A “Good News Magazine” update concerning Bishop Talbert

(Although dated 2014-03-04, this draft was finally published on 2014-03-13.)

I am not in the habit of reading “Good News Magazine” for a variety of reasons. It is interesting to note that UMCom can legally purchase advertising in this publication (screen grab from today):

Screen Capture: 2014-03-04

Screen Capture: 2014-03-04

Anyway, recently “link rot” brought me to their website. One of their “updates” interested me as it concerned an update on any supervisory response concerning Bishop Talbert. I have previously described some of my own concerns regarding this process in light of the statement from the Council of Bishops. I didn’t expect “Good News” to share many of my concerns. Regardless, I’m still surprised by the last two paragraphs of their update:

It is Good News’ understanding that a supervisory process has been initiated with Bishop Talbert, with Bishop Elaine Stanovsky superintending that process on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops. The college has requested that the supervisory process be confidential. It is Good News’ understanding that, in order for a supervisory process to begin, a complaint or complaints must be filed. Therefore, we conclude that complaint(s) covering the two chargeable offenses have been filed by Bishops Wenner and Wallace-Padgett.

Good News believes that, for the good of the church, this process must go forward with maximum transparency. At the very least, the fact that complaint(s) have been filed and any eventual resolution of such complaint(s) should be announced to the church. The public nature of the offenses, announced in advance and well covered by the media, requires a similarly public response from the church (see I Timothy 5:19-20). Such transparency is needed to help church members have confidence that the bishops have kept their promise to uphold the Discipline and hold each other accountable. Good News is following this situation closely and will keep readers informed as to its outcome.

“Good News” is free to believe many things. However, the Discipline is absolutely clear on the nature of the supervisory response under these circumstances (¶ 413.3b):

The supervisory response is pastoral and administrative and shall be directed toward a just resolution. It is not a part of any judicial process. The supervisory response should be carried out in a confidential manner and should be completed within 120 days. …

I just can’t reconcile calls for “maximum transparency” during an alleged supervisory response with the Discipline‘s clear statement that any supervisory response “should be carried out in a confidential manner.” (Presumably the Discipline uses should instead of shall because complaints against bishops would rarely be completely secret.)

The linked post seems to be saying that the initiation of a supervisory response should be announced to the Church, along with the fact that a complaint or complaints have been filed. Such a call would seem to be contrary to the Discipline.

Perhaps I’m being uncharitable; maybe “Good News” is looking forward to a just resolution. If the terms of a just resolution allow for public disclosure, I’m sure that any such just resolution will be celebrated by “Good News.” Perhaps that is what “Good News” is saying in the linked post.

Anyway, I only commented because the “Good News” update seemed unclear on some of the relevant disciplinary provisions. I thus felt that a timely comment was warranted.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s up to the Council of Bishops to officially comment on Bishops Wandabula and Talbert. Until then, commentary from those of us in the “Peanut Gallery” is superfluous.

A Tale of Two Bishops (Conclusion)

(This is the concluding post of a series which begins here.)

African Christianity has both gifts and challenges for first world Christians. I see the gifts as (1) a sense of the presence of God in all things, (2) an experience of the Spirit of God for power to meet the challenges of life, (3) a strong emphasis on the community, and (4) an eagerness to celebrate in music and dance the glory of God. The challenges for Westerners, on the other hand, are to stand up for Africa, the overlooked continent, and to make policies that will enable this troubled continent to overcome poverty, AIDS, illiteracy, corruption, and civil wars. The suffering of African peoples has been immense since the late twentieth century. Only with determined, long-range effort will Africans be able to solve their problems and will Westerners be able to learn from African spirituality.

Bradley P. Holt, Thirsty for God, page 193

One of the dangers of complexity is that people will give up trying to understand how things work. If such abdication of responsibility takes place, we then turn it over to a small group of “experts” who may be able to manipulate the organization for their own ends. Such a result is a tragic denial of the priesthood of all believers.

