careers outside the work of the Council, and the impact they have had on church law.

In conclusion, the Council in the same session reversed itself, though it did not have to.  The concurring opinion raises the right questions about triads.  This is one of those questions of law they should have answered even when it was not properly before them….

JCD 1252



The bishop of the New England Annual Conference faced an interesting parliamentary tangle.  As the agenda for the conference was being introduced, someone raised a written question noting two JCDs and asking if placing social concerns resolutions as of the same priority as Disciplinary-required agenda items.  Since it was in writing, the bishop chose to treat it as a question of law.  He would answer it sometime within thirty days and went on with the proceedings of the conference.  A motion was placed later in the conference to refer the matter to the Judicial Council (maybe in light of the 2012 change in P 2609.6 which this Council struck down during this session; see JCD 1244) and to seek an answer from the bishop.

The Council majority saw the request as parliamentary and therefore took no jurisdiction.  The bishop was supported in his interpretation that a motion about a parliamentary process (setting the agenda) was not an action of the conference.

Only two of the Council members disagreed.  They did raise questions with both points of the instant decision.  The conference was deprived of a parliamentary answer at the time it was needed and the vote on the agenda is an act of the conference therefore part of its business and subject to review of the Council.

It is hard to determine what was really the issue and what the questioner was really concerned about.  Usually such inquires about social concerns items tends to be raised because someone feels they will not be heard in those arguments.  If this is the case, it is an important issue to protect the right of voice.

But the way the question was delivered was more like a power play, to either intimidate or to counter intimidation.  Again, there is too little information to sort out what was really happening.

It could have been someone flexing his parliamentary wings or someone trying to establish himself in some way with the conference or any number of other things.  

What the questioner might have done instead was approach the agenda committee person ahead of conference when the agenda was first published to talk about it.  Or approach the bishop in private conversation about it.  

There are conceivable scenarios that could obviate these alternatives.  But if the questioner had the time to prepare such a complex question in writing, he probably had time to try to sort this out informally before it hit the floor.

JCD 1253


Precedent is very powerful in this decision.  Citing other similar decisions, the Council settled the matter of whether a particular conference fund did not violate the Discipline.  In this case, the Council took the confirming step of studying the minutes of the discussion related to the fund when it was reviewed by the Conference Council on Finance and Administration.  In doing that, they confirmed the facts of the case (see JCD 595.V).

Now if only they would be willing to do that for church trials.  

One other observation: Conference officers sent all the materials to back up their brief and the Council did not have to postpone a decision waiting for what they needed.  

JCD 1254



The bishop of the California-Pacific Annual Conference was asked if a resolution asking that a portion of the Social Principles be ignored was legal.  She ruled that because the Social Principles were for thoughtful and prayerful consideration and were not law, the resolution was not illegal.  

The Council majority agreed and said that the difference between her ruling on this question and the ruling in JCD 833 where a portion of the Social Principles was indeed law is that the other Social Principles statement was a mandate to action while the portion relevant to the instant case was not.

The three members of the Council from outside the United States disagreed, saying that there is precedent in JCD 1120 which says that anything passed by General Conference cannot be legally ignored by action of any other body of the denomination.

The Council acknowledged that members of the denomination disagreed with many portions of the Social Principles such as those related to gun control and war.  That was okay because, concurring with the bishop, the Council sees most of the Social Principles were a call for “prayerful dialogue.”

From what I heard at General Conference, a lot of church people in the Central Conferences find literalism more secure and have a hard time with the attitude that they see in America regarding “loose” interpretations of everything.  But I also remember very well some thoughtful leaders from Africa and Asia that were very calm about differences and were willing to question us in detail about our differing views on things like homosexuality.  The United Methodist Church is in flux all over the world, not just here in America.

Watch for who signs which concurring and dissenting opinions and you will see these dynamics reflected.

JCD 1255



New York Annual Conference passed a “petition” which commended people who acted out of conscience against church laws that relate to homosexuals and ceremonies celebrating Gay couples.  Some pastors on the list had been taken to trial for their actions.

Someone requested that the bishop rule on whether or not the petition had violated certain church laws and Judicial Council Decisions.  The Bishop said no, that the petition was aspirational and did not tell anyone what to do.  The Judicial Council concurred, saying, “The only way it could violate church law is by prescribing actions that are themselves contrary to church law or by calling upon individuals to negate or ignore church law.”

In typical fashion, Council took this opportunity to instruct us all about where they draw the line and why this petition did not cross it.  It is helping the Church to see how they differentiate between the various statements that have been sent to be tested by them.

It is a fine set of differences among aspiration, approbation, and alteration with regard to church law.  No wonder some people overseas shake their heads and people in this country tear their hair out!

JCD 1256



The Greater New Jersey Annual Conference made an aggressive response to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.  To do it required many decisions be made between annual conference sessions to line up strategy, funding, and staff to meet the emergencies caused by the storm.  Building on a conference committee already in place and collaborating with the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, the new program was implemented.  News reports in church media indicate the plan’s impact has been positive and significant if inadequate compared to what could be done by an open and effective governmental program.

