The Ease of Charges
In the United Methodist Church, a pastor can be accused of an offense (“charged”) for a variety of reasons. Some pastors are absolutely awful and accountability must be sought. However, the primary reason in recent years has to do with LGBT inclusion: most pastors are charged with officiating same-gender weddings for LGBT church members, or being gay/lesbian themselves.
In our church system, charges of misconduct are very easy to make. Any laity or clergy in the United Methodist Church can levy charges against another clergy or laity, or question a person’s ordination status. We saw this past year that a trio of pastors in North Carolina, New Jersey, and Texas wrote a letter supporting the removal of a ministry candidate…in Pennsylvania. However, the reversal is also true: charges can be dismissed almost as easily if a Bishop’s cabinet deems it without merit…and that’s it.
It’s an incredible action that has incredibly large effects on a person’s ministry…and all it takes is a simple letter from anyone in the United Methodist Church, no matter how distant from the clergy’s ministry.
I wonder if there was a way for the complainant to feel the process better, for their own betterment so that they experience the weight of their easy action.
A cue from the President’s briefcase…
What if this process was made much more personal? Whenever a huge decision is to be made, we typically sanitize it to make it easier. So what would the reverse look like?
The popular blog BoingBoing recently entertained a relevant theoretical scenario. Instead of a soldier following around the President with a briefcase of code numbers to launch nuclear warheads