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November 13, 2012

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What We Learned from the Bledsoe Case

Cynthia, I fear that your idea of eliminating all but the Constitution (including the Restrictive Rules) in the Book of Discipline and starting over would create more chaos and dysfunction than we presently have. The real reason is that (being good Methodists and following Roberts' Rules of Order), historically we have set up our ministry within the framework of our constitution. Now that we are in an era where we want to see changes made, on our time schedules, based on whatever is "fad-dy" or politick, there is a sizeable body of people who think they should be able to vote in whatever they want, without regard to promises, assurances, and limitations that were made to the part of the Body of Christ in The United Methodist Church, our history be damned!
Judicial Processes are a lousy way to work out personnel problems---but we got them because setting up an independent judicial process was the only way to level the table against the unilateral power of a Bishop (or even of John Wesley himself!) The "right to trial" began in American Methodism in 1792, because that was the only way it was felt a level playing field could exist. We set up a constitution as a way to make sure one segment of the church could not unilaterally (or, when it has a voting majority) do away with other segments of the church with which they disagreed.
Both of these problems would still exist if everything in the Discipline except the Constitution, including the restrictive rules, were to be eliminated.
I find it interesting that since 1992, we have created rules regarding "Judicial Complaints" against clergy that have been, generally, fair and workable. The area of ambiguity, in complaints both against Bishops and Clergy, has been in "Administrative Complaints" based on ineffectiveness, incompetence, and unwillingness to perform the work of the ministry." That is a floating definition that leads to the kinds of questions you are raising.
What is needed right now should be a joint task force of people named by the Council of Bishops, GBHEM, GCFA Legal Department, and others who have expertise in our church legal processes, to work out, as a starting point, a set of parallel rules for negative personnel processes between ordinary clergy and those who hold an office of Superintendency. This is what helped us work out fair processes in cases of Judicial Complaints. It could be done with the area of Administrative Complaints, motions for involuntary retirement or leave of absence, or even (though this is an oxymoron even though it is in our Book of Discipline) involuntary incapacity leave. If started in 2013, this could have its work done in time for the 2016 General Conference.

Tom Griffith more than 2 years ago

Haste Makes Waste

I like your idea of redoing the Discipline, but to do it in two years is to fall into the same errors that the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops committed by hurrying their reforms to General Conference in 2012. Why can't we have a thorough, denomination-wide conversation about this?
On other points, I have a much different perspective. One major example is your sense that the Judicial Council did something wrong by emphasizing fair process. But we all want to see "trust and integrity" strengthened in the UMC. I invite you to consider that following the rules of fair process, which provide a level, predictable “playing field,” reinforces the trust and integrity we seek. Short-circuiting them with hasty process diminishes trust and integrity.
For another example, you seem to think the Judicial Council should rule on whether or not Bishop Bledsoe is an effective bishop. How would they know? They are steeped in legal thinking, not human-relations-department thinking. We should not allow them to say a word about anyone’s professional performance.
And on the security-of-appointment decision, I think you are flat-out wrong to say the Judicial Council gave as much weight to "the fact that not all salient parts of the Discipline were amended" as it did to the violation of the constitution and the restrictive rules. In previous cases, the JC has had no trouble suspending or striking contradictory provisions of the Discipline, and if the elimination of security were constitutional, they would have ruled so as to make it enforceable. Furthermore, in the digest of that decision, there is no mention of the failure to amend other paragraphs--only the inevitable conclusion that the legislation was unconstitutional.
With a little more time and conversation, the Council of Bishops could have and should have discovered that the proposed legislation was unconstitutional, and could have and should have led us to real reform. With a little more time and care, the South Central Jurisdiction could have forced Bishop Bledsoe to retire—or even better, could have spoken truth to power and helped him become a better servant of God.
Haste makes waste.

Tim Riss more than 2 years ago

The "defect" is elsewhere.

