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, September 23, 2018

Commentary of JCDs 1358 to 1360


I have repeated my standard introduction with every previous commentary so I will not add it here.  If you are new to this blog, scroll down a bit and you will find that full statement presented with the commentaries on the Fall, 2017 decisions. (go to November 24, 2017). You may find it helpful even if you have visited here before.

Just a couple reminders:  One, the word “Council” is used to refer to the Judicial Council.  Two, there was to be no spring session of the Judicial Council this year (2108) because its docket was so small.  However, the Council of Bishops (hereinafter referred to as “the Bishops”) raised a question that had to be answered in a timely way (JCD 1360 below).  While the Council was at it, they took care of the other business they had deferred to this coming Fall session.

JCM 1358


The Council's Anger Toward a Bishop is not Withdrawn

JCM 1358 dealt with JCM 1346.  That in turn overruled a bishop who had made improper decisions during a jurisdictional conference session (JCM.1338).  The bishop was asked to send a brief supporting his decisions but he never did.  His actions could not be meaningfully overturned by the Council so even if the bishop chose to justify his decisions, there was no way to undo them.  JCM 1346 was as angry as I‘ve seen the Council be toward a bishop for failing to respond.

In effect, with this memorandum, the Council stood by its excoriation of the bishop.

JCM 1359


Note: For some odd reason, there are two postings on JCM 1359 which are identical if separately posted.   

Should Dockets Include Why Reconsideration Is Being Requested?

JCM 1359 dealt with JCM 1347.  In that earlier memorandum, the questioners tried to challenge the anti-homosexual paragraphs of the Discipline as violations of the Restrictive Rules against changing the doctrine of the denomination.  The Council said it had no jurisdiction because the question was theological and could not be shown to relate to any action taken by the Denmark Annual Conference.

The Council has long had rules for reconsideration which set high but not unreasonable bars.  In the past, requests for reconsideration were all swept away in what appeared to be out-of-hand ways.  They were automatic on the Disciplinary basis that the Council had the last word (Paragraph 2609.11, 2016 Discipline). 

But then on one occasion, the Council reconsidered and sustained a decision based on an argument by a particular bishop (JCD 530 in re: JCD 524).  On some others, they reconsidered decisions when the Council of Bishops made the request (JCDs 612 and 910).  On one other, they chose to reconsider several decisions on their own (JCD 704).  

Unfortunately, the practice of the Council not to include requests for reconsideration in their dockets leaves us bereft of the chance to see what arguments are put forward to challenge the Council’s rulings on things like lack of jurisdiction.  

JCD 1360


May Petitions to General Conference Be limited?

I don’t recall who first told this sermon illustration.  It goes like this.  The round up was almost done.  The cowhands had brought in every head of cattle but the prize bull.  The two hands who had been sent out to get him came back saying the bull was too strong for them.  They could get a rope on him but their horses couldn’t bring him in.  So the foreman turned to the oldest hand to see if he could do it.  

The old guy tethered a burro to his horse and went out to try his luck.  He returned about an hour later with no burro, no tether rope, and no bull, to the teasing and jeers of the other cowhands.

The next morning, much to everyone’s astonishment, there was the bull in the pen with the rest of the herd munching hay next to the burro to which he had been tethered.  

“How’d you do that?” the hands asked the old guy.

“When I found the bull, I just tied him and the burro together.  The bull went wherever he wanted but when he didn’t know where else to go, the burro headed for the barn.  The bull didn’t have anything better to do.  So here they are.”

This story can be used to describe how God operates in evangelism, missions, or almost any other church endeavor.

My application will be different.  By the time I’m done with this commentary, you’ll have to decide whether it is a conspiracy theory or an old-timer telling it like it is.

The 2016 General Conference was riven as have been every one since 1972 with rumors of splitting the denomination if it did not sustain the anti-gay laws in the Book of Discipline.

In typical bifurcated Anglo-Saxon politics, there really are only two politically oriented parties in our denomination, the “Bishop Wannabes’ and the rest of us.  While that does not necessarily describe United Methodists from outside the United States, the influence of the culture of the British Empire, as manifest through the American “way of being” in which our denomination developed, provides the milieu in which this struggle over homosexuality is occurring.

And like in American politics, our two parties are made up of several special interest groups which are more or less organized, as well as the vast majority who tend to be occupied with our local concerns.  The most organized in the Bishop Wannabe party is the Council of Bishops (the Bishops).  Their foot soldiers are those who literally want to be bishops because of the power, privilege, and golden parachutes they have or because of their personal allegiance to bishops.  The next best organized are the pro-gay caucus and the anti-gay caucus.  

This is the fascinating and confusing part: each caucus has operatives among the Bishops and the Bishop Wannabes have infiltrated each caucus.  

“Where is this poli sci mishmash going?” you ask.

I think it helps us understand the dynamics behind the Bishops’ request to the Council to rule in this case.

