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.


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Commentaries on Judicial Council Decisions 1299 to 1308

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 began offering commentaries in November of 2008, starting with JCD 1099.  This brings them up to date.  While I have not considered going back to the earlier decisions of the Council, there have been a few that have drawn comments that you may discover on this blog. 

Please feel free to send your questions about any ruling by the Judicial Council, past or present, for my observations based on your question.  Like this blog, my answers carry no weight of law.  But maybe we can both learn something.

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 of this blog, you can go to whichever decision is of interest to you.

The phrase “the Council” when used refers to the Judicial Council. 

Rulings of the Council may be referred to as JCDs (Judicial Council Decisions) or JCMs.  Judicial Council Memorandums do not provide decisions of law but may refuse to take jurisdiction, remand, or show a question is not legally appropriate under Council rules.  On rare occasions, the Council may provide their rationale in a memorandum.  

 Associates in Advocacy (AIA) 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 AIA website (www.aiateam.org) offers indices under “HELPS for the Judicial Council.”  AIA’s website is not up to date, however.  The Judicial Council website now offers a search function which covers every JCD since 1940.  Go to  HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/search" http://www.umc.org/decisions/search.  To go straight to all decisions, leave all the boxes blank on that search page and click on the “search” bar.  Then you can scroll and scan to find what you want.

All commentaries on Judicial Council rulings are subject to editing, updating, and revision.

JCM 1299

JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64862/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsImV4YWN0Ijoic2VhcmNoOmRlY2lzaW9uX251bWJlciJ9" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64862/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsImV4YWN0Ijoic2VhcmNoOmRlY2lzaW9uX251bWJlciJ9


The Western Pennsylvania team seeking justice in dealing with an African bishop who they allege (with ample evidence) misused funds sent by them to his conference were denied reconsideration of the decision that closed down their complaint.  In JCD 1275, the Council ruled that since the College of Bishops in Africa chose not to forward the charges against the bishop in question, the matter was closed.

The docket does not include the arguments seeking reconsideration so I cannot comment on those.  As noted in the update on this blog related to JCD 1275, JCD 1281 essentially closed the case so the Council probably felt that was that.  

If past experience means anything, the Council has been put under extreme pressure from the Council of Bishops to back off their occasional efforts to hold the bishops accountable (my terminology, not theirs).  Followers of this blog know of my opinion that nearly all bishops with whom I have personally spoken have been respectful, poised, and gracious but that the Council of Bishops as a body influences good bishops to allow bad bishops free reign to seek more and more control with less and less accountability, especially on personnel issues.  Someone needs to adapt Reinhold Niebuhr’s MORAL MAN, IMMORAL SOCIETY to the contemporary scene in the United Methodist Church.

It is exceptional when the Council rules in favor of an accused pastor even when the bishop has violated church law, and this Council has done that more than any other since 1992-1996.  Church law is usually there to aid the oppressed and block abuse of power and the Council has sometimes been creative in seeking that out.  

Not having anything more than what has been reported in the past to put Western Pennsylvania’s request in context, it may be that church law is not complete enough to overcome actions (or failure of actions) in our system of holding of a bishop accountable.

In any case, because of this ruling no matter what the Council intends, the bishop in question and his episcopal brothers and sisters can feel a little better protected from challenges to the authority they want to have.

JCM 1300

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64863/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzAwIn0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64863/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzAwIn0


A District Conference in the Middle Philippines Annual Conference voted to petition the Judicial Council to review the firing of their superintendent.  

The facts of the case are very incomplete.  For example, the bishop emailed the superintendent and told him he was no longer one.  There is nothing in the record which says to what appointment he had been assigned in place of the appointment to the Cabinet.  It also appears that the fired superintendent presided at the District Conference where the petition idea originated.

Questions were devised and forwarded to the Council but the Council could not take jurisdiction.  For one thing, they said, no questions of law were asked on the record at the district conference nor of the bishop at the annual conference.  Hence there was no access to the Council under ¶¶ 2609.6 or 2609.7.  Nor, I might add, did the District Conference vote a request for a declaratory decision under ¶2610.2(i) –“any body authorized . . . by a central conference. . . ,” if that even applies.

The appointment of a superintendent is at the final discretion of a bishop so even if proper questions had been handled correctly, the Council would have called them moot.  The challenge to the bishop’s actions should have been to the College of Bishops of the Philippines Central Conference in the form of a complaint and not to the Judicial Council, another way the petition was moot.  Unless the Philippines is totally different from other Colleges of Bishops, and past rulings by the Council on matters coming from there indicate it is not, such a complaint would have fallen on deaf ears.  Colleges of Bishops NEVER challenge a bishop for any Disciplinary violation except sexual misconduct (whether true or false).

There is a chance this case may be brought back to the Council in other ways.  The Council will need far more information and a proper approach under ¶¶ 2609, 2610, or 2715 to deal with it.

JCD 1301

JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64864/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzAxIiwiZXhhY3QiOiJzZWFyY2g6ZGVjaXNpb25fbnVtYmVyIn0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64864/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzAxIiwiZXhhY3QiOiJzZWFyY2g6ZGVjaXNpb25fbnVtYmVyIn0


The Arkansas Annual Conference bishop has been challenged regarding his use of non-superintendents when appointments are being considered.  The Discipline does not contain the phrase “appointive cabinet” even though many bishops now bring their administrative assistants, conference program directors, or others chosen by the bishops to sit in with voice and vote on appointments.

Revisions of the Rules were passed by the annual conference among which was one small section to define the appointive cabinet and someone asked the bishop a question of law related to the legality of that small section.  

The bishop ruled it violated the Discipline and the Council agreed.  Interestingly, the problem was that the Rules’ terminology differed slightly from that of the Discipline, that being the “violation.”  As one might expect in our bishop-centric denomination, a major change in conference rules would not occur without the full support of the bishop.  Whether or not the Rules were Disciplinary, who he added to the “appointive cabinet” was not affected.  The new rules did not deny or abridge the bishop’s freedom to add anyone he wanted.  So it is interesting that he ended up in the position of being against a rule he probably favored and could show it violated the Discipline while, at the same time, not interrupting his stacking the appointment process with anyone he chose.