Jack M. Tuell, The Organization of The United Methodist Church (Revised 1985 Edition), Introduction

Some might accuse me of not speaking in the spirit of love. To borrow from an American’s response to two different Methodist bishops: I would prefer to work toward a positive peace which is the presence of justice rather than a negative peace which is the absence of tension. Such a negative peace may come cheaply today yet becomes exorbitant thereafter.

The Council of Bishops constitutes the leadership of The United Methodist Church. By my count, there are 53 men and 13 women currently among the voting membership of the Council of Bishops. As Judicial Council Decision 1210 (May 2012) reminded the 2012 General Conference, the Council of Bishops is constitutionally obligated to “plan for the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations, and responsibilities prescribed and enjoined by the General Conference…” In other words, their job is to apply the rules equally to everyone and for everyone.

The Council’s silence concerning active Bishop Wandabula’s conduct and the Council’s statement concerning retired Bishop Talbert’s conduct tell a different story. Three possible tales:

  • It’s OK for a bishop in The United Methodist Church to violate the rules as long as this is done on their own turf.
  • When religious leaders face awkward questions about their own conduct, change the subject with a “Call To Action” against someone else.
  • A first-century rabbi had some related comments.

Prior to the 2008 General Conference, there were discussions about where the church should focus its efforts. Out of these discussions came four areas of focus. (I’ve always thought this was a weird conclusion. Not one area to focus on, but four? Additionally, the “four areas of focus” say nothing about how much should be spent on each area. Anyway, welcome to The United Methodist Church.)

The first listed area of focus was, “Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.” Developing principled leadership takes time. Meanwhile, we can only wonder if a majority of “principled Christian leaders” will attend the next Council of Bishops meeting.

A Tale of Two Bishops (Part 8)

Barring a just resolution prior to a trial in either case — and realistically, is this possible in either case? — in an ideal world, if there is reasonable evidence for the allegations, Bishop Wandabula and Bishop Talbert should both go on trial.

I’m sure there are other ways that Bishop Talbert would prefer to spend his time. However, I don’t need to introduce Bishop Talbert to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They shared a jail cell in Atlanta for three days and nights. I certainly don’t speak for Bishop Talbert, yet I can’t help but wonder if Dr. King’s reasons for going to Birmingham were some of the reasons that Bishop Talbert did as well. There are the reasons that Dr. King gave in a well-known response to eight clergymen, two of whom are (retroactively) bishops in The United Methodist Church. To quote from this open letter:

… I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home town, and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country. …

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: There are just laws and there are unjust laws. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”

Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.  To use the words of Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, segregation substitutes an “I-it” relationship for the “I-thou” relationship, and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. So segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, but it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Isn’t segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, an expression of his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? So I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.

Let us turn to a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a majority inflicts on a minority that is not binding on itself. This is difference made legal. On the other hand a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal.

Let me give another explanation. An unjust law is a code inflicted upon a minority which that minority had no part in enacting or creating because they did not have the unhampered right to vote. Who can say the legislature of Alabama which set up the segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout the state of Alabama all types of conniving methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters and there are some counties without a single Negro registered to vote despite the fact that the Negro constitutes a majority of the population. Can any law set up in such a state be considered democratically structured?

These are just a few examples of unjust and just law. There are some instances where a law is just on its face but unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

I hope you can see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law as the rabid segregationist would do. This would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do it  openly, lovingly … and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. …

I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a perfect analogy. For example, professing membership and ordination in The United Methodist Church is voluntary. That is one important distinction. Despite this and other possible distinctions, it is certainly arguable that Bishop Talbert has broken a law that he considers unjust and has done so “openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

Bishop Wandabula presents a different picture. Bishop Wandabula provided the Judicial Council with “a thick binder of documents” that neglected to include an alleged dismissal of a complaint.

One of the allegations against Bishop Wandabula includes not allowing African members of annual conference to vote for General Conference delegates. Maybe voting rights are a “Western concept”, but I think this is a serious allegation that the Council of Bishops could address rather quickly.

The Judicial Council politely told the Council of Bishops to help resolve the complaint against Bishop Wandabula. Under normal circumstances I would give the Council of Bishops the benefit of the doubt here and assume there is work “behind the scenes.” We are no longer under “normal” circumstances. The “Statement of November 15, 2013” has told us as much.

