Wednesday, November 27, 2013

UMC trials: 8 things bishops control

Hand-carved UMC bishop's crozier
1. The resident bishop selects the counsel for the church. (BOD ¶2704.2.a) A counsel for the church needs only to be a clergyperson in full connection and does not need to be a male clergyperson with anti-inclusive conservative viewpoints. (BOD ¶2713.4) Some bishops argue that no one else will take the assignment. I find this hard to believe. When a bishop has invited me to her or his office, looked me in the eye and asked me to do something for the sake of the good of the church, I have never said no. I am not unusual. If mainstream clergy are turning down a bishop's request, I would question how serious the bishop is about asking. Because the bishop selects the counsel for the church, the bishop should be held accountable for any bigoted or offensive statements the counsel makes during the trial or to the public while filling this role.

2. The resident bishop picks the presiding officer. (BOD ¶2713.2)  The presiding officer must be a bishop but does not need to be a white, male, retired bishop from one of the more conservative jurisdictions of the denomination. He or she does not even need to be a retired bishop and could be a younger bishop more attuned to a younger demographic. The presiding officer makes a lot of crucial decisions about who will be and will not be allowed to testify and what topics can be discussed during the trial. The presiding bishop determines the questions to ask to remove people from the jury. Because the resident bishop selects the presiding officer, he or she should be held responsible for the decisions the presiding officer makes.    

 3. The resident bishop selects the district superintendents who select the jury pool. (BOD ¶2713.3.a) The bishop can ask the cabinet to select people who are mainstream and thoughtful. Clergy who are rigid or fundamentalist do not need to be included in the pool.

4. Even before the trial, at the conclusion of the supervisory response, the resident bishop determines, with the consent of the cabinet, whether or not to dismiss the complaint. (BOD ¶363.1.e) At the very least, any complaint based on a personal grudge or vendetta should be dismissed. The same expectations the United Methodist Church has of civil authority should apply, at a minimum, to church authority: "We reject all misuse of these mechanisms, including their use for the purpose of revenge or for persecution or intimidating those whose race, appearance, lifestyle, economic condition, or beliefs differs from those in authority." (BOD ¶164.H) In fact, the Book of Discipline does not specify the reasons needed for the bishop to dismiss the complaint. [BOD ¶363.1.e(1)] The only requirement is that the bishop have the consent of the cabinet and give the reasons for her or his decision in writing. The complainant having no personal involvement in the activity being complained about or not personally being harmed by it may be adequate reason to dismiss a complaint. 

5. Even before the trial, the resident bishop has the option of including "persons with qualifications and experience in assessment, intervention, or healing" in the supervisory response process in order to avoid a trial. (BOD ¶363.1.b) The bishop has the unilateral authority to choose who these persons will be. Nothing in the Book of Discipline prevents the bishop from informing a complainant that her or his requirements to reach a just resolution are unreasonable. If a complainant refuses to sign "a written statement of resolution"(BOD ¶363.1.c), nothing prevents the bishop from dismissing the complaint with the consent of the cabinet. (BOD ¶363.1.e)

6. Even before a complaint is filed, the resident bishop can shape the continuing education of clergy in the conference. (BOD ¶414 3,5) The bishop can promote education and learning about restorative rather than retributive justice as advocated in the Book of Disciple. (BOD ¶164.H) According to ¶164.H, "Through God's transforming power, restorative justice seeks to repair the damage, right the wrong, and bring healing to all involved, including the victim, the offender, the families, and the community." The bishop can make sure that her or his conference is educated about the principles of restorative justice long before a complaint is filed or a trial is held.

7. Bishops can help advocate for and work for changes in the Book of Discipline so that pastors are not tried for being in full ministry with LGBTQ persons. In fact, this would seem to be part of the mandate given bishops by the Book of Discipline to "interpret the faith evangelically and prophetically"  (BOD ¶414.3) and to lead through "a prophetic commitment to the transformation of the Church and the world. (BOD ¶403.1.d)

8. Finally, bishops can stop saying there is nothing bishops can do.


  1. God bless you Rev. Snyder! Thank you for your prophetic witness.

  2. Amen. About 25 years ago, a UM pastor of my acquaintance (and yours) was moved out of his church after one (1) year of ministry because one (1) parishioner voiced a complaint to his DS. (It seemed he wore clerical collars more often than the parishioner would have liked.) At that time, I remarked that we now lived in a world where a UM pastor had to figure out how to minister in an environment where a single disgruntled parishioner can, in effect, discharge a pastor from his or her appointment at will.

    Now we have learned that UM pastors have to minister in an environment where a single disgruntled parishioner can cause a UM pastor to lose his or her orders. One wonders how any rational person can think this is a good way to run a denomination. One wonders how much loyalty one can ask of a UM clergyperson when so little loyalty is given in return.

    What is this scary thing that bishops are afraid will happen to them if they take a controversial stand? What is the worst thing that can happen to a bishop? And when was the last time anyone ever actually sanctioned a UM bishop for making a controversial or unpopular decision? About anything?

  3. Thank you for this article. Time for our leaders to stand up to the prejudice and spiritual bullying.

  4. Finally, someone, you Dean, who can let us know what the Bishops can do, not hedging and supporting that they have no power. Thanks so much.

  5. Clever. Creative. Bitting at times. Hopefully read.