A polity lesson

I did not know that the “just resolution” process in our Discipline did not include the people who brought the complaints.

Reading the official statements from the resolution of the Rev. Ogletree case, I don’t see any sign that the complaining pastors were a part of the process that led to the dismissal of the charges.

As I understand it, now, the church and the accused are the only two parties to the action when it gets referred to trial, so the people who brought the original complaint can be excluded from the resolution process. (Please correct me if I am wrong about this.)

I realize that in this case no one in the “winning” side will complain about that, but isn’t such a system vulnerable to all kinds of abuse?

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14 thoughts on “A polity lesson

  1. Well, the NY bishop will be convening “discussions” where he “intends that persons would listen deeply to one another in an atmosphere of Christian respect.” That should do loads, right?

    The phrase, “There was no king in the land, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes” comes to mind.

  2. I’ve wonder the same thing today, John. I’m wondering 2 things: do both parties need to agree on the resolution for it to take affect? From the press releases I’ve read, every indication seems to point to the fact that the complainants were on board with this at the 2/6 meeting. But apparently something is amiss, given the one complainant’s statement. Or, do both parties agree to turn over to the bishop to decide a resolution, but in doing do they must go along with it, like it or not? I think we need clarification on the resolution process.

    1. My understanding — and I could be wrong — is that complainants are not formally part of the process once it is referred to trial. The “church” in the person of the prosecutor takes over their role.

      I am likely getting this wrong in some ways. I am not an expert in the technicalities of it all, which is why I was surprised by it.

  3. Complainants should be (per 2701.1) and were (per the church’s statements today) included in the process. What they don’t have is a right to force a trial just because they don’t like the bishop’s (and cabinet’s concurring) just resolution. Were it different , you can see how that also could lead to “all kinds of abuse.” This resolution is best for church generally and certainly for NYAC. If we all focused on our knitting — making new disciples where we find them (understanding we have different local mission fields) without quibbling over nonessentials —
    we’d all be better off. Let’s accept that we have multiple covenants which sometimes conflict. Let’s accept that Book of Discipline isn’t perfect and can be contradictory. Let’s let pastors follow their call under local supervision (per the Book of Discipline). That’s what’s happened here.

    PS, John, you used to blog more often, and I enjoy your writing. We have to balance our time commitments. So spend your time where it is productive. But I’m one reader who has been missing your very thoughtful postings.

    1. Thanks for reading, Dave. I see more room for abuse when those in power make charges disappear. The comparison is not apt, but what keeps coming to my mind is the scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. There you had leaders who made complaints disappear because they had the power to do so. All the while they told themselves they were doing it to spare the church divisive conflicts and bad publicity. The bending or ignoring of the law almost always serves the interests of those in power. Eventually, that leads to abuses.

      1. I’ll agree the comparison is not apt, so let’s set aside the example and just address what you mean to illustrate — whether or not the bishop’s handling represents “making the charges disappear” and whether it is “an abuse of power.” Obviously there’s no disappearing. The wedding was in the paper and the complaints and referral to counsel and return to bishop and the bishop’s decision were all quite public. And rather than being buried at that point, they are recommending to have more conversation. I do pray that outcome of such future conversation is a healthier mutual understanding and then finding our way towards common ground and unity of purpose. I accept your point that the bishop’s action represents using more of his own power (albeit as called for in the BoD and I assume with cabinet support as per BoD), but no abuse. Doing this to avoid the train wreck we saw in Eastern Pennsylvania was an appropriate use of his power and, indeed, the best way to fulfill is broad responsibilities. This is a very difficult moment to lead in such a moment while it so clear to most how much faster western society is [and will continue] to change on these LGBT issues .. so much faster than the previous struggles for women’s equality and for racial equality. I too have quibble with some of what the bishop said and didn’t say. But I’ll set that aside for the change to engage in the ongoing conversation about the root issues.

        1. Here is how I read this in the end.

          In New York, even if he were convicted, he would have gotten a sanction with no actual penalty. So, if that is the case, why not save the cost of the trial?

          But I cannot imagine people applauding that if he had been brought up on any other chargeable offense.

          And I can’t imagine being an evangelical candidate for ordination in New York right now. The bishop was just at a press conference in which the Book of Discipline was called discriminatory and people who support it were compared with people who support slavery. If I were in New York preparing for Board of Ordained Ministry interviews, I don’t know what I would do.

          I don’t think it is good practice for the bishop and his hand-picked men to get together and decide a clear chargeable offense should be dispensed with in this fashion. People who like the outcome, of course, agree with it. But think of the dozens of cases in business, government, and the church when leaders ignore the law and ignore whistle-blowers who point to violations of the law. Do we applaud any of those?

  4. This looks like it went by the BoD as I read it. Para 2704 talks about how the process goes from the initial complaint. The Bishop appointed a counsel for the Church who investigated the complaint and found sufficient evidence for a chargeable offense. The Bishop then appointed a Presiding Officer of the court. If I read para 2706 5.C.3 correctly the counsel for the Church and the counsel for the respondent may agree to a mutual resolution and refer back to the Bishop who approves the agreement with appropriate confidentiality for all involved. Is that about right?
    Although they have a right to be heard and be present at the judicial process, as far as I can tell the mutual resolution does not have to take into account the opinions of the originators of the complaint although they are supposed to be informed of the disposition of the case. And since there was no judicial process there was nothing to witness. There seems to be no minimum punishment for the offense so whatever the Bishop decides, as long as all parties agree, a trial can be avoided. All parties I take to mean the Bishop, the Respondent and the Church. You might infer that since the Bishop appoints the Judge and the Prosecutor that there is room for manipulating the results.
    The net result is that in this particular conference any pastor can conduct same sex marriage ceremonies and not have to worry about a trial. Perhaps other conferences will follow suit. We might see the Methodist version of Red State/Blue State

    1. I hope at the next ordination service the bishop has the good taste not to ask the candidates if they will uphold the discipline.

      1. John
        If you mean these questions
        8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
        9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
        10. Will you preach and maintain them?
        The candidates might answer Yes, No, Sometimes. The Bishop might consider that good enough.

  5. Contumacy (abusive contempt for authority) is now being advanced as “gospel obedience.” They will say, “What covenant?” to mock those who insist we have one. The Bible has a word for it: dissimulation (“to hide under a false appearance”), or to dissemble (“to simulate” for the purpose of deceiving). Have we not had our fill?

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