The “Statement of November 15, 2013” has proclaimed, “When there are violations of the Book of Discipline, a response is required.” Where is the statement from the Council of Bishops concerning Bishop Wandabula’s alleged violations?

There are of course cultural differences here. (One difference noted previously: “College of African Bishops only has funding to meet once a year.”) Bishop Coyner has already fumbled this badly by “suggesting” Bishop Wandabula resign. This would be unacceptable in the United States. It’s also unacceptable across the Atlantic.

I’d like to be “optimistic” that this situation can be resolved through the judicial process for both bishops. I have my doubts. Recently, traditionalists have been better at playing church politics. To them, it might be OK for a bishop to “mismanage” $750,000 as long as he has lots of “vital congregations” and can reliably deliver votes at General Conference.

There is one cynical lesson from Decision 1238 that the people of The United Methodist Church are better off confronting now rather than putting off until May: if a College of Bishops sits on a complaint, no one outside the Jurisdictional/Central Conference can do anything about it.

My next post concludes this series with some general thoughts about how the current situation might look to the world outside the Church. “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (¶ 120).” In other words, that world.

 

A Tale of Two Bishops (Part 7)

On November 15, 2013, the Council of Bishops released a statement that begins with these words:

On October 26, 2013, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert conducted a ceremony celebrating the marriage of a same-gender couple in Center Point, Alabama.

STATEMENT NOVEMBER 15 2013

In the United States, bishops of The United Methodist Church remain bishops unless they resign from the office or are removed from the office by a trial court. Although they are in the retired relationship, retired bishops are still bishops in The United Methodist Church (¶¶ 408, 409).

Under ¶ 20, clergy have the right to “trial by a committee and of an appeal”. Unlike Bishop Wandabula, perhaps Bishop Talbert has already been tried by a committee, the Council of Bishops.

Here is the relevant list of chargeable offenses from the 2012 Discipline, footnotes omitted:

2702. 1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶ 370), local pastor, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶ 2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (g) child abuse; (h) sexual abuse; (i) sexual misconduct or (j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or (k) racial or gender discrimination.

Two comments:

First, the “including but not limited to” language was added by the 2004 General Conference. It might leave one with the impression that only sexual offenses not constituting (h) abuse or (i) misconduct can be charged under immorality, but immorality has been used for specifications involving theft. For example, see Decision 846 (October 1998).

Second, ¶ 2702.1b begins by saying, “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.” One might think there are many practices that The United Methodist Church has declared “incompatible with Christian teachings.” One would be wrong. There is only one practice within the legislative body of the Discipline that The United Methodist Church has declared “incompatible with Christian teaching.” This practice is “the practice of homosexuality” (see ¶ 304.3). Anyone who insists that all alleged “affronts to the Church” are incompatible with Christian teaching needs to explain why The United Methodist Church only provides this legal designation to one type of conduct.

The Discipline also says, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” (¶ 341.6). In the words of the Discipline, Bishop Talbert has allegedly “conducted a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union.” If proven by clear and convincing evidence before a properly constituted trial court, this conduct constitutes a chargeable offense under the current Discipline.

For some reason I find it difficult to describe the alleged violation as “conducting a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union.” Perhaps some of this difficulty stems from the fact that the Discipline does not refer to the ecclesial act of marriage as “conducting a ceremony celebrating a heterosexual union.”  Regardless of these personal details, “conducting a ceremony celebrating a homosexual union” is the language of the Discipline, and those sworn to uphold the Discipline should use the language specified in the Discipline. If those sworn to uphold the Discipline find its language awkward, I cannot help them.

Returning to the Statement of November 15, 2013, this paragraph is the entirety of the response to the alleged violation by Bishop Talbert:

We respectfully request that Bishop Wenner, President of the Council of Bishops, and Bishop Wallace-Padgett, Resident Bishop of the North Alabama Conference, address the action of Bishop Talbert and file a complaint under the provisions of Paragraph 413 for undermining the ministry of a colleague (Paragraph 2702.1f) and conducting a ceremony to celebrate the marriage of a same gender couple (Paragraph 2702.1b) within the bounds of the North Alabama Conference.