This commentary presumes this case is related to other Council cases related to the Arkansas “appointive cabinet.”  See JCDs 1279, 1280, 1293, 1294, and 1307.


JCD 1302

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64865/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64865/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9


The 2015 session of the new Rio Texas Annual Conference, the merger of the Rio Grande Conference and the Southwest Texas Conference, accepted changes in the merger documents recommended by the Council in JCD 1271.  Keeping jurisdiction from that decision, the Council reviewed the report and related materials from the bishop and affirmed with commendation the new conference’s following the Council’s suggestions.

Will the conference follow my suggestions about making sure the mission projects of the Rio Grande Conference such as retirement homes and children’s ministries are not neglected as the smaller ethnic conference is subsumed into the larger Anglo body?

JCM 1303

JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64866/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzAzIn0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64866/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzAzIn0


As predicted (see this blog’s post on JCD 1210), “CALL TO ACTION/PLAN UMC” with most of its worts has been resurrected to eat up time and attention at General Conference in Portland, OR, next year.  

It is still based on the presumption that the bishops have been flawless in their ministries and that the blame for the decline of our denomination lies with everyone else, especially with the General Commission on Religion and Race and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, which the revised plan marginalizes.  Oh yes, they also want to diminish Archives and History.  I find it interesting that the three agencies which have the facts about what is happening in the Church and have an advocacy role (history does so by just being there!) that can challenge the bishops are the principle targets of the “reorganization.”  

I do not believe it is coincidental that the Council of Bishops sent in the request for a declaratory decision.  The Council Table, a body “created or authorized by” the General Conference” (¶2610.2c), could have done it.  I really think it is the Council of Bishops’ arrogance, unrecognized by them, and rarely withstood, that caused them to try to triangulate the Judicial Council into the argument.

Wisely, the Judicial Council has deferred any decision on the constitutionality of Plan UMC Revised.  They have thus avoided being sucked into the argument.  They are waiting to allow other plans to be presented before they decide on the constitutionality of Plan UMC Revised.

They did not say the request was hypothetical.  They have jurisdiction since a request for a declaratory decision may be prospective when the decision directly affects the work of the conference addressing the issue.  
I believe the same arguments laid out in JCD 1210 will make this “revision” unconstitutional, primarily that it directs bodies to give up their constitutional authority to other bodies.  That would be how decision-making and financing are put into the wrong hands.

We live in tumultuous times.  It is sorely tempting to let someone else handle the difficult decisions rather than fight the good fight in democratic processes.  There are those who believe all authority resides with them and would love to take over decision-making to make it easier for the rest of us and to make it easier to make decisions.  What a blessing these self-identified “servant leaders” can bestow upon us by accepting the power we don’t mind letting slip away.  That’s how autocracies devolve from democracies.

I could be incorrect about my presumption that Plan UMC Revised is unconstitutional.  The Council may actually think it is okay and are just postponing having to say so.  An endorsement at this time would ease the railroading of it through General Conference.  In any case, I hope the wise heads among the delegates will do a better job of identifying causes for whatever malaise there is in our Church and provide better solutions than the top-heavy Plan UMC Revised offers.

Postscript:  The Judicial Council occasionally does things that seem counter-intuitive.  In this case, it has to do with who is actually the appellant.  

In a case a few years ago, a bishop was appealing his being dropped from episcopacy.  When questions related to his case went before the Council, however, he was not considered the appellant.  The bishops who pushed for his unseating were.  In that case, the advocate failed to bring the questions in writing and the College of Bishops did!

In this case, the ones most critical of the Plan UMC Revised were not considered the appellants.  In fact, they were not even allowed to address the open hearing of the Council.  The Council of Bishops pre-empted criticism of Plan UMC Revised by bringing the question of constitutionality and none of the ones who were identified as parties to the request were actually arguing against it.

JCM 1304

JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64867/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA0In0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64867/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA0In0


Over the summer, as I was working on commentaries on JCDs from October of 2014 and April 2015, I found myself studying what makes questions moot and hypothetical.  Those two terms are not defined anywhere and seemed to me to be used arbitrarily, especially to protect a bishop who may have allowed violations of fair process.  Last year’s JCDs were a lot of help to me in clarifying how this Council sees what is moot and what is hypothetical.

I don’t know if it was glee or consternation that hit me when I read the intelligent questions asked by a lay person about one aspect of rules that had been passed by the California-Pacific Annual Conference.  The sad part of his concern is that he was trying to get answers the wrong way.  If the bishop, he, the conference chancellor, and anyone else with smarts about referring questions to the Judicial Council had had about fifteen minutes together, they might have resolved all of his issues without resorting to formal seeking of legal rulings.  

Hey, Bishops, be ready to call a break, request a meeting as soon as possible, or some such thing to allow exploring the questions and the proper forms for formal legal questioning to see if there is a reasonable way to resolve the issues.  The result might be clearing up everything.  But if there is even one issue unresolved, that could then be put into proper form for presentation over which the Judicial Council could take jurisdiction.

Now about the questions and the bishop’s answers:

Upon analysis, the questions, while on a worthwhile subject, were mostly hypothetical in that they were intended to change the opinion of the bishop rather than appeal an action that could have been illegal.  That is a very subtle matter and lawyers are about the only ones who can tell the difference.  The bishop brought in a lawyer to go over the questions before responding, something the lay person would not ordinarily have thought to do.  So the bishop then ruled the questions moot, with some elements being hypothetical.  The Council affirmed the bishop’s decision though it finessed some of the questions as hypothetical.

I am in the process of trying to nail down the definition of “moot” and “hypothetical” so that lay and clergy, bishops and Council members can all get onto the same page.

