Can we get a Moratorium on #UMC Trials too?

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.


Unjust systems…

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.

  1. The complaint phase (including the episcopal oversight and powers) was followed to the letter.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

Notice the different story of the pastors who filed the complaints:

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.

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  1. says

    If we are supposed to take fear out of the equation in clergy accountability, shouldn’t we stop judging pastors by how much of the apportionments their churches paid?

    Ultimately, accountability involves consequences and consequences are meant to deter. I don’t see why this is something inherently malicious, a la the Empire.

    The comparison to the Washington moratorium doesn’t make sense, because that is a moratorium on a particular penalty, not of the judicial process itself. Asking an entire arm of the church to stop functioning is not a reasonable way forward, it is an attempt at a de facto change in church policy when the de jure aspects are not looking up.

    • says

      Drew, there’s no judgment of pastors who don’t pay their apportionments. There’s judgment of pastors who don’t pay their apportionments and then file charges against others for not being good Methodists. I think Jesus said something about specks and logs…right?

      You misunderstand my position with your fancy Latin words. My position is not that disciplinary procedures cease in the whole judicial arm. My position is that a moratorium on this subject be issued. It’s about this particular subject, not the whole procedure of accountability (which I’ve consistently supported).

      Carpe diem.

      • Ryan says

        I am a bit confused about much of this article. I don’t have great answers necessarily but I do have some questions just about the content.

        1) The BOD and UMC Judiciary have been fairly consistent in their position that presiding at a same sex blessing is against the BOD and a clergy can or will have consequences for this (obviously far ranging from defrocking to 24 hour suspension)

        2) Churches are responsible for the payment of apportionments not clergy. Now, clergy obviously play a huge role, and I don’t have a BOD right in front of me this morning, but if memory serves the pastor has a role in encouraging and doing everything they can to support the payment of apportionments, but they are not held personally responsible in the sense that it is a violation of the BOD with consequences judicially.

        3) In my conference there is judgment of pastors whose churches don’t pay their apportionments, And notice my change in phrase: “pastors whose churches don’t pay.’ They have to attend a meeting in our conference (or at least used to) that was really a meeting that talked about ways for clergy to encourage payment, and also it did shame the pastors a bit. The other thing is that if a pastor has a church that consistently doesn’t pay out under their leadership they are often moved after years of this. That is the reality of how it works in our conference. So there are consequences, but not judicial ones.

        You seem to have really compared not apples and oranges, but something more like apples, and carrots.

        There is another underlying matter which is of course of greater import. The BOD and traditionalists, as you call them, are in agreement on the basics. They believe that homosexual acts are a sin and that the church shouldn’t be trying to bless sin. Now, you are somewhat free to disagree with that position (although you have less room than a lay person as a clergy person) . The GC has constantly and consistently and overwhelmingly agreed that homosexuality is not part of Christian teaching. So what would be the grounds for a moratorium? It seems you want a moratorium because you and a vocal US minority disagree with the church. There doesn’t seem to be any other real reason for your position?
        This is also totally different with a moratorium on one particular punishment, the death penalty. You seem to be advocating something more akin to a moratorium on murder trails themselves. That makes no sense.
        Just to be honest, I think that on the underlying matters, you and I agree on ending the death penalty and we disagree on matters of human sexuality and also how clergy are held accountable for violation of the BOD.

  2. says

    So it’s okay to put fear into the hearts of pastors to follow the rules on apportionments, but not on other things? Seems inconsistent.

    I do understand your position. But the comparison to Washington doesn’t make sense. They didn’t stop trying murderers, they put a moratorium on the death penalty. A moratorium on defrocking would be a more sensible suggestion based on the example you gave, but not the trials themselves.

    I think Bishop Jones was on to something when he recently said, “I want to do everything I can to avoid trials. But that is primarily in the hands of the clergy who should remember and abide by their sacred promises to live by the discipline of our church.” The onus should be on the clergy who are intentionally violating the covenant and thus putting pressure on the system, not the system itself. My hope is that what is happening with Ogletree means we are finding ways at just resolution short of costly trials.

    I believe you and I could do this ad infinitum. :)

  3. Zzyzx says

    The death penalty comparison seems especially apt considering that one of the big arguments used by those who support death penalty is that it will make other potential-murderers too afraid to murder. Clearly this fear works since no one gets murdered in the USA! Oh… wait…

    But my point is a deeper philosophical one: Our entire way of dealing with someone who has done something “wrong” is based on fear and punishment. This is fed by and feeds a particular theological and a particular political point-of-view. And, ultimately, a particular social point-of-view. The problem is larger than the UMC, and even larger than the universal Church. But it is perhaps something that the universal Church could have the boldness to confront. If we weren’t so stuck in our own fears…

  4. says

    This was an excellent article. The comment about “too gracious” struck a nerve with me. Who said that mercy and compassion were desired over condemnation and judgement ? The American Methodist church leadership is really looking like a bunch of Pharisees with their robes, sashes, gold rings and velvet collars. In my humble Methodist opinion, there should be NO trials within ANY church. Grace doesn’t need a specially appointed prosecutor. So children, what would Jesus do with the woman at the well? He would reserve a courtroom at the local synagogue, convene a panel of her peers, appoint a special prosecutor and dole out appropriate punishment according to the Book of Leviticus; er excuse me, The Book of Discipline.


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