The above paragraph is “asking” Bishop Wenner and Bishop Wallace-Padgett – voting members of the Council of Bishops – to each file a complaint. Each is to file the complaint with another bishop, the President of the Western Jurisdictional Conference College of Bishops. In its entirety, that is all this paragraph is saying.

It’s strange that the Council of Bishops didn’t name the President of the Western Jurisdictional Conference College of Bishops. (I don’t know who it is.)

It’s also strange that the Council of Bishops has potentially undermined the supervisory response process. Is either Bishop Wenner or Bishop Wallace-Padgett free to seek a just resolution? Similarly, is either Bishop Wenner or Bishop Wallace-Padgett now required to ensure that there is a referral of a Judicial Complaint?

To me, the Statement of November 15, 2013, says many contradictory things. One sentence stands out: “When there are violations of the Book of Discipline, a response is required.” In my next post, I discuss the response required for both bishops.

A Tale of Two Bishops (Part 6)

Continuing from my previous post:

Last year (April 7, 2013), I found the original petition to the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference that was replaced with a substitute motion which led to Decision 1238. From my browser history, this is the Google search that found it, in a PDF. As of today, the Google search returns the same document.

E8CE3C11F3A047BCBC36FEB5E359D567_DailyJournal501 is the PDF that I downloaded last year. The original petition is on pages 518-521.

Here I’m only going to consider lines 6-12 from page 520:

WHEREAS, It has been reported by District Superintendents and pastors in Uganda that Bishop Wandabula has not held yearly annual conferences, has not ordained any pastors, did not hold elections for delegates to the General Conferences but instead selected those persons he wanted to attend, and has threatened them with removal from their positions and pastorates, and withholding of their salaries if they disagree with him, or question him on matters of financial accountability,

The above contains the following allegations:

  1. Not holding yearly annual conferences.
  2. Not holding elections for delegates to the General Conferences.
  3. Not allowing General Conference delegates to vote their conscience.

Central Conferences are not free to take actions in violation of the Church Constitution (¶ 543.7). The above allegations, if true, would violate the Constitution. If the allegations are false, it should be simple to disprove them.

[Added 2014-01-22: The Discipline requires that Annual Conference Journals be archived (¶ 606.2). If I were near the General Commission on Archives and History, I would research this myself. Anyone acting professionally could do this, as the Discipline supports (¶¶ 4, 722).]

First, not holding yearly annual conferences.

Decision 825 (April 1998) held, “There is no authority for an Annual Conference to meet less often than annually.” If in fact Bishop Wandabula has held yearly annual conferences, the Annual Conference Journals should confirm this fact. (These same Journals would also indicate all of the pastors ordained by Bishop Wandabula.)

Second, not holding fair and open elections to General Conference.

¶ 13.2: “[General Conference] Delegates shall be elected in a fair and open process by the annual conferences.” This constitutional language has been in effect since January 18, 2006 (Amendment I). The Annual Conference Journals should confirm the fair and open elections over which Bishop Wandabula has in fact presided.

Third, not allowing General Conference delegates to vote their conscience.

The Judicial Council held in Decision 592 (April 1988) that an Annual Conference may not require that delegates to General Conference report their votes. The Judicial Council held in Decision 842 (October 1998) that an Annual Conference cannot require a payment from nominees. Decision 1083 (October 2007) held that an Annual Conference cannot require a survey from prospective delegates. By similar reasoning, it seems that a bishop cannot require loyalty from delegates. (The fair and open elections would dispel much of these concerns.)

According to this story, bishops in the Africa Central Conference are normally re-elected after four years of service. Apparently Bishop Wandabula had an extra two years of service before his re-election to life tenure. According to this story, Bishop Michael J. Coyner, President of the General Council of Finance and Administration (GCFA), has “suggested” that Bishop Wandabula resign the office of bishop and surrender his clergy credentials. (This blog post from last September suggests why the U. S. is oblivious to this turn of events.)