Let me suggest what the lay person might have done with his concern about episcopal overreach in the new plan.  It appears he realized after the new rule passed that the Discipline was at variance with the new plan on the issue of separation of powers.  With the help of others to offer a second, he could have moved reconsideration of Rule Change 15-15.  If the motion was seconded, the motion for reconsideration would be up for discussion, particularly the grounds for making the motion.   Instead of asking the bishop to rule on the Disciplinary discrepancies, he could have asserted his interpretation of them as grounds for reconsidering Rule Change 15-15.  If the motion to reconsider passed, then he could make a motion to amend the Rule Change to be in line with the Discipline and hope the conference agreed and voted to support his amendment.  If the conference chose not to accept his motion to change the new rule, then he could have moved a request for a declaratory decision under ¶ 2610 on the constitutionality of Rule Change 15-15 in light of the Disciplinary passages he felt conflicted with the new rule and whether or not the other passages used to support the new rule were indeed constitutional.

If you understood that legal-babble of mine, we’re good.  If not, contact me.  

As the questions were asked, the Judicial Council was blocked from a substantive response of looking at the real issue of possible episcopal overreach by arcane rules that are not clearly defined nor widely understood. 

If I succeed in helping define “moot and hypothetical” based on the Council’s own decisions, maybe we can minimize that impediment in the future.

Note: The concurring opinion does take the questions to have enough substance that it offers an answer which has some teaching value for consideration by the questioner.  It may or may not resolve his concerns but it respects them despite the technical flaws in the wording and approach of his questions.

JCM 1305

JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64868/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA1In0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64868/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA1In0


Northwest Philippines Annual Conference, like several of its sister conferences in the Philippines, elected delegates to General and Central Conferences using a system of casting lots.  The bishop was asked if this was legal.  Saying there was no prohibition, he honored the process and the delegates were thus the legal representatives of their conference.

The Judicial Council deferred a decision until its October 2016 session.  Since the ruling of the bishop was made with regard to only the one conference, and his decision is law for them only, deferral allows the delegates to function legally and gives the Council time to get all the documents that should have been sent in.  Without that material and answers to the Council’s questions about the details of the process used, they will not have enough upon which to base their decision.

It is likely that using casting of lots will not become common in the United Methodist Church.  The ambitious who successfully work the politics required for a voting election will not allow it.  Casting lots would be tantamount to trusting that God would pick the best delegates.  And the means of gaining certain kinds of jobs in the denomination would be disrupted if just anyone was elected to General, Jurisdictional, or Central Conferences.  Hmmm.  On the other hand, . . . .

JCM 1306

JHYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64869/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA2In0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64869/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA2In0


The Northwest Philippines Annual Conference voted to elect only members present at the conference.  The bishop ruled that all members were eligible.  The election proceeded based on that ruling.  However, the ruling was not a response to a question of law.  It was a parliamentary ruling that was not challenged in any way, apparently.

As the bishop reported in his response to questions of law about the legality of using casting of lots to elect delegates to General and Central Conferences discussed in JCD 1305 above, the casting of lots process was handled with grace and respect.  Based on the cultural patterns of their region, it may have worked better if only those present were eligible.  But, this time around, there apparently were no formal challenges over which the Council could take jurisdiction.

JCD 1307

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64870/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA3In0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64870/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA3In0


This decision relies, unspoken, on the absence of prohibition from the Discipline about who may join the Cabinet in consideration of appointments.  It opens up the consultation process to outsiders, with one exception, the director of administrative services.  That would often be the conference treasurer.  That exception is taken in this decision to be “the exception that proves the rule,” that opens up the appointment consultation to whomever the bishop wants.

I disagree with this ruling on three grounds.  violation of the original intention of consultation, removing the right of the pastor and church to respond to the non-superintendents’ additions to the consultation, and episcopal overreach.

First, the consultation process began in Wisconsin and was shepherded by our delegates through General Conference in 1980.  Its purpose was to include the superintendent, Pastor-Parish Relations Committee, and pastor in a sharing of hopes, dreams, needs, and concerns so that a change or maintaining of an appointment was a shared decision. This was to counter the autocratic appointment processes used in many conferences which caused harm to the pastor and family and the local church.

Despite changes, failure of many Cabinets and some Judicial Councils to take it seriously, the consultation process has survived in church law and when done right has tended to be a morale building process for churches and pastors because their concerns were respected.  The negotiations were among the parties affected, with the superintendent mainly acting as moderator until a decision had to be made.  Then the bishop would finalize the decision by fixing the appointment, usually in line with the mutually formed decision of the pastor and local church.

The role of a non-superintendent in the negotiations of the consultation is a disruption since the non-superintendent is not related to either the pastor or the local church.  In fact, the non-superintendent is not even involved in those direct discussions among superintendent, pastor, and church.  Data kept by the conference statistician and treasurer have often been used by the three parties, especially the superintendent, in those consultations so those particular conference officers were not really needed.

The intrusion of non-superintendents violates the original intent of consultation.

Second, the non-superintendents are not engaged in those primary consultation processes and so neither the local church nor the pastor gets to respond to any of their input.  The opinions of the non-superintendents cannot be countered by “on the ground” persons involved in the primary discussions.

While it can be argued that the superintendent involved in the pastor/local church discussions can respond on their part as would be done during a superintendents-only appointment session as has been the practice in the past, the non-superintendent has no “skin in the game” other than to be supportive of the bishop.  Superintendents are looking out for their pastors and the churches in their district.  

If the bishops have been using non-superintendents as a way of getting support to do what they want to do, and now making it a matter of open rather than subrosa practice as a way to stand up to the superintendents, then maybe the discussion ought to be brought up at General Conference to resolve whatever problems arose from only working with the superintendents on appointments.  There may be other alternatives that would actually be better personnel practices than concocting an “appointive cabinet.”  

The whole point of consultation was to bring in a measure of empowerment of pastors and churches over their own destinies in a system of episcopal appointments.  Since neither gets to talk to the non-superintendents to get their input, that empowerment is undercut.