When the procedures followed to set up the plan and the plan itself were dealt with, most of its action had to be passed after the fact.  The Annual Conference plenary supported the whole thing.

Questions were brought related to possible violations of the Discipline about the handling of finances, staffing, and shifting or responsibilities between Annual Conferences.  The bishop realized after conference that the submitted questions were not just discussion concerns but requests for rulings.  Because there had been no motion from the floor (see JCD 1244) to send them on the Council, he held back dealing with them until he realized that no matter what, a response from him was required, after which he complied.  His late response generated an amicus brief and he was allowed to respond to that as well prior to the Fall session of the Council.

In his response, he concurred that there were violations of the Discipline regarding the interim reallocation of funds but he found no violation in the other interim shifts.  The Council concurred.  I’m sure that the emergency nature of Hurricane Sandy influenced nearly everyone in the conference and on the Council to support the steps actually taken (no sanctions were provided by the Council for the reallocation of funds).

A dissenting opinion was not as flexible, even though the dissenter’s home conference has experienced hurricanes as well, including a superstorm this week.  However, his point is that the conference may have set in place far more flexibility than the Discipline allows with respect to future functioning of the new policies set up under emergency situations.  The dissenter’s warning will need to be heeded by watchdogs in the conference.  If someone gets an undue advantage, they will take it.

JCD 1257



The concerns raised at the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference were divided into four separate decisions, of which this is the second.

The second concern is that without Annual Conference prior approval, executive actions which set up agencies under the aegis of the United Methodist Church could turn into a free field for the executive branch (bishop’s office) to direct finances, staff, and authority, leaving the Annual Conference in the position of being a rubber stamp.  In fact, because the agency set up to meet the emergency of last year’s superstorm, A Future with Hope corporation, is already an independent legal incorporated entity, the fact that it was formed under illegal circumstances would have no effect.

Again, no sanctions are suggested, just as no direction is offered to give a path to legal actions in emergency situations.  Maybe it is presumed that an emergency session of the conference could be called and plans for agency development, financing, and staffing could be presented for review, possible adjustments, and approval.

My contention is that bishops are moving toward more and more control and away from control being within the annual conference where it has resided for the history of the Methodist movement.  The Judicial Council is drawing a line in the sand as a reminder that there is such a thing as separation of powers and bishops must not forget it.

Watchdogs beware.  Bishops somehow do not remember Judicial Council Decisions that they would not like if they even read them in the first place.

JCD 1258



This third concern about the interim actions taken in Greater New Jersey Annual Conference relates to the conflict of interest of having the chairperson of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration also head up the A Future of Hope corporation.

Based on Paragraph 612.2.b of the 2012 Discipline, the Council is “ag’in’” it and requires that the individual decide which position he prefers because he cannot have both.  There is no statement about the Council retaining jurisdiction to be sure this decision is followed.  But I expect it will.  

It is just these kinds of issues that needed to be raised prior to permission being granted by the conference.  “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is not an excuse for lack of proper review of plans before their execution.

Minor point: The actions were taken partly in 2012 while the 2008 Discipline was in effect.  However, that Discipline says the same thing as the new Discipline does about not holding office in two places with a conflict of interest.

JCD 1259



Here is the fourth decision related to the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference concerns about the response to Hurricane Sandy undertaken in the past year.  At issue is financial liability that may remain despite the separation of A Future with Hope corporation.  

Rather than make a ruling based on the information sent by the conference, the Council asked to see all the documents related to the corporation before deciding the matter.  So the Council will review the documents it receives and see if it can determine the culpability of the conference.

Concluding Thoughts on the 2013 Fall Session

I am in awe of the diversity of areas of law that the Council has to cover in its work.  From trials to legality of emergency work to handling of mission funds overseas to reorganization of annual conference structures to sorting out jurisdiction and on and on….

I am also in awe of the diversity of conferences overseas that are jumping in and presenting questions.

The role of teacher to the Church continues in the Council’s work.  One of these days, their careful work will finally be realized and integrated into more and more of the life of the Church.  

A number of these decisions lent themselves to offering me a chance to provide some suggested ways of dealing with the issues, steps I hope will be taken by advocates in some cases, by bishops and conferences in others, and the Judicial council itself in at least one (JCD 1249).

When he was nominated for the Judicial Council some years a go, a friend asked me what I thought.  I said it is one of the few positions in the denomination that can tell a bishop he or she is wrong.  He decided to accept election to the Council rather than to the go on to seek episcopacy.  I think he was a good member during his tenure.  But I have to confess I may have misled him, not because my observation was untrue but because some bishops are deaf to anyone trying to reign them in.  

Power is very intoxicating and some are terribly addicted.  Too many times, those working with such power-addicts are too much like alcoholics’ spouses and without realizing it, become complicit in their addiction.  

Can the Council avoid being co-dependent with bishops or even fall into addiction itself?  Anyone dealing with power has to be concerned about both.  

‘Nuff said….