Yesterday the governor of Washington State declared a moratorium on the Death Penalty in his state, saying:
When the majority of death penalty sentences lead to reversal, the entire system itself must be called into question…That is a system that falls short of equal justice under the law and makes it difficult for the State to justify the use of the death penalty.
Unjust systems with unjust judgments and unjust results?
That sounds an awful lot like the United Methodist Church these days.
And I wonder if we also need a moratorium on the culture of judgment and fear that we are perpetuating.
Also yesterday and also in Washington, it was announced that the two charges against two Seattle clergypersons who officiated same-gender unions had been settled. The verdict? Guilty. The punishment? A 24-hour suspension.
That was the conclusion of the Rev. David Orendorff, appointed by Greater Northwest Area Bishop Grant Hagiya as the counsel for the church in the case — roughly the equivalent of a prosecutor. Hagiya told United Methodist News Service he has accepted the church counsel’s recommendation and has received signed confirmations from the two pastors that they will abide by the penalty…“I believe this is a just resolution to this complaint,” Hagiya said.
I would assume that since the basis of the church law is the Old Testament that the 24 hour suspension would go from sundown to sundown.
But more seriously, this case is an example of how our system of accountability is flawed when it comes to unjust laws in the UMC: the Traditionalists are decrying this judgement even though it is 100% Disciplinary and a bigger penalty than it would have been if it went to trial.
- The complaint phase (including the episcopal oversight and powers) was followed to the letter.
- The annual conference had previously recommended (by a super-majority) a 24 hour suspension as the penalty, so the Bishop was putting into practice the will of the Annual Conference.
- The punitive response would likely have exceeded what a jury by one’s peers would have doled out.
I know Traditionalists yearn for the 80s/90s when clergy were just summarily dismissed by the bishops (which wasn’t legal). Even though our polity was followed to the letter, it’s not enough. But in truth, it’s not enough for the Progressives either. Like the end of the movie version of the Scopes Monkey Trial, any punitive result is an unjust judgment because the law they are being convicted by is unjust and will not stand the test of time.
…with Unjust Judgements…
The most annoying aspect of our judicial system is that the most pervasive afflicters of the Church are the clergy whose churches do not pay their apportionments, which is the first missional concern of a congregation. While that seems to be minor compared to officiating a same-gender union, when you consider the amount of money withheld each year by churches that do not pay their apportionments, and how much every boat could be lifted by that rising tide, then there’s serious damage done to the Church Universal if it cannot respond to human and spiritual needs.
So how can a judgment be demanded by clergy who violate the Covenant themselves?
Now that the complaint has been made public and we know their names, we can look at the apportionments paid by the pastors in this situation (numbers from the 2013 Annual Conference Statistical Tables). So the pastors who have been complained about have the following records:
- Rev. Cheryl A. Fear, pastor of Garden Street United Methodist Church in Bellingham, WA. Their apportionments paid in 2013 were paid in full 100%
- Rev. Gordon Hutchins, pastor ofThe Bridge, a United Methodist church in Tacoma, WA. Their apportionments paid in 2013 were paid in full 100%.
Notice the different story of the pastors who filed the complaints:
- Rev. Colleen Sheahan, pastor of Westpark Church in Yakima, WA. Their apportionments paid in 2013 were 13% (and only 29% of the district)
- Rev. David Parker, pastor Central United Protestant Church in Richland, WA. Their apportionments paid in 2013 were 52% (but 100% of the district).
Our system fails when it convicts pastors who intentionally break the no-marriage covenant (which is a victimless crime) but doesn’t even take a look at pastors who intentionally do not shepherd their churches to pay apportionments (which affects the entire connection).*
Not to mention that it is clear that the cost of the Trial would not be shouldered by the complainants because their churches don’t pay their full apportionments anyway. “Talking the talk without walking the walk,” as the phrase goes.
How is that just and who is really upholding the Covenant here?
…and unjust results
The results of this judicial system are to instill fear in clergypersons. Rev. Paul Stallsworth, the counsel for the prosecution in the trial of Frank Schaefer, says as much in his exhortations to the jury in the penalty phase of the trial:
“[Schaefer] should be openly rebuked in a manner that would deter other clergy from doing what he did,” Stallsworth, more than once, said, summarizing his interpretation of the church doctrine.
In other words, the goal of a judicial process is to put fear in the hearts of other clergy. This is the Tarkin Doctrine in church systems: “Fear will keep the local pastors in line…fear of this disciplinary process.”
Little wonder that one of the complainants in the Seattle case said that the decision was “overly gracious.” Ha! Such a statement betrays a belief on limits to what one would consider “grace” and perhaps that’s our problem: we look to trials to instill fear and trembling, and are disturbed when a disciplinary process results in grace instead of excessive judgement (although this one was both). I doubt fear and an absence of grace are the desired results from this system.
A moratorium is needed
Like the Governor of Washington determining that the system was unjust and a moratorium was needed until the system became just again, in the United Methodist Church we also need a moratorium on trials of LGBT clergy and clergy who officiate same-gender unions. As shown above, the whole system of accountability breaks down when we have unjust laws in our polity. Until those laws are removed by an act of General Conference, then a moratorium is needed on trials of this particular nature until we can truly come to a just resolution.
Stop the Trials.
* This blogger has served three churches, the first went from 23% apportionments to 73% apportionments in 3 years. The other two churches (including the current appointment) pays 100% of their apportionments every year.