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.