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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.


Thursday, 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.


There are three points to note about the eight decisions made in the spring session.  One, the bishops got some real breaks and some pastors did not.  Two, the bishops are learning the difference between aspirational and prescriptive resolutions on same sex matters.  Three, the judicial process has gone back to being more complicated with the return of the Committee on Investigation in the clergy judicial process.

During this session, the bishops became even more bullet-proof.  In JCD 1291, 
bishops retained control over the adminsitrative process from beginning to end, with no appeal to anyone outside the influence of command of the bishop.  General Conference is not going to change that because the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, whose petitions to General Conference pre-empt all others on the administrative track and whose members are close to a majority on the Ministry Legislative Committee at General Conference, will never put forward something the bishops do not want.  If the Committee on Reference of the General Conference would put all of the complaint processes whether administrative or judicial into the Judicial Legislative Committee as nearly happened in 2008, something might actually get done to relieve this lack of appeal in the administrative track.  

In JCM 1295, had there been an appeal process available that had objective eyes and ears, that case is very likely to have come in an appropriate manner to the Council.  But again, the valiant effort of a retired Elder to save the ministry of a provisional minister fell short, leaving the bishop untouched . . . legally. 

In JCD 1298, the Council ruled that if the other bishops in a particular bishop’s college of bishops did not hold their colleague accountable, no other agency in the church could really do much about it.

Legalities of a general nature, when understood, as in the case of recent church trials, are there to protect all members and leaders of the church from arbitrary actions, including the bishops.  At least this Council is good about pointing out those generalities so that future cases can be handled better and allow the Council to overturn some of the harmful behaviors of some bishops that have thus far gone unimpeded.

But where the Council turned back two pretty serious mishandlings of pastors because of the technicalities of church law, two bishops breathed easier as a result of the Council’s not looking for legitimate and creative ways to bring them up short.

Legal technicaities also led to decisions (JCMs 1293 and 1294) that allow the bishops to add anyone they want to the appointive Cabinet, an entity made up by the bishops so they can have their right hand men/women there to help.  While I understand the need for Cabinets to have help to do everything they must as General Conference and annual conferences refer all kinds of extra tasks to them, such additions to the “appointive” Cabinet are unregulated and subject to the ego of the bishop.  For now, again, bishops can breathe easier on this matter too.

Second, the Council continues to handle resolutions on same sex issues with clarity (JCDs 1292 and 1297), continuing to distinguish between aspirational and prescriptive language.  The bishops who were involved in the two cases before the Council got it right.

Finally, the most important decision to come out of this session is the return of the Committee on Investigation (COI) for pastors (JCD 1296).  A bishop’s comments were important in leading to the decision: bishops who are presiders at church trials need the extra background provided in the COI hearings in order to prepare for the trial.  I think those who wanted to avoid a COI for pastors never presided at a trials and hoped eliminating it would make it easier to get a guilty verdict by keeping the respondent and his/her advocate from getting any practice before the trial!

The removal of the COI from the judicial track only for pastors but not everyone else was the legal grounds for the rehabilitation of this often awkward group.  It tends to meet so rarely that it has a long learning curve whenever a complaint is to be handled.  And too many people in our system want to make it into a grand jury where the respondent has no presence or voice, contrary to the purpose of any church judicial action, to seek reconciliation.

In conclusion, the Council closed out one international judicial case, corrected an error by the General Conference, clarified a number of things, and followed legal technicalities that ended sincere efforts to help pastors.  AIA has its work cut out for itself to prevent the latter from failing to get justice.

Commentary on Judicial Council Decisions 1270 to 1290

Fall, 2014 


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.

Please feel free to also 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” may be used to refer 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.