As I observed it, because of the pressure put on 2016 General Conference by the pro-gay caucus, the anti-gay caucus doubled down on its position and the Bishops, who prefer the status quo, saw no way to directly resolve the tension.

If reasonable, intelligent people can’t resolve an argument, it usually means they are arguing about the wrong subject.  One of the ways to suss that out is to push dialogue between the conflicting parties.  Locking the two sides in a room until they can reach a peaceful agreement is one way to do that.  Another way is to make motions and vote their way through an issue using parliamentary procedures.  A third is to use third party mediation.  A fourth way is to set up formal dialogue over a restricted period of time, not as intensely focused as the locked room alternative.  A fifth way is to have arbitration with a third independent party, what the Judicial Council is most often called upon to do..

The General Conference settled on giving up on the parliamentary proceedings, and, unsurprisingly, giving the task of reconciling the conflict to the Bishops.  (If my view has any merit, there will be a clear but subtle connection between the Bishops and the makers of that motion.)

The Bishops then chose the fourth option noted above rather than the third.  That would have given control of a study group to an independent professional mediator who would have been more objective in delving into the nature of the conflict and finding where the real conflicts lay and trying to resolve them.  No, the Bishops kept control by choosing three of their number to act as the moderators of the process and eight more to stack the committee.  

My observation of the process was that they allowed some periods of serious conversation which at least broke the ice for some of the study group’s members, though probably did not really allow sufficient time and opportunity to get to the bottom of the pending rift, which I suspect to be complete control of the denomination.  If I’m right, that very elemental basis for the potential split would threaten the Bishops because they want that control!  (This is my speculation.  History will perhaps argue something else, but I doubt it.)

When the study group was asked for possible solutions, I believe the process of interpreting and culling the various options offered by the group members were carefully “crafted” to be summarized into three options (more would have been way more difficult to handle in parliamentary fashion) and one could be pushed forward by the Bishops more easily out of the three, the option that best protected the Bishops from change.  

Please understand that I am not completely cynical here.  Good things do occur occasionally when bad motives may be involved such as the Koch brothers giving to NPR and to the arts in New York City in order to project a more favorable public image.  The Bishops’ intent to hold the denomination together is a positive value given the sad history of the 1844 split over slavery and the amazing ecumenical movement of the last century which included the 1939 and 1968 reuniting of some of Methodism in America.

But as is the case with those who hold power, the temptation is to disregard the rule of law if following the rules might jeopardize their control of a situation.  So when the various “special interest groups” saw how restricted the Bishops’ recommendations were to the special-called 2019 General Conference (hereinafter the Conference), they began to press for petitions that offered a wider range of options for resolving the conflict.  The Bishops, afraid of losing control over what was to be discussed in plenary at the Conference, asked the Council to rule that the focus of the Conference be their three options (my interpretation of the request for the declaratory decision).  

The Council said that request was inconsistent with the Discipline and that any petitions relevant to the call for the special session were appropriate.  Relevance could be decided by the normal processes of the Conference. – Warning to the Conference Secretary, Petition Secretary, and the Committee on Reference: beware of the Bishops’ and Bishop Wannabe Party’s efforts to subvert this decision of the Council.

Had I sent a brief to the Council in this case, it would have been in favor of allowing the petitions.  I would have had two points in my argument.  One was what the Council chose, that the Discipline allowed the wider range of petitions.  

My other argument would have been more practical, that a relevant petition could be taken by any member of the Conference, be revised in terms of the best way to resolve some or all of the conflict, and be offered for consideration of the Conference.  That is how in 1988 an obscure petition sent in by Leonard Slutz was amended and used to set up a study commission that introduced fair process into the way pastors could be removed from office.

The result of JCD 1360 is that the position of the Bishops and the Bishop Wannba party was weakened and the 2019 Conference will be more open to resolve the conflict.  Unless there is a “failure of imagination,” that opening assured by the Council will allow the people of good will to take a step toward a positive resolution, or if nothing else, putting off a disastrous decision.

Let me warn delegates to the 2019 Conference.  The tether still ties the burro (Bishops) to the bull (2019 Conference).  Maybe the Bishops are the inadvertent hand of God in our struggle to be the best witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.  My problem with that is that as a body, the Bishops actually think they are the hand of God!  At least, pray that God is the burro and the Bishops realize they are as much a part of the bull as the rest of the 2019 Conference is.

Finally, let me add a response to the clarification of the case by Beth Capen.  She is literally correct in her analysis.  The wording of the various delegates and bishops at the 2016 Conference point in the direction of narrowing the focus of what may be presented at the 2019 Conference.  If my premise that this “dance” was actually largely choreographed by the Bishops, then one can see the motivation behind why those actual words ignored the intent of the Discipline to allow a more open petitioning.  Fortunately, the Council was not deterred from following what the law actually says.