Security of appointment (for elders who are continued annually) is a "defect" if we consider "appointment" to be a salary package provided by an established church rather than a charge to reach the world in a particular area. Combine this interversion with the intrinsic conflict of interest between clergy seeking popularity with each other and the laity, the bureaucratic need for residual revenue, and our foundation in open itinerancy and accountability, and the problem undermining effectiveness becomes evident. As I told someone recently, ineffective pastors don't need the Discipline to protect them, they have their friends on the cabinet. Its the effective pastors that need protection - from class bias, from gender and race bias, from nepotism and cronyism.

We can eliminate security of appointment, but if these other problems of integrity persist, they will all become more dangerous.

On an historic note, the Discipline could use a cover to cover review and simplification, but we should also note an important case of "contextualization" as a response to conflict- the creation of the MEC, South (together with the various "autonomous" churches created in Latin America and Asia and race based central conferences of the same era).

This doesn't rule out the idea. I personally like the idea of a single, simplified "Doctrines and Discipline" but for non-global issues, each Jurisdiction adopting policy manuals that have to be ratified at General Conference.

John Feagins more than 2 years ago

Bledsoe Decision

Whaat we have revealed here is an unwillingness to deal responsibly with a process that allowes just decision to be made. We have allowed the culture with plea bargining to influence the Church to seek a quick solution to a perceived problem by ignoring the process. In essence what we do is take care of the institution and disregard the person. Too many people have been ill treated by the Church because we wanted a quick fix instead of acting with integritiy the administration of our polity. What has been labeled Section XV. Complaints should be renamed Accountability and the negative attitude about complaints might change to a genuine desire for accountability. God knows the UMC is having real difficulty administrating it's government and polity with integrity. Many lay people have left the UMC because General Conference says one thing and our leadership does another thing.

John Grenfell, Jr more than 2 years ago

What We Have Learned...

I find it interesting that people are throwing up their hands and claiming there is no accountability. Paragraph 413.2 says, any complaint "concerning the effectiveness, competence..." shall be submitted to the College of Bishops in that jurisdiction....A complaint is a written statement claiming misconduct, unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties, or one or more offense listed in paragraph 2702. What part of that provision doesn't apply in the SCJ? It would not have been appropriate for the Judicial Council to delve into the effectiveness question and then settle the case by saying "the ends justify the means." The Judicial Council looked at the process and said, "SCJ, you didn't follow the process in the BOD. You can't create a process of your own. File the complaint and use the process." I find it interesting that five Texas annual conferences who block voted the election of the bishop in 2008 don't seem to want to take responsibility now. A conference should never offer a candidate for the episcopacy unless they are able to say that we would be willing to take him/her as our bishop. To do less does a disservice to the church.

Paul Black more than 2 years ago

Analysis of the Bishop Bledsoe Decision

Very good analysis, Cynthia. It also seemed to me that this decision formally said, "it is impossible to reform the UMC under the current Discipline." I particularly appreciate the way you note this strips the laity of any power to deal with Episcopal ineffectiveness. Thank you for taking the time to articulate this so well.

Christy Thomas more than 2 years ago

What we've learned . . .

I would add another consequence - related to the "lack of trust and integrity" you've already cited: The Judicial Council decision leaves no discernible way for a Bishop to be held accountable for their own performance, and therefore greatly undermines their credibility in calling for greater accountability for clergy. How can anyone even consider giving authority for a Bishop to decide who is and who is not "worthy" of appointment if there is no way to hold them accountable for the effects of their decisions? It's time to set an Episcopal "term" of 8 years with the possibility re-election, not the guarantee of re-appointment.

Todd more than 2 years ago

Notable Quote

The priority of our conference has to be to proclaim the joy, the mercy and the love of Jesus Christ at all times and in all places and to all people,” [Roman Catholic] Auxiliary Bishop Christopher Coyne said [of the Vatican's recent conference on human sexuality]. "When you have that as your communications starting point, it changes the tenor of what we say and how we are perceived

– Religion News Service Nov. 12 Roundup