Third, the traditional understanding of appointment-making was that it was the responsibility of the superintendents and bishop to seek the best matches of pastor and church with input by the churches and pastors as part of the consideration.  There has been no effort to bring legislation to expand that appointive group.  There has been nothing brought to General Conference to regulate such a group.  Rather, it has become an episcopal addition without review or balance-of-power elements.  Under this decision, the bishop is free to add as many non-superintendents as he or she wants, perhaps stacking the appointive Cabinet to where the superintendents no longer have authority to do their Disciplinary responsibility.  Being able to bring in non-superintendents to work on appointments is granting authority from one body to another without General Conference authorization or constitutional support.  That is episcopal overreach.

So far, some people in the Arkansas Conference are shining a light on this practice.  The Judicial Council has now looked at their situation in six interrelated cases, JCDs 1279, 1280, 1293, 1294, 1301, and now this one

The General Conference may be called upon to deal with this addition by 2020.  Overreach usually means overplaying their hand.  In a democratic system like ours, such usually is dealt with eventually.  It will probably be the cost of extra travel and meeting expenses which will trigger the petitions.  But at the heart of countering the overreach will be the sense of oppression and unfairness.

JCM 1308

HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/64871/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA4In0" http://www.umc.org/decisions/64871/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInNlYXJjaDpkZWNpc2lvbl9udW1iZXIiOiIxMzA4In0


A lay member following proper procedure within the time frame of the annual conference, raised a question of law about a Local Pastor who was dropped from ministry by a district committee on ministry because of charges against her.  The bishop ruled the question of law was moot and hypothetical, using JCD 799 as the main reason.  The Council supported that ruling.  Case closed.  

Lay woman frustrated, Local Pastor frustrated. And possibly the congregation frustrated.  

This is so disturbing because that’s completely legal under church law in the United Methodist Church.  

Even though Local Pastors have fair process rights when under complaint (¶ 2702), they can be dropped from ministry simply by the bishop refusing to appoint them or by the District Committee on Ministry having the discretion to taking away their license without a hearing (¶ 320).

The bishop has full discretion about appointing Local Pastors or not (¶ 316.3).  For years, unappointed Local Pastors came to our annual conference hoping to be appointed again but even though licensed, they never were.  And there was no explanation.  

When the district committee takes away the Local Pastor’s license, there is no vote at Annual Conference even though that license requires a vote by the clergy session to authorize it (¶ 319.2).  The de-licensing is simply reported with no action required by the conference (¶ 320.1).  

The way the Council and that bishop understand the situation, there is no appeal by means of questions of law.  Such questions are understood as moot because the bishop under current church law may not answer any questions about what is going on in the personnel area because of “separation of powers” (JCD 799).

The fact that the lay woman raised the question of there being complaints that were not resolved under fair process is hard to assess.  I have been aware of situations where a bishop lied about there being complaints against a pastor and where a superintendent told the pastor there were complaints but that word was never passed up the chain of command to anyone else.  Did the latter occur in this case?  We do not know.  The Council was convinced that there were no complaints, though I have not seen any of the briefs where that matter might have been addressed.

I wish the Council’s secretary or staff would follow up on that kind of claim and request any evidence about possible complaints in order to help the Council deal with the reality of the case and not just what the bishop can give them under the shadow of plausible deniability.  While the Council as an appellate body is not a “fact-finding body,” it is required of them to have all the available materials related to the case, something they are very serious about in other cases such as where a conference secretary sends in no minutes or the bishop sends only an email notification rather than details of a change of appointment.  As JCD 595 says, “The Judicial Council has authority to determine factual matters which are essential to decide the legal question involved.”

In short, church law gives but then takes away fair process protections for Local Pastors.   

There are other serious problems showcased by this decision that I address in other contexts and in previous blog postings.  I try to show that JCD 799 is only partly right and grossly unjust in some important ways, and that there are no real forms of appeal in the administrative track, thus no way for administrative actions like administrative location, involuntary leave of absence, or involuntary retirement to be appealed, which violates ¶¶ 20 and 58, the constitutional rights of trial and appeal. I also want to clarify that “substantive” can mean a bishop may answer a question of law about process but answering a question about the substance of a complaint may be inappropriate.  The bishops and the Council need to learn such distinctions or many more people will be very frustrated with the United Methodist Church.


I have four observations to make about the fall session of 2015.  One, the case load was exceptionally light.  Two, the bishops won big on many little things but were put off till May on their one big thing.  Three, what would happen if we changed to casting lots to elect delegates to General Conference?  Four, Local Pastors are extremely vulnerable, perhaps in violation of our constitution.

First, the case load for the fall sessions of the Council have tended in recent years to average two dozen docket items.  This year there were about a third of that number.  And of that nine, one was a reconsideration (JCM 1299), one was a carry-over from the past (JCD 1302), two were related to the concern about “appointive cabinets” (JCDs 1301 and 1307), two were related to electing delegates by casting lots (JCMs 1305 and 1306), two showed ways the Council could refuse jurisdiction (JCDs 1304 and 1308), and one of some consequence was put off until May 2016 (JCM 1303).  Almost half were deferred (JCMs 1301, 1303, 1305, and 1306), requiring no hammering out of a decision.  

This lighter load allowed for some rationale to be presented on all but the request for reconsideration (JCM 1299).  That gave the Council a chance to offer us more insight into their way of thinking.  Too often, the Council has had little time to explain themselves on cases where they could not take jurisdiction.

Second, while the bishops were put off on their request for possible support of the Council on “Plan UMC Revised,” they won on everything else directly or indirectly.  JCM 1299 changed nothing with respect to holding bishops accountable.  JCM 1300 has postponed testing a bishop for unmaking an appointment of an Elder without fixing another first.  Bishops may stack a non-Disciplinary body (“appointive Cabinet”) which undercuts the consultation process (JCD 1301 and 1307).  The separation of powers over the issues of accountability of certain conference officers (JCD 1304) and of removing Local Pastors from ministry (JCD 1308) were left unchanged by legal technicalities.  And the ladder to success in the denomination has not been disrupted (JCM 1305 and 1306).  The merger plan (JCD 1302) may even have allowed some subtle additions to the authority of the bishop (most such plans do, as the Council itself has pointed out in the past).  In short, nothing decided really make bishops change their behavior and some add to their power. 