Personally, I am troubled by Bishop Coyner’s “suggestion” that Bishop Wandabula resign. Under the Church Constitution, clergy still have the right to “trial by a committee and of an appeal” (¶ 20). A more disciplined response might have been to indicate that the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops process the outstanding complaints against Bishop Wandabula. The GCFA had previously indicated that it would file a formal complaint.

As also mentioned in the previous post, the penultimate sentence of Decision 1238’s analysis and rationale reads, “The Africa Central Conference College of Bishops and the Council of Bishops have responsibility for the proper handling of the complaint to its conclusion.” Of the Press Releases since April 20 that mention the Council of Bishops, not one mentions Bishop Wandabula.

The public indifference of the Council of Bishops to Decision 1238 is breathtaking.

The Council of Bishops has issued a public statement concerning the accountability of another bishop. I turn to this bishop in the next post.

A Tale of Two Bishops (Part 5)

(This is Part 5 in a series. The first in this series is here.)

Now we turn our attention to Bishop Danial Wandabula. Specifically, we turn our attention to Judicial Council Decision 1238 (April 2013).

Decision 1238 consisted of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference requesting a declaratory decision concerning three questions. A contemporary account of this decision called the result a “split decision” because Bishop Wandabula “won” on the first question and “lost” on the second question. I’m not interested in the first two questions. I’m only interested in the third question: “Was the complaint filed by one member of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference (Nancy Denardo) properly dealt with in accordance with ¶ 413 of the 2008 Book of Discipline?”

From the Decision’s Statement of Facts:

In July 2011, Nancy Denardo filed a complaint against Bishop Wandabula. In March 2012, she filed a further complaint against Bishop Wandabula and was joined in that complaint by a clergy member of the East Africa Annual Conference. The Bishop has asserted that he has been notified that the complaint was dismissed. The complainant has said that she participated in no agreement about any resolution and has received no notification of any resolution.

In my previous post, I established that someone who files a complaint against a bishop should have heard something by the end of 130 days. So let’s assume that Nancy Denardo filed her complaint on July 31, 2011. From this chart, we can see that July 31, 2011 is day 212 of 2011. 212 + 130 = 342. Day 342 of 2011 is December 8, 2011. As of June 2012, she hadn’t heard anything? Something is not right here.

Here is the “Analysis and Rationale” from Decision 1238 regarding question three in its entirety:

In its third question, the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference asks whether the complaint filed against Bishop Wandabula was handled properly in accordance with the Discipline in ¶ 413. The question is, at this point, hypothetical because there is no conclusive evidence in the record that the complaint process has concluded. During the Oral Hearing in October 2012, Bishop Wandabula stated that the complaint had been dismissed, and he promised to provide documentation to support this assertion after the close of the hearing. However, the Judicial Council has received no such documentation from him or from any other source, and none was provided during the Oral Hearing in April 2013. Hence, the only indication that exists in the record about the outcome of the complaint process is the Bishop’s unsubstantiated claim. The Judicial Council, therefore, understands that the complaint process is continuing. The Council cannot intervene in the midst of an ongoing administrative or judicial process but can only do so in response to an appeal that is properly filed after any such processes are concluded. The complainant is certainly entitled to be included in active consultation with regard to the handling of the complaint, and the accused is certainly entitled to fair process. The Africa Central Conference College of Bishops and the Council of Bishops have responsibility for the proper handling of the complaint to its conclusion. Beyond that, the Judicial Council has no legal authority to intrude into the case.

I will make three related observations concerning the above:

  1. The Judicial Council has said that “The complainant is certainly entitled to be included in active consultation with regard to the handling of the complaint, …” The Judicial Council has politely noted that not talking to the complainant for over a year is not acceptable.
  2. In my opinion, the Judicial Council has been incredibly polite in concluding that “the complaint process is continuing” rather than draw any explicit inferences concerning the veracity of Bishop Wandabula’s claim that the complaint was dismissed.
  3. The Judicial Council has explicitly stated that the Council of Bishops has “responsibility for the proper handling of the complaint to its conclusion.”