JCD 1270


Though the basic facts seem to be widely known, let me repeat them briefly.  The Council is thorough in going over the facts and well worth reading.  
An Eastern Pennsylvania Conference church trial begun Nov. 18. 2013, was in response to a complaint against Rev. Frank Schaefer for conducting a private same-sex marriage of his son in Massachusetts where same sex marriages were legal in late April, 2007.  The complaint signed by someone who was not a witness of the marriage was sent in days (early April) before the statute of limitations (six years) expired.  
For nearly six years, no one complained about any harm being done.  The one complaint was that a passage of the Discipline was violated, though no one was actually shown to be harmed by that violation.
The trial court found Rev. Schaefer had violated Paragraph 2702.1b (conducting a same-sex marriage) and Paragraph 2702.1d (violating the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church).  That he performed the ceremony and disobeyed the Discipline were not contested.  
The punishment phase became the focus of considerable media attention.  The trial court provided two elements, a thirty day suspension and, to quote them, “If at the end of the 30 days Rev. Schaefer has determined he cannot uphold the Discipline in its entirety, he must surrender his credentials.”  At the end of the thirty day suspension, his conference Board of Ordained Ministry asked him if he could uphold the Discipline in its entirety and he said he could not because it is internally contradictory and no one can.  He also said he would not surrender his credentials.  Whereupon the Board involuntarily terminated his conference membership.
Rev. Schafer appealed the second element of the trial court’s punishment, saying it violated three points of church law.  One, the Discipline does not require proof of good conduct to end a suspension.  Two, church law does not allow punishment for an action that may occur in the future.  Three, the punishment was framed in overly broad terms that were unrelated to the charge.
The appeal to the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s Appellate Committee sided with Rev. Schaefer.  All the relevant Disciplinary passages for procedural decisions and for supporting the change of punishment are noted in JCD 1270.  Counsel for the Church then appealed that ruling to the Judicial Council.  
That was possible because under Paragraph 2609.8 there is a clause that allows any party to the appeal the right to raise a challenge based on a conflict of decisions of law from previous appeals court or Judicial Council rulings.  I find that wording in my oldest Discipline (1956, Paragraph 913) and in every one since.  In effect, this gives the church the right of appeal if they lose, contrary to Paragraph 2715.10 which does not allow the church to appeal.  The Council ruled that, despite JCD 595 (and Paragraph 2715.10) which set into chuch law the principle that the church could not appeal, accepted jurisdiction.  
I believe that decision to accept jurisdiction is in error and should be revisited at the Council’s next opportunity.
The Counsel for the Church, citing it had found discrepancies between the appeals court rulings in the Schaefer case and that of the Dell case from 1999, appears to have taken carte blanche to then appeal whatever he wanted.  As I understand, the 1999 ruling turned on the suspension not being given a termination time but required the pastor to pledge no more LGBT marriages to come off of suspension.  It appears that JCD 240 was invoked because it requires an end time to be stipulated for the suspension and may not require an action by the suspended pastor to end the suspension.  Unfortunately, the Council did not identify those specifics from the 1999 ruling and appears to have allowed the Church Counsel to raise whatever questions he wanted.  That illustrates exactly why the Church should not be allowed to appeal under any circumstances.
Church Counsel appealed five things.  In addition to saying another appeals court had dissimilar results, he threw in his opinions that Rev. Schaefer forfeit his appeal rights, that the decision varied from the Discipline and previous JCDs, that the appeals committee should have remanded the question of punishment to the trial court rather than make up its own, and that the appellate committee should not have included an amicus brief in its deliberations.
Apparently, with a desire to educate motivating its patience, the Council decided that reasonable responses to these questions would help the denominatin the most.
The Council, without a clear explanation, indicated that there was no significant difference between the 1999 ruling and the one for this case.  Based on my research, both cases had punishments of suspension with an added element of the pastor having to make some kind of affirmation to conclude the punishment.  In both, the added elements were struck down and the suspensions were viewed under JCD 240.  Thus the differences were insignificant.  
With respect to the alleged failure of Rev. Schaefer to fulfill the punishment and thus void his right of appeal, the Council found that he did fulfill it.  They agreed he did answer the question about obeying the Discipline in its entirety.  He just said “no.”  Since there was no requirement made by the trial court that he give up his credentials voluntarily, there was no violation when he refused.  They were taken from him.  His actions were not in violation of the punishment.