Third, casting lots has become the mode of election for delegates to General and Central Conferences of some annual conferences in the Philippines.  When that process is used openly and respectfully, it appears to be very difficult to influence the selection of delegates.  The current system used in the United States and many other places of politicking and vote swapping really works well for the ambitious and assertive.  It puts their names into position for nomination to boards and agencies on all levels of the denomination and ultimately to episcopacy.  With charisma and political skill, pastors can rise above their competence to high office in order to reach the prize of prestige, privilege, and a golden parachute upon retirement (note that some bishops are retiring early).  

If by chance the charismatic, politically skilled, and ambitious did not happen to be selected by lot, they might not find being a United Methodist to their liking . . . .  Ever wonder why casting of lots was considered viable by our Hebrew ancestors?  They’d had over two million years of experience in human community by the time the Bible was written.  It will be interesting to see if the Council gives any credence to using casting of lots when they meet in October of 2016.

Fourth, church law does not protect Local Pastors the way it protects Elders and Deacons.  Local Pastors often are dropped without explanation and have no recourse.  The powerful intentional movement of the 1980s to use Local Pastors because of their enthusiasm as a counter to the “professionalism” of seminary trained Elders was not accompanied by changes in the loopholes which made Local Pastors vulnerable to arbitrary firing.  Local Pastors were required to become trained and sometimes came in as seminary-trained.  And they had to be approved by vote of the clergy session in order to get in the door.  But they are still “at-will hires” of the Church and all the more devastated when they are cast aside.  JCD 1308 barely scratches the surface of that pain and does nothing to alleviate it.

I understand that flexibility is needed in a closed appointive system like ours and I understand the need for expediency when circumstances may require simplicity of options and timing.  But those are best handled with forewarning and with respectful dialogue among the involved parties and the Local Pastor.  This is a church, for God’s sake (literally), and not somebody’s sandbox.

Finally, I think I have respected the limitations under which the Council operates by explanations in the commentaries above.  The Council has its legal boundaries and can only do so much in the name of justice.  I cannot speak to intentions of the Council and hope I do not imply any biases.  I can only point out results.  

That leaves us, dear reader, to learn how better to work in our judicial system to help the Council any way we can to counter challenges to balance of powers and separation of powers.  So far, it is clear that we have a lot to learn.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Commentary on Judicial Council Decisions 1291 to 1298

Spring, 2015 


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 began offering commentaries in November of 2008, starting with JCD 1099.  This brings them up to date.  While I have not considered going back to the earlier decisions of the Council, there have been a few that have drawn comments that you may discover on this blog (January, 2011, for commentaries on JCDs 799,1048, 1094). 

Please feel free to send your questions about any ruling by the Judicial Council, past or present, for my observations based on your question.  Like this blog, my answers carry no weight of law.  But maybe we can both learn something.

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 of this blog, you can go to whichever decision is of interest to you.

The phrase “the Council” when used refers to the Judicial Council. 

Rulings of the Council may be referred to as JCDs (Judicial Council Decisions) or JCMs.  Judicial Council Memorandums do not provide decisions of law but may refuse to take jurisdiction, remand, or show a question is not legally appropriate under Council rules.  On rare occasions, the Council may provide their rationale in a memorandum.  

 Associates in Advocacy (AIA) 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 AIA website (www.aiateam.org) offers indices under “HELPS for the Judicial Council.”  AIA’s website is not up to date, however.  The Judicial Council website now offers a search function which covers every JCD since 1940.  Go to  HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/search" http://www.umc.org/decisions/search to search.  To go straight to all decisions, leave all the boxes blank on that search page and click on the “search” bar.  Then you can scroll and scan to find what you want.

All commentaries on Judicial Council rulings are subject to editing, updating, and revision.

JCM 1291

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/61959/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInJhbmdlLWZyb206ZGVjaXNpb25fZGF0ZSI6IjEwXC8yNVwvMjAxNCJ9" http://www.umc.org/decisions/61959/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyIsInJhbmdlLWZyb206ZGVjaXNpb25fZGF0ZSI6IjEwXC8yNVwvMjAxNCJ9


Reconsideration by the Council usually is based on who is asking for it (certain bishops have gotten the Council to respond to requests for reconsideration).  That observation, of course, is from someone who has asked several times for reconsideration only to be turned down.  I do not know the statistics and my recall is not as sharp as it used to be, but I remember only one request that was granted and that was for Bishop Tuell many years ago.

In this case, the advocate was pressing for something comparable to appeal in the administrative track, appeals being to bodies that have not previously dealt with the case or having no one on the bodies who did deal with the case in another context.

That’s what makes reconsideration so unlikely.  The Council has already “dealt” with the case and it takes a Bishop Tuell or a dynamite bit of law to get the Council to revisit a previous decision, as desperately needed as that may be.

I do not know the grounds for the request in this case.   Mine would be that there is really no objective third party body for a pastor to appeal to from the administrative track, contrary to Paragraph 20 which guarantees the right of appeal.  People can lose their ministries as completely under administrative procedures as they can from judicial procedures.  The former are for lesser offenses than the latter but to end up on administrative (involuntary) location is to be considered as no longer a member of the conference (Paragraph 360.3).  That also happens to a defrocked pastor: they lose membership in the conference.  They may no longer be appointed because they are not members.  They are not Traveling Elders any more.  Why do those put on administrative location not have the same right of appeal as the one defrocked by a trial court?  There is no appeal, really, from any decision made by an Administrative Review Committee either to the jurisdiction appellate committee or to the Council.  That was made clear by JCD 1276.