The Judicial Council didn’t address what was in the complaint, probably because the contents were not properly before them. But here’s the thing: if we look at the 2012 Journal of the Western PA Conference, Daily Proceedings Chapter 6, p. 214, this is what we see (click to enlarge):

2012 Western PA Journal, Daily Proceedings - Page 214

2012 Western PA Journal, Daily Proceedings – Page 214

The original petition regarding the “African Central Conference College of Bishops” was not approved by the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. The original petition is easy to find, and it’s easy to see why it wasn’t approved.

In my next post, I’m going to examine the most serious allegations. I do this for two reasons: (1) these allegations, if true, would be violations of the Church Constitution; and (2) these allegations, if false, should be simple to corroborate as false.

A Tale of Two Bishops (Part 4)

This is my last post providing background for this series. The next post will begin one of the stories.

A look at ¶ 413

We need to look at ¶ 413 because it plays a role in the stories of both bishops. ¶ 413 is titled Complaints Against Bishops. I’ve put the entire text of ¶ 413 from the 2008 Discipline at the end of this postnoting the text that was declared unconstitutional by the Judicial Council and the cross-references changed in the 2012 Discipline.

One more necessary point about bishops: According to the Church Constitution, “The bishops of each jurisdictional and central conference shall constitute a College of Bishops, …” (¶ 48). For example, all bishops in the Western Jurisdictional Conference constitute the College of Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction. Similarly, all bishops in the Africa Central Conference constitute the Africa Central Conference College of Bishops.

Rather than go through ¶ 413 line by line, I’ll just go through a hypothetical scenario applying it. Let’s imagine that we are submitting a written complaint concerning a bishop, and the alleged offense or offenses are specified in ¶ 2702. (I’ll look at ¶ 2702 in detail in a later post.) The bishop under complaint is not the president or secretary of the College of Bishops.

Here are the steps (and yes, I am oversimplifying a bit here):

  1. A written complaint is submitted to the president of the bishop’s College of Bishops (¶ 413.2). Within 10 days of the receipt of the written complaint, the College of Bishops consults the chair of the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy. The chair appoints two members of the committee on episcopacy (¶ 413.3).
  2. The next step is the “supervisory response”. It “should” be confidential and be completed within 120 days. The supervisory response can be extended another 120 days with the written consent of the supervising bishop (the president of the College of Bishops), the two members of the committee on episcopacy, the complainant, and the bishop under complaint (¶ 413.3b).
  3. If the supervisory response does not result in a resolution, then the complaint gets referred as a Judicial Complaint (¶¶ 413.3d, 2704.1).

From the above, it should be obvious that anyone filing a complaint should have heard something after 130 days. (Any additional extension would require their written consent.)

A couple of additional observations:

First, one basic idea behind the supervisory response is that the complainant and the bishop under complaint gather together in the hope of a just resolution that can begin healing (¶ 413.3c). The supervisory response and any resulting judicial process are not supposed to be about punishing rule breakers. Anyone insisting that the previous sentence is a bunch of “liberal nonsense” needs to understand that such “liberal nonsense” is contained within the Discipline: ¶¶ 363.1, 363.1b, 363.1c, 363.1f, 413.1, 413.3b, 413.3c, 2701 (Preamble), 2701.4c, 2701.5, 2706.5c(3), and 2708.3. In the same spirit, church trials “are to be regarded as an expedient of last resort” (¶ 2707).

Second, a College of Bishops can dismiss a complaint. See Judicial Council Decision 763 (October 1995), Questions 11 and 12.

There are two more observations concerning complaints against bishops in Central Conferences.

First, what if a Central Conference College of Bishops contains only one bishop? The Discipline makes no provision for this possibility.

Second, the Discipline does not define the composition of a Central Conference Committee on Episcopacy. A Jurisdictional Conference’s Committee on Episcopacy is defined at ¶ 524. Apparently it is up to each Central Conference to decide who will hold its bishops accountable.

With this background established, in my next post I turn to the public record concerning a bishop in the Africa Central Conference.