Between her review of the situation and the review of the legislative action recorded in the decision, we have documentation of what happened, including who said and did what.  Historians, journalists, and students will be helped to make an appropriate interpretation of what actually happened.

Concluding Thoughts on the Spring 2018 Session

The two items the Council originally deferred until the Fall Session, 2018, were dealt with, matters of reconsideration for which I would like to have seen the grounds.  Most fascinating to me was the attempt to test the anti-homosexual laws against the Restrictive Rules which do not allow us to change the doctrines of our denomination.  Last fall’s questions about including Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament among the articles of church doctrine (JCM 1357) may be coincidental.  Or we may be entering an era where doctrinal matters are more carefully explored.  I noted above that when two reasonable intelligent parties cannot agree on something, they may be arguing about the wrong thing.  Maybe JCMs 1357 and 1359 are precursors to discussing at least one of the underlying problems.
JCD 1360 points to the issue of who has power and will they honor the rule of law.  As in the current political situation in the United States with the apparent abuse of Presidential power being challenged in the courts and not by the ruling political party in Congress, we may be experiencing something similar in the United Methodist Church.  It seems to me that the Council of Bishops as a body tends to stretch its authority beyond its bounds and the Bishop Wannabe party supports that, leaving the Judicial Council to be the arbiter blocking them.

In a recent article in The Methodist Review, former members of the Judicial Council speak of the erosion of the rule of law in our denomination.  They challenge recent actions of the General Conference, the Judicial Council, and the Council of Bishops to illustrate their premise.  Their viewpoint is well worth taking seriously.  Read their article at s3.amazonaws.com/Website..Properties/news-media/documents/MR_2018_02_-_Lawrence-AsKew.pdf. 

Followers of this blog are well aware that my viewpoint varies from theirs a little.  See my response at www.jerryeckert.blogspot.com

Most simply put, staying within the lines of the ever-changing Book of Discipline has been imperfect.  The very existence of the Judicial Council and its over thirteen hundred rulings shows that as a Church, we all violate the Discipline at least a little but are helped by the Council to largely succeed at obeying the rule of law as part of our social contract as United Methodists.  It has been my experience that the Council of Bishops as a whole and certain individual bishops have turned their backs on the Discipline when it suited them and the Judicial Council has spent much time and energy countering that tendency.  They did both by their decisions in JCM 1358 and JCD 1360.

While the world will be watching how the 2019 General Conference deals with the conflict between the pro- and anti-homosexual caucuses which ostensibly is supposed to take us to the brink of breaking apart, something I do not think will happen, I’ll be watching the power plays between the Council of Bishops and the Judicial Council to see if the judiciary can keep the administration faithful to the rule of law.

Next, let me expand a little on a couple sentences I used in the 1360 commentary.  Here’s what I wrote:

In typical bifurcated Anglo-Saxon politics, there really are only two politically oriented parties in our denomination, the “Bishop Wannabes’ and the rest of us.  While that does not necessarily describe United Methodists from outside the United States, the influence of the culture of the British Empire, as manifest through the American “way of being” in which our denomination developed, provides the milieu in which this struggle over homosexuality is occurring.

My phrase “typical bifurcated Anglo-Saxon” refers to the tendency those who were influenced by the culture of the British Empire tend to think in terms of “black and white,” “good and bad,” “us and them.”  That tendency leads to thinking in terms of apparent opposites (yes or no, our team versus their team, success and failure, win or lose, Republicans and Democrats, right or wrong) to the point that we have a hard time perceiving all the options in between.  

A good education and a more calm spirit opens us up to looking at the gray areas and being more measured in our consideration of all possibilities, not just the ones at the extremes.  

It must also be noted that in the larger interaction among Americans and others genealogically tied to English influence, we tend to break down into two sides on important issues.  While that insures there will always be some degree of conflict, dictatorships tend to occur when the rule of law, basically agreement between the two sides about how to function together, breaks down in favor of one side, leaving the other side no more power.  

Finally, I must point out that I have been granted free editorial expression in this blog and in the task of commentaries on the decisions of the Judicial Council.  I try to avoid flaws in the information available about the decisions.  The Associates in Advocacy under whose auspices I have had the privilege of providing these commentaries have not challenged my opinions expressed herein, though of course that is their prerogative.  My own authority is subject to checks and balances as well.

As I have argued in the years of doing these commentaries, the power of the bishops has waxed despite the efforts to maintain a balance of powers, of keeping checks and balances in place to prevent overstepping boundaries of authority.

As I pointed out in my response to Drs. Lawrence and AsKew, bishops as individuals are usually exemplary human beings, good Christian persons.  But as a group, I see them succumbing to their baser natures.  

Not all associates agree with that particular analysis, but I believe I represent them in the necessity of calling bishops and other entities in the Church, including the General Conference and Judicial Council, to accountability when they are unjust.