While this issue should be legislated at General Conference, the Council should have considered the loss of objectivity in cases where all of the routes to challenge an administrative track decision have people on the bodies, including the presiding officers who have already acted on the case.  Even more serious is that all those bodies are under the influence of command (lack of separation of powers) of their bishop.  

What a dream come true it would be if the Council chose to reconsider JCD 1276 on their own and ruled Paragraph 363.3 is unconstitutional.  And find a way to also throw in involuntary retirement and involuntary leave of absence on the same grounds.

JCD 1292

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/61961/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9" http://www.umc.org/decisions/61961/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9


The Council provides a decisive and yet nuanced response to a resolution passed in the Detroit Annual Conference asking church bodies to refrain from church trials, investigating LGBT possibilities in candidates for ministry, and prosecuting those conducting same sex marriages.

A question of law about the legality of the resolution was seen by the bishop in her ruling as not aspirational for the most part.  She did get support from the Council in her noting the opening part was okay but the rest of it, especially where called for “refraining” from obeying the Discipline was no longer just encouragement or support but a call for violating the Discipline.

The Council’s nuances come in noting two things.  There is no law in the church against transgender candidates or pastors nor against homosexual pastors who are not self-avowed and practicing.

However, to “strongly encourage refraining from following the Discipline” is prescriptive and not aspirational.

JCD 1293

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/61962/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9" http://www.umc.org/decisions/61962/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9


The Council deferred requests for rulings from the bishop re: appointive Cabinet, a non-Disciplinary group bishops have formed by adding whomever they wished to participate in consultations about appointments along with superintendents.  The deferral was to give the conference secretary a chance to send all pertinent documents.  The Council saw the original written request was not included in the paper work and very nearly refused jurisdiction because it had not been presented at conference, thus violating the basic rules about raising questions of law.  But the questioner’s written request accompanied the other ruling asked of the bishop.  So the Council deferred and allowed the Conference Secretary a chance to find the written question if one existed.

Interesting thing: the secretary had forgotten to include the original request in the package.  How long have I been complaining about someone at the Council not pursuing all the documents as soon as there appeared to be something missing, which would be when everything was to be sent in, and not just before the meeting of the Council?

What makes this ruling really interesting is that there must have been a very strong discussion about jurisdiction of the Council once the concern for the original written questions was resolved.  The dissenting opinion, something rarely written unless the writer feels very strongly about the matter (some are unwise ego trips but that kind is even rarer).  This time the dissenting opinion pointed out that the conference had indeed dealt with the rules including who was to be on the appointive Cabinet.  The action was essentially just affirming the conference rules and policies without specific reference to the issue of membership on the appointive Cabinet.

Perhaps if the questioner had specifically tied the questions to that conference action, the Council might have accepted it.  With this Council, that is unlikely.  They want more specificity.

The session of the Council also very likely had quite a to-do about the lack of Disciplinary support for there even being an “appointive” Cabinet.  The concurring opinion really wished the questioner had made a request for the issue to be for a declaratory decision rather than addressing it as a question of law to the bishop.  If the questioner had done that, there might have been a very interesting challenge to the Council of Bishops’ cavalier approach about doing things their own way rather than in compliance with the Discipline.  

I’m not the only one smelling something bad behind the question.  I feel bad that I was not in a position to do these commentaries until now.  Had I been timely, maybe the questioner might have gotten word to either bring a motion related to changing the rule about who could be on the appointive Cabinet or could have framed his question to go to the Council under Paragraph 2610 instead of under Paragraph 2609.  

Unfortunately, the dissenting opinion did not prevail and the questioner did not pick the right arrow out of the quiver.  Hence, the result was a “moot and hypothetical” ruling.

Will this become a warning to the bishops?  If I’m right about them, they won’t pay any attention.  They are above the Discipline.  It’s called “King of the Hill” syndrome or Success Sickness.  

JCD 1294



The issues in this case, and its ruling are essentially the same as in JCD 1293 above.  Same problems of “moot and hypothetical,” having all the documents, etc.

The difference in this question of law was that it addressed retirement from the Cabinet requirements for superintendents and asked if those applied to non-superintendents.

Again, the Council bemoaned the fact that the bishop bothered to answer the questions even though he had already determined that they were moot and hypothetical.  I do not know who writes that kind of stuff for the Council but hopefully they will heed the concerns I raised about such treatment of bishops in situations where there was either ambiguity about whether or not to answer and the pastoral need to answer in order to avoid looking autocratic and dismissive.

We urge advocates seeking to bring questions under Paragraphs 2609 and 2610 to meet ahead of time with the bishop to work out the smoothest way to handle the floor “game” of getting the question raised.  Under those circumstances, the bishop could point out the problems with the questions re: “moot and hypothetical,” something I hope both sides will find more adequately addressed following revisions of Appendix A of the Council’s Rules of Practice and Procedure.

The decision was in favor of the bishop in the sense that the majority of the Council agreed that the questions were moot and hypothetical.  There are no rules requiring non-superintendents to retire after eight years as superintendents have to.

JCM 1295

 HYPERLINK "http://www.umc.org/decisions/61964/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9" http://www.umc.org/decisions/61964/eyJyZXN1bHRfcGFnZSI6IlwvZGVjaXNpb25zXC9zZWFyY2gtcmVzdWx0cyJ9


A retiree of the East Ohio Annual Conference rose to request reconsideration (recommit) of the “Business of the Annual Conference” passed during clergy session.  The bishop ruled it out of order and was not challenged.  The retired Elder then sent a brief outlining the Disciplinary violations involved in the case of a provisional minister being discontinued.

The Council had to refuse jurisdiction since no question of law or request from declaratory decision had been noted as floor action entered in the minutes in the conference journal.  An individual may not bring a request for Council action without using the Disciplinary mechanisms available.  The issue had been raised as a parliamentary motion which, when ruled out of order, was not challenged.