With respect to the next concern, the Council found no support in the Church Counsel’s arguments.  JCD 240 applied because the trial court specifically suspended Rev. Schaefer.  JCD 240 identifies each possible penalty available to a trial court as distinct and not subject to mixing.  If the trial court had wanted him terminated, they should have said so specifically.  JCD 1201 supported this understanding of Paragraph 2711.3 where the various punishments are listed.  The element of the punishment requiring affirming the Disipline in its entirety was future-oriented and thus could not really be tried in any forum (JCD 725).  That would have required a new hearing in a judicial setting where termination was an option.  The Board of Ordained Ministry as an administrative body, by separation of powers, does not have that option.
With respect to the concern about the right of the appellate committee to change the punishment, the Council affirmed their right to change it without  making it worse, as inicated in Paragraph 2715.8.  While the committee had the option of remanding the case, it pointed out that an undue amount of time had already passed and felt no need to extend the time since the requirement for discernment and obeying the Discipline in its entirety were illegal under JCD 240.  Let me add, since Rev. Schaefer was to receive salary and benefits from his conference from the end of his suspension until he was appointed, remanding the case would only increase the cost to the conference.
With respect to the concern about an amicus curiae brief, the Council said there were no rules against it and there was no evience in any ruling or transcript of the appellate committee that they were influenced by it.
Church Counsel added another concern not listed in his original request for review and the Council refused to answer it.  Several members of the Council did take time to deal with the issue in a concurring opinion that I will summarize here.  Church Counsel pointed out that the annual conference clergy session voted to accept the report of Rev. Schaefer’s termination as settling his status.  Church Counsel asserted that the annual conference has the last say on personnel matters (Paragraph 33).  The exception is that under Paragraph 20, the right to trial and appeal, a trial court has that right and can only be changed upon appeal possibly all the way to the Judicial Council, all a part of separation of powers (JCD 799 struck down the right of an annual conference to vote on a change of status of a pastor resulting from the decision of a trial court).
Guilt nor innocence of Rev. Schafer was not at issue, though I believe the original complaint was hearsay and the bishop should not have accepted it.  I also contend that the complaint was moved forward by the bishop by asking Rev. Schaefer to incriminate himself, also a flaw in our system.
Rev. Schaefer was punished.  The punishment was light, as far as some people are concerned, but he faced publicity which was some help but also some harm to his ministry.  He lost all income, housing, health insurance, and the rest of his pastoral support from the end of his suspension until the appellate committee overturned the trial court’s added punishment, possibly even until the ruling was supported by the Council months later.  Trying to appeal while broke is harmful to the health of one’s family and oneself.  But there are some who do not see that as punishment.  I ask them to consider what it would be like to walk in his shoes, not knowing whether or not an appeal woiuld lead to recompense and reinstatement.  Surviving that is incredibly hard on the body, mind, and spirit.
This case was decided on three very basic principles of law that protect anyone facing a trial court’s decision about punishment: specifity of the punishment, separation of powers, and avoiding of prospective punishment.  
One, a trial court needs to be sure it knows exactly what it wants and states it clearly. The law related to punishment options should have been addressed by the presiding bishop when he offered his instructions to the trial court.  JCD 240 should have been read to them.  Mixing of the various levels of punishment can lead to unfair results no matter what the complaint was about.
Two, the Board had no authority to terminate Rev. Schaefer.  It could not act in the place of the trial court nor of the clergy session of the annual conference.  The Discipline does not grant them that authority and no trial court can invest its own authority in another body which the Discipline does not provide for.  That leads to power overreach that no one wants to have to fight.
Three, no one should be punished for something they have not yet done.  Rev. Schaefer was asked to do something that was impossible in the first place, “obey the Discipline in its entirety.”  The reason we have a Judicial Council is to handle the discrepancies, inconsistencies, and vaguaries of the Discipline, something they can only do when one comes up.  Rev. Schaefer was asked to say what he would be doing in the future with respect to the Discipline, obeying it “in its entirety” or not.  
Please note that advocates for the respondent are sometimes successful.  In this case, his selection of issues were all supported at both the jurisdictional level and at the Council level.
Finally, the Schaefer case may be the last one of its kind.  Few conferences will be willing to spend the money needed for trials. That is especially so with the clarification of the constitutional rights of same-sex marriage made by the Supreme Court on the day I write this (6/25/15).  That ruling does not change church law.  Pastors retain the right to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages just as they may choose not to marry heterosexual couples they may feel should not wed for whatever reason.  But the ruling changes the milieu.  And  bishops are now listing guidelines for pastors to be supportive of gay marriage without violating church law.  In that, some will say, “The Devil will find a way.”  Others will say, “Love will find a way.”