Appendix: Full Text of ¶ 413 (2008 Discipline)

413. Complaints Against Bishops—1. Episcopal leadership in The United Methodist Church shares with all other ordained persons in the sacred trust of their ordination. The ministry of bishops as set forth in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church also flows from the gospel as taught by Jesus the Christ and proclaimed by his apostles (¶ 402). Whenever a bishop violates this trust or is unable to fulfill appropriate responsibilities, continuation in the episcopal office shall be subject to review. This review shall have as its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation, and healing may be realized.

2. Any complaint concerning the effectiveness, competence, or one or more of the offenses listed in ¶ 2702 shall be submitted to the president of the College of Bishops in that jurisdictional or central conference. If the complaint concerns the president, it shall be submitted to the secretary of the College of Bishops. A complaint is a written statement claiming misconduct, unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties, or one or more of the offenses listed in ¶ 2702. For the purposes of this paragraph, the United Methodist bishops of the central conferences shall constitute one college of bishops. [Struck down by Judicial Council Decision 1149 (April 2010).]

3. After receiving a complaint as provided in ¶ 413.2, the president and the secretary of the College of Bishops, or the secretary and another member of the college if the complaint concerns the president (or the president and another member of the college if the complaint concerns the secretary), shall, within 10 days, consult the chair of the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy who shall appoint from the committee one professing member and one clergy member who are not from the same episcopal area; who are not from the episcopal area that the bishop under complaint was elected from or has been assigned to; and who are not of the same gender.

a) When deemed appropriate to protect the well-being of the complainant, the Church and/or bishop, the College of Bishops, in consultation with the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy, may suspend the bishop from all episcopal responsibilities for a period not to exceed sixty days. During the suspension, salary, housing and benefits will continue.

b) The supervisory response is pastoral and administrative and shall be directed toward a just resolution. It is not a part of any judicial process. The supervisory response should be carried out in a confidential manner and should be completed within 120 days. There may be an extension of 120 days if the supervising bishop and the two jurisdictional or central conference episcopacy committee members appointed to the supervisory process shall

c) The supervisory response may include a process seeking a just resolution in which the parties are assisted by a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s) in reaching an agreement satisfactory to all parties. (See ¶ 361.1[b]). [2012 Discipline: “(See ¶ 363.1b, c.)”] The appropriate persons, including the president of the College of Bishops, or the secretary if the complaint concerns the president, should enter into a written agreement outlining such process, including an agreement as to confidentiality. If resolution is achieved, a written statement of resolution, including terms and conditions, shall be signed by the parties and the parties shall agree on any matters to be disclosed to third parties. Such written statement of resolution shall be given to the person in charge of that stage of the process for further action consistent with the agreement.

d) If the supervisory response results in the resolution of the matter, the bishop in charge of the supervisory response and the two episcopacy committee members appointed to the supervisory process (¶ 413.3) shall monitor the fulfillment of the terms of the resolution. If the supervisory response does not result in resolution of the matter, the president or secretary of the College of Bishops may refer the matter as an Administrative Complaint (¶ 413.3[e]) or a Judicial Complaint (¶ 2704.1).

e) Administrative Complaint—If the complaint is based on allegations of incompetence, ineffectiveness, or unwillingness or inability to perform episcopal duties, the president and secretary of the College of Bishops (or the two members of the college who are handling the complaint) shall refer the complaint to the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy. The committee may recommend involuntary retirement (¶ 408.3), disability leave (¶ 410.4), remedial measures (¶ 363.2) [2012 Discipline: no cross-reference] , other appropriate action, or it may dismiss the complaint. When the jurisdictional or central conference committee on episcopacy deems the matter serious enough and when one or more offenses listed in ¶ 2702 are involved, the committee may refer the complaint back to the president and secretary of the College of Bishops (or the two members of the college who are handling the complaint) for referral as a judicial complaint to the jurisdictional or central conference committee on investigation. The provisions of ¶ 362.2 for fair process in administrative hearings shall apply to this administrative process.

4. Any actions of the jurisdictional or central conference committee taken on a complaint shall be reported to the next session of the jurisdictional or central conference.

5. Each jurisdiction shall develop a protocol for the caring of lay, clergy and staff determined to be affected by the processing of the complaint.