Judicial Council Makes Crucial Decisions

At its recent meeting, the Judicial Council made some crucial and somewhat surprising decisions that affect how the church can hold its leaders accountable.

Restore the Committee on Investigation

The 2012 General Conference eliminated the Committee on Investigation in cases when charges are filed against clergy. This removal had the effect of leaving the decision about whether to prosecute a complaint in a trial solely up to the Counsel for the Church (appointed by the bishop). We have seen the abuse of this authority by Counsels who declined to prosecute clergy charged with performing same-sex unions. Instead, those Counsels settled the matter with little or no penalty.

In response to a request for a declaratory decision by the North Georgia Annual Conference, the Judicial Council determined that the removal of the Committee on Investigation was unfair to clergy, especially since the Committee is still mandated for bishops and laity who are charged with an offense. Restoring the Committee on Investigation should allow a group of peers to help determine whether a clergy person will go to trial under a charge, rather than leaving that decision with one person alone. Key to this decision is that laity serve on the Committee on Investigation and thus will now once again have a role in that decision.

Resolutions on Homosexuality

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Members of the United Methodist Judicial Council pose for a group photograph during their Oct. 22, 2014 meeting in Memphis, Tenn. The men, from left, are: Ruben T. Reyes, the Rev. Dennis Blackwell, the Rev. Belton Joyner, N. Oswald Tweh Sr. and the Rev. William B. Lawrence. The women, from left, are: Sandra Lutz, the Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle and Beth Capen. Not pictured is the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko. Mike DuBose, UMNS

The Detroit Annual Conference in 2014 passed a resolution that “strongly encouraged” leaders and members of the conference not to file complaints against clergy who perform same-sex weddings, use conference resources for trials in such cases, and to refrain from enforcing the ban on candidacy and ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Bishop Deborah Kiesey ruled that the resolution was null and void because it encouraged the ignoring or violating of church law or discouraged enforcement of church law. In a strong decision, the Judicial Council upheld Bishop Kiesey’s ruling.

The New England Annual Conference in 2014 passed a resolution “strongly urging” leaders and members of the conference to offer prayerful support to clergy brought to trial for performing same-sex weddings, to make the New England Annual Conference a place of refuge and welcome for clergy convicted of performing same-sex weddings, to urge the General Conference to remove all language prohibiting ordination or marriage for same-sex individuals, and to open their congregations to all couples, regardless of gender, to solemnize their marriages. Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar ruled that the resolution was solely aspirational in nature and thus allowed. The Judicial Council decision modified the bishop’s ruling to clarify that, in light of the Discipline’s prohibition of same-sex marriages, the resolution should not be taken as urging the breaking of church law.

Episcopal Accountability

Since July 2011, in a case going back at least to 2005, Bishop Daniel Wandabula of the East Africa area has been under complaint for allegedly misusing funds that were donated to the East Africa Annual Conference for specific purposes that were never carried out. In light of the fact that this case had dragged on for years without any resolution, the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) had reduced Bishop Wandabula’s salary to an amount adequate only to cover his pension and health insurance. This decision was challenged by a request from the East Africa and Burundi Annual Conferences.

In a narrow 5-4 decision, the Judicial Council ruled that the GCFA does not have the authority to unilaterally reduce an active bishop’s salary. The bishop must be brought through the fair process of addressing the complaint against him. The Judicial Council decision gently encouraged the Africa Central Conference college of bishops “to expedite the proper disposition of the matter.” In point of fact, the time deadlines prescribed in the Discipline have long been exceeded. The endless delays in this process have failed to bring accountability for the proper handling of church funds by this particular bishop.

This decision highlights once again how difficult it is to hold bishops accountable to the Book of Discipline. Proposals coming to General Conference would establish a global body to hold bishops accountable to the global standards of the Book of Discipline, rather than allowing each regional college of bishops to tailor their enforcement (or lack thereof) to the standards of their area.

Thomas A. Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergy person and vice president of Good News.

Comments

  1. I will leave The United Methodidt church, the day we in South Georgia conference start performing Gay marriages. I am certain I will not be missed, however I know God will honor my decision. Please consider this’s issue at conference.

    In Christ
    Sheridan Harrrell
    Whigham United Methodist Church
    Whigham,Ga

  2. The Committee on Investigation needs to be reinstated but have 5 members on it who are impartial and of good character ( Clergy & Laity) to study the accusations and charges of each individual case. Accountability is the main issue and is their sufficient evidence to support those claims against those charged . When Methodist begin to hold each of us to our standards, we will be able to move forward as a Church. Will we uphold The United Methodist Church through its BoD, etc. by acting loyally, honorably, and steadfastly?

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