JCD 1271

Southwest Texas and Rios Grands Annual Conferences began merging as a result of a consolidation voted at Jurisdictional Conference in 2012.  In February, 2014, a preliminary plan was presented to meetimgs of the two conferences where it was ratified.  However, a question of law was asked to assure that the proposal met criteria for mergers and reorganization according to church law, both in the Discipline and in JCDs.
Previous reorganizations tended to give bishops the right of vote on legislative matters, meaning they would have control over both adminsitrative and legislative matters.  Plans have also tended to diminish or eliminate groups in the conference related to history, social concerns, race, and women’s issues.  No matter how many times the Judicial Council has struck down those flaws, conferences persist in making those same errors.
In this case, the bishop ruled that everything was in order, but that he could not go further than that in his ruling until the details, nominations, and budgets had all been prepared.  
After spelling out several major gaps in the plan, the Judicial Council acknowldged that more details were needed and kept jurisdiction so that it could review the final details as well.
Let me add something I saw in Louisiana when the black and white conferences merged after the elimination of the Central Conference in the United States.  It is relevant because these two conferences represent two rethnic groups, Rio Grande being primarily Hispanic and Southwest Texas being Anglo.  The merger in Louisiana did not provide for the support of black institutions like its center for elder care.  Where the black churches had made sure each was supported, the merged conference did not.   I hope the Council will look carefully into that matter with respect to this merger. 

JCD 1272

A pastor in Northern New York Ammual Conference thought that Paragraph 101 should have been acted on in 2012 as a constitutional amendment rather than being passed as simply a law.  It was added in 2012 as a means of identifying what of the Discipline is adaptable and if so, how.  The pastor wondered about limiting adaptability to only some of the Discipline where before Central Conferences had broader options for adaptation.  He wondered if the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters should have authority to change the Discipline even to adapt it for local conditions without having constitutional authority.
He put together a request for a declaratory decision about these concerns.  The conference forwarded them to the Judicial Council.  The Council could have refused jurisdiction because it was not directly related to the work of that annual confeence.  However, upon consideration, the Council decided that even though it was not specific to the life and ministry of Northern New York, it raised a constitutional question seeking clarity of a law that impacts all annual conferences.
Perhaps the Council anticipates the time when the United States will be in a position to seek adaptaton through the Standing Committee on Central Conferences or its successor.  Otherwise, they could have just stopped at clarification of constitutionality as sufficient grounds to take jurisdiction.
The Council affirmed the right of the General Conference to put into law the principles established in the constitution, spelling out in this case, just how adaptation may be done, what may not be adapted (mainly the constitution, faith statements, and the Social Principles), a relatively small part of the Discipline, and who may do it.  They ruled Paragraph 101 was constitutional.  Just as Paragraph 20 of the consitution identifies the right of trial and appeal, it takes Paragraphs 2701-2719 to spell out that right and the processes that properly fulfill Paragraph 20’s intentions.
Paragraph 101, please note, directs the standing committee to return the General Conference of 2016 with recommendations about which parts of the main body of the Discipline may also not be adapted.  That too will be based on whether adaptations fulfill the related constitutional articles or not.  
Look for a lot of requests for clarification in the future!  Each continental segment of Central Conferences may need to have its own Judicial Council in order to take the load off the current Council when that begins to happen.