The retired Elder’s heart was in the right place but he made several mistakes in trying to find justice in a situation of a colleague.

What is often the case going into a clergy session is that no one knows a pastor is in trouble.  The pastor that is being removed from ministry is usually told by a Cabinet member (or three if that conference uses triads of DSs) that the pastor may not speak to anyone about it.  Since the “Business of the Conference” report of the Board of Ordained Ministry is not seen by anyone but Cabinet and BOM personnel prior to the gathering of the clergy session, the rest of the clergy are not alerted to a problem a given pastor may face.  The clergy session covers a lot of ground and it is not always easy to sort out what is happening when the chairperson moves the business along as fast as possible.  Most members of the clergy session are amenable to that because it is a tiring amount of business to pass on.

Presuming that is the scenario and that the retired Elder only found out about the provisional minister’s case when it hit the floor during the clergy session, here is what I wish the retiree had done:  

One: move that the pastor-in-question’s matter be acted upon separately from the rest in that category.  If it passed, then go to step two.  If it failed, move for a tabling of that whole category in order to give time to allow the Elder and minister to meet to discuss the issues involved.  It is important that if there is a question about process or facts related to the provisional minister’s case, that time be allowed to make inquiries before the vote. If that passed or failed, then go to step two.  

Two: request a ten minute recess so the Elder and minister can meet.  If it is granted, the two must meet.  If that is not granted, the Elder has to get to the minister as fast as possible during the clergy session.  If a vote on the category comes up and the minister’s name is still in it, then the Elder has to interrupt the discussion with the pastor and vote for the resolution!  That gives him the right to request reconsideration (to “recommit” in the terminology used in East Ohio) if the category passes.  As soon as the Elder has enough information about the case, he then goes to step three.

Three: as soon as possible, in the clergy session, make a motion to reconsider the category for the purpose of dealing with the provisional pastor’s case.  (All motions also have to be turned in as written motions, part of the paper trail the conference secretary needs for keeping the minutes accurately.  If the motion prevails, go to step four.  If it fails, go to step five.  So far, all of this has been parliamentary steps to try to bring the minister’s case before the clergy session.

Four: move that the name of the provisional minister be removed from the list for discontinuance.  (For every motion there needs to be a second so every advocate must make it a practice to second everyone else’s motion so the matter can be dealt with on the floor.  Even apparently trivial matters may be more important upon discussion than it may appear when the matter is first raised.  If the advocate seconds everything and encourages those around him/her to do it, then others will too.  Their help will be needed at this point because the Elder can’t second this/her own motion!)  The motion, if seconded, then gives the Elder a chance to report what may have been false information or improper actions taken.  The floor can then go into involvement.  After all sides have been heard, request that the vote be taken by secret ballot so that Cabinet members cannot intimidate those who might disagree with them on the case of the provisional minister.  If the motion passes, the provisional minister is restored and the Cabinet has to find an appointment for him/her.  If the motion fails, and the Elder believes an injustice is being done, then he/she must go to step five.

Five: move as a request for a declaratory decision under Paragraph 2610.2(j), given the steps taken by the conference, were those steps consistent with Paragraphs 327.6 and 363 and their proper application of the Discipline in the case of (name the provisional minister) whose change of status was voted upon in this year’s clergy session of the ______ Annual Conference, and who is responsible for pastoral support compensation for any time left without appointment?  If a second is given, the matter is open to discussion and amendment from the floor, though usually there is little of either.  Request a secret ballot and hope that you get a majority.  That would move the matter to the Judicial Council for their consideration.

Alternate five: raise a question of law under Paragraph 2609 asking the bishop who is to ensure fair process under Paragraph 415.3 if specific actions (list the errors of process) were consistent with Paragraphs 327.6 and 363 in the case of (name of provisional minister) before this year’s clergy session of the ________ Annual Conference, and asking who is responsible (see JCD 492) for any pastoral support compensation if the minister was left without appointment improperly for any length of time before being returned to ministry.

These alternatives overcome the barriers that would make them moot or hypothetical because they are dealing with matters involving actions by the annual conference and specific to a particular case where the answers to the questions affect the actions of the conference.  They also allow for the clergy session and bishop to right the wrong, leaving going to the Council as a last resort.

While the Council has tended to expect such matters to come under Paragraph 2610, they have accepted on rare occasion, questions of law under Paragraphs 51, 56.3, and JCD 1244.  Be sure to look up the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Council, currently at 

 HYPERLINK "http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/who-we-are/judicial-council/documents/jc-rules-of-practice-adopted-4-18-2015.pdf" http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/who-we-are/judicial-council/documents/jc-rules-of-practice-adopted-4-18-2015.pdf

I hope to help them revise Appendix A relating to what is moot and hypothetical and what is within their jurisdiction.

Hopefully this advice will help in future cases.

JCD 1296



North Georgia Annual Conference forwarded a request for a declaratory decision about whether the 2012 General Conference’s removal of the Committee on Investigation (COI) was constitutional.  They quoted a retired bishop who has been a trial court presider as saying that the COI transcript was invaluable to trial court presiders because it gave a helpful summary of the facts of the case and the nature of the procedures leading up to the trial.  They pointed to Paragraph 33 and JCDs 698 and 704 referring to the COI as integral to the judicial process.  And the Council looked at the fact that the COI was removed only for clergy but not for laity and bishops.  The decision was fairly straightforward and they declared the removal unconstitutional, noting that the previous Disciplinary passages from 2008 related to the passages removed were now in effect.

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, primarily the Division of Ordained Ministry (GBHEM/DOM), submitted a sweeping revision to simplify the judicial processes through a storm of petitions, something anyone doing individually (me for example) would be castigated and reviled for doing.  But the Council of Bishops wanted the changes and the money/time savings involved.

I confess to thinking there was some merit to eliminating the COI because it has been misused and usually been incompetent in serving the function for which it was intended.  The COI is not the same as a grand jury because the complainant and the respondent have the right to appear and to raise questions and bring witnesses.  However, many COI chairpersons have been advised to minimize anything from the respondent in order to make the COI become a grand jury, contrary to the Discipline.  By eliminating the COI, someone with some measure of competence at investigating and framing judicial charges, the conference chancellors, would be given the task along with the Counsel for the Church.  Chancellors could be trained at the annual GCFA workshops or at the National Association of Conference Chancellors annual gatherings.

Word has come back to me that there has been little or no interest in setting up or attending such workshops.  But I thought the idea might be an improvement over the COI process.

If that isn’t working anyway, I welcome this ruling.

Now if only the Judicial Council would also look at the transcripts of the COI as well as those of church trials and appeals, that would be even better.  If the trial court presiders like having that transcript, it should be part of the record, along with the evidence presented so that the Council can fulfill its first function upon appeal: Does the weight of evidence sustain the charge or charges (Paragraph 2715.7) as well as its second function, checking for vitiating errors of law.  The whole appellate system has restricted its attention to the trial transcripts alone and has refused to weigh the evidence presented on the fallacious notion that only those at the trial could weigh it.  The appellate bodies ignore how much the thumb of the bishop may be on the scales at the trial level.

The dissenting and concurring opinions indicate there was again something of a spirited discussion among the Council dealing with this decision.  The dissenters note that the lack of a specific entity such as the COI does not mean the constitution has been violated.  The concurring opinion appears in large part to be the working paper of the Council member about the case.  The majority chose simpler language for the decision.  However, this concurring opinion counters the dissenting opinion, especially arguing there would be no involvement of laity in the pre-trial processes as Paragraph 33 requires.  His telling of the legislative history points out that the two different legislative committees (Judicial and Ministry Legislative Committees) disagreed on the petitions that had been submitted on behalf of the bishops through GBHEM/DOM.  Interesting stuff.

The next General Conference will have to fight off another deluge of petitions from GBHEM/DOM intended to make life easier for bishops to run off pastors.  (Star Chamber procedures, anyone?  Star chamber procedures are closed and controlled by the powers-that-be.)  Expect to see the Council called on to straighten out the next batch of petitions that gets manipulated through General Conference.  

JCD 1297



A group of pastors in the New England Annual Conference, openly willing to disobey the Discipline on same sex issues, presented a resolution that skirted their own willingness and “strongly urged” churches and pastors to abide by our “open minds, open hearts, open doors” approach to ministry to include those wanting same sex marriage, those who have been convicted of violating same sex church law matters, and those who support in prayer anyone facing trial for violating the Discipline on same sex matters.  The resolution further strongly urges changes at the next General Conference.  

The bishop indicated that all were actually aspirational, though going beyond welcoming those seeking same sex marriage to actually conducting same sex marriage would be a violation.

The Council did something I have never seen them do before: amend a resolution of an annual conference to make it comply with church law.  Actually, only the annual conference can do that, and probably will if that resolution or an updated version is brought to the floor next year.  But the decision sure sounds like the Council did it!

The original questioner wanted to compare the resolution with something from the Articles of Religion, the first time I’ve seen the Council asked to deal directly with something doctrinal.  The bishop addressed it by saying that nothing in the resolution actually violated anything in Article XXII.  The Council ignored the issue, by default supporting the bishop’s ruling.

JCD 1298



The back story on this case is quite complex.  The Council had been dealing with the handling of complaints against the bishop of the Burundi and East Africa Annual Conferences (JCDs 1238, 1275, 1281).  At the same time, the General Council on Finance and Administration had put that bishop on notice that proper bookkeeping was not occurring and had taken punitive steps because the bishop refused to cooperate.  I am told there were two other major actions, one civil and one from another church agency about which I have no first hand information.  

The bishop fought back every time and finally won at the Judicial Council on the complaints (JCD 1281).  

A resolution was passed by a joint session of the bishop’s two conferences asking the two conferences’ Committees on Episcopacy to request a ruling from the Council on the legitimacy of GCFA’s punitive actions.  The Council accepted jurisdiction by ignoring the fact that a Committee on Episcopacy is not one of the listed entities that may petition the Council directly.  In other JCDs, the Council had not allowed one body to transfer its authority to another body.  

The only document that was actually sent to the Council, apparently, was the motion passed by the joint session of the two annual conferences and thereby did indeed come from a listed entity with the right to approach the Council, weirdly worded as it was.  The Council could have chosen not to take authority if it were really strict in its interpretation of law but in this case, they let it come through.  .

The Council then became strict in its reading of the Discipline and pointed out that GCFA had no authority to withhold salary because it was an “entitlement.”  However, the Council ruled that GCFA could reduce housing and office expenses because the Discipline gave them the authority to determine that.  The bishop still got a financial sting out of this ruling.

The Council pointed out that only an action under fair process could lead to a loss of salary (GCFA had cut it to 0% last year).  However, the Council appreciated GCFA’s deep concern about protecting moneys given to the church.

One precedent that may have been set is that only in those areas under the authority of an agency as defined by the Discipline could that agency sanction someone under its authority for any reason.  

I ran into a “gray area” action where another agency settled out of court with a staff member who had misappropriated funds.  Those outside the agency who were hurt by those misappropriations learned too late about the legal settlement to bring complaints 
of their own.  Did that agency have the authority to sanction (in a small way) the staffer (who moved on to an appointment in a church)?  

How does that issue get to the Judicial Council?  If anyone has a suggestion, I’d love to hear it.  The commentary for JCD 1295 contains the thinking several of us considered but we could not find a motion to bring before an annual conference that could become the channel for a proper request.

Precedent or no, the bishop in question in this East African case has been left to his College of Bishops for accountability, which they chose not to do officially (JCD 1281).  

Will that lead to less interest in mission giving?  

Update: While Bishop Wandabula is out from under most of GCFA’s sanctions and no longer faces the complaints from Western Pennsylvania, he still is under complaints and sanctions from the General Board of Global Ministries and possibly a civil suit.