JCD 1273

I find JCD 1273 very unsettling.  In writing the commentary on JCD 1244 which is cited by the Council as a a factor in taking jurisdiction, I reminded the Council that JCD 799 dealt with two trials and said that the substance of those trials was not to be raised with the bishop.  I said that the procedures should be subject to review by the bishop under Paragraph 415.3 and by the Council which deals with issues of law (procedures) and not new substance.  
In this case, a pastor was asked by his church to move.  There was no formal complaint involved, hence no substance.  The Cabinet attempted to fulfill that request but the pastor asked for an appointment closer to his family, which the Cabinet honored.  But it took no other action until an appointment was found at the end of the year.  No action was requested by the pastor nor taken by the Cabinet to establish his status during that Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, 2013.  In rulings since JCD 492, the Council has laid financial responsibility on the conference to cover such gaps in appointment.  
When the Board of Ordained Ministry reported at the 2014 annual conference that the pastor had been retroactively put on transitional leave, without him ever seeking it (it is a voluntary status) nor by a fair process action in which he had the right to a hearing and appeals, even though the clergy session erroneously supported the status, the bishop was asked if the Cabinet had followed proper procedures to make an appointment for the pastor and who was financially responsible for the time between leaving the one and getting into the new appointment.
The bishop’s response was that the transitional leave is an appointment, which the Council firmly rebuffed.  No form of leave is an appointment.
 The Council misconstrued JCD 799, ensconced (inappropriately in my view) in its Rules of Practice and Procedure (Appendix A), and ruled that the bishop should have identified the questions of law as moot and hypothetical.
The decision identifies several criteria which should have been met for the bishop to answer the questions of law.  One, the proper procedure for bringing a question of law (in writing, germain to a specific action of the conference, etc.) was met.  Two, the bishop may not be asked a question on the substance of the matter.  In this case, there was no “substance” because there were no complaints.  The question intended to challenge the procedures.  Three, the superisory actions of the superintendents were not to be raised.  But at issue was not anything to do with supervisory functions but appointive functions.  The Cabinet was unable to find a suitable appointment for many months, having voluntarily accepted the pastor’s request for a church close to his family.
The bishop should have answered the questions of law because they were not moot and hypothetical but procedural.  When the bishop did answer, he not only incorrectly identified a leave as an appointment but said the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry agreed with him on the transitional leave, an improper procedure that was not initiated by the pastor nor were fair process hearings held to establish his status during that period without appointment.  That carelessness was due to the bishop’s incorrect  belief that a leave could be considered an appointment.
The Indiana Conference, based on the information in the decision, should have been ruled to be responsible for paying the pastor for the five months he was out of an appointment.  The Council has unintentionally endorsed an erring bishop and punished a pastor for the mistakes of the Cabinet.
There are two mitigating factors that I have to admit.  
One, the full story may not have been reflected in this decision’s telling of the facts of the case.  There may be other facts that have not been included for some reason.  If there were, and they were important in reaching the decision, the Council erred in not including them.  
Two, the questions of law could have been more precise.  Rather than asking, “Was the pastor properly appointed?”, the question should probably have been, “Were the proper procedures followed with respect to the change of appointment beginning in August and concluding at the end of December, 2013, were the proper procedures followed to establish the pastor’s status as “transitional” leave, and should the conference have taken responsibility for the pastoral support during that period the pastor was without appointment?”  It is easy for me to offer this suggestion after the fact and was much harder for the one raising them!
If the Council felt it had to handle this case in haste, it stopped paying attention when the word “appointed” was used and would have missed the implications of a procedural breakdown that was being questioned.  The key word in the question of law was the adverb, “properly.”  It is my opinion that the Council missed it.  But advocates have to look for better ways to write their questions than to count on adverbs.
The Council has developed a better record in dealing with personnel cases in recent years.  But it missed this one.  Hopefully, the Council will continue on the trajectory of improved sensitivity to procedural issues in personnel cases.
One final note: The decision refers to working such procedural issues “through the appropriate manner and bodies set forth in the Discipline.”  To my knowledge, those procedures are fair process procedures involving written complaints against the superintendents and bishop, support by the bishop to go into either administrative or judicial processes, appropriate hearings and appeal, and perhaps finally going to the Judicial Council.  The fatal flaw in those procedures is that the bishop who presided over the making of those errors gets to make the decision whether or not to go forward with the complaint against fellow Cabinet members.  Such complaints never see the light of day (see Paragraph 424.3).  If the complaint is against the bishop, the College of Bishops assigns the presider at any preliminary hearing of the complaint against the bishop which invariably means that unless the complaint is about sexual misconduct, the complaint is dismissed.  There is too much self-interest involved in these procedures.
Worse, bringing complaints may show an error was made but at most it punishes the “bad” guy but changes nothing for the harmed pastor.
The other option, face to face discussions about the issues of pastoral support during the interim period and discussing the status of the pastor for that time, was not a part of the statement of facts.  Besides, the pastor would have faced a bishop who thought a leave was an appointment and the conversation would have ended there.
The constitution provides for a means of overcoming procedural problems when carelessness, intent to harm, or other negative factors are involved.  That is the use of questions of law, Paragraphs 51 and 56.3.  JCD 799 has often been used to block this option either by bishops or by the Council itself, as it did in this case.

JCD 1274

Two pastors of the North Alabama Annual Conference questioned the right of the Commission on General Conference to limit the number of delegates from thre United States as it had.  I’m sure they were seeing their own influence being diminished by having fewer delegates than in the past.
The Council pointed out that three parameters are all that bind the Commission on the General Conference on calculating the numbers of delegates for each annual conference: one relates to the total numbers of pastors and church members in each conference, making sure the numbers of delegates are proportional to those numbers, and that the total of delegates for General Conference has to come out between 600 and 1,000.  These were set by the General Conference itself.  Beyond that, the Judicial Council had no authority to modify what the commission decided.
I figure the politicians of the southern U. S. jurisdictions will come up with some way to enhance their numbers of delegates for future General Conferences.  They are much better at working General Conference than the northern and western jurisdiction delegates.

JCD 1275

Evidence is clear that a bishop misused funds sent by Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference a few years ago.  The Council has had this matter before them in JCD 1238 and JCM 1241.  At the time, the bishop was facing charges before the Central Conference College of Bishops and was having his salary cut by GCFA because of serious irregulariities in the bookkeeping.  It was pretty clear that the bishop preferred the African cultural approach rather than the more strict rules of the UMC most in Africa follow.  A retired missionary decribed it this way:
“There are others who follow African cultural standards which, in my experience, are 1) people with power are expected to take care of their own—first their extended family, then their tribe, then the rest of the populace, and 2) use the resources you have today for today’s needs and trust God or the ancestors to provide for tomorrow.”
Even though there was no evidence that there had even been a hearing with the bishop within the Central Conference, the bishop had assured the Council that there had been a hearing and that they had exonerated him.
The Council said in JCD 1238 church law was not sufficient to cover the fund handling, asked the bishop to pay one of the mission gifts that was clearly designated, and considered the complaint process against the bishop ongoing. 
Reconsideration was requested in JCM 1241 and the Council denied it.  However, in a concurring opinion, all parties were reminded that the Council retained jurisdiction.
The matter before the Council in this case is whether proper procedures had been followed in handling the complaint of the Western Pennsylvanbia complaint against the African bishop.
The Council’s response is that the text if Paragraph 413 is too vague and contradictory to provide guidance for the African Central Conference College of Bishops to follow and that the General Conference needs to address this inadequacy in church law.  The Council identified the only group that can dismisss a complaint, that being a Committee on Investigation.  However, they noted that since no complaint had been referred to either the judicial track nor to the adminsitartive track to further process the complaint, it was “effectively dismissed.”
Not considered by the Council in this matter is a JCD 331, which provides “basic rules” by which the application and interpretation of the Discipline can be aided.  In this case, the first of the three could have been used: “Acts in relation to the same subject or object should be construed together.”
In this case, that would mean that where Paragraph 413 was not clear, it could be compared with the appropriate sections of administrative fair processes (mainly Paragraphs 362-363) and judicial fair processes (mainly Paragraphs 2701-2719)..
The advocate for Western Pennsylvania Conference began that comparison.  I am not ready to do that for this writing so there is no sure conclusion that I can offer that the result would differ in all points from what the Council has said.  But those who made the request for a ruling obviously felt such a comparison could have led to a more definitive evaluation of what has or has not happened in the handling of the complaints in this case.
Update:  The Council ruled in JCD 1281 its jurisdiction was ended on this case.

JCM 1276



Normally appeals are judicial events, appeals of the actions taken by a judicial body to the next level.  They are spelled out in Paragraphs 2715-2718.  The Council has also laid out appeal tracks in a number of previous decisions.  They again lay them out in this decision in the form of noting failure to appeal in the proper way at the proper time.  

Briefly, the case is about a conference moving to involuntarily retire a pastor and his fight to avoid that, but not having his objections always given any response where he raised them where he thought they should be raised.

On the principle that the point of final appeal in an administrative hearing was the launching place for an appeal to the Judicial Council, the pastor and his advocate appealed the ruling of the Administrative Review Committee rather than raise a request for a declaratory decision or question of law at annual conference. 

As stated in other commentaries about administrative handling of pastors, JCDs 799 and 1048 have been used to block.appeals of administrative cases from annual conferences.  Further, I have argued that the clergy session is not really an objective appeals body since the Board of Ordaiined Ministry which has already acted on the case may vote in the clergy session,  The Board’s chairperson may preside in some conferences and would have a conflict of interest since his agency already made a judgment in the case.  Similarly, the bishop, who may chair the clergy session in other conferences also has a vested interest in seeing that decisions about the pastor are upheld, decisions on complaints which the bishop initiated against the pastor in some cases and, in all cases, directed into administrative action based on the bishop’s determination that there was cause.

The issue is this: how does a pastor facing administrative mishandling appeal it?

In this case, the advocate and pastor tested an alternative, appealing from the decision of the Administrative Review Committee (ARC).  The Council ruled that was not listed in the Discipline as a proper place from which to do it and refused jurisdiction.

The Council seems to be going against its terrible ruling in JCD 1048 to say in this decision that a request for a declaratory decision under Paragraph 2610 was the proper appeal route for an administrative case.  

And the Council has broken away from JCD 799 in other significant cases, namely JCDs 1031, 1156, 1189, and 1244 and has allowed some appeals through questions of law under Paragraphs 51, et al.

While the Council is not allowing appeal from the ARC, General Conference could consider it.

I have encountered innumerable times where conference officers act soon after annual conference to remove pastors administratiuvely so that they do not need to face the clergy session until long after the fact.  It would be sensible in that circumstance for appeal from the ARC to the Council for the sake of timeliness.  There being no other appellate body such as to an annual conference judiciary or even to the jurisdictional appellate committee, the pastor is out of ministry for as much as eleven months before an appeal can be raised.  The simplest solution would be an appeal from the ARC’s decision.

If the Council clears away the use of  JCD 799 to allow questions of law on procedural matters, as they have in the JCDs cited above, then there would be less need for appeals from administreative bodies like the ARC.  The only appellate issue would be to be able to appeal administrative actions taken soon after annual conference.  

In any case, I recommend that the Council revise Appendix A which is based in large part on JCD 799 for this very purpose.  I am willing to work on such a revision based mostly on the Council’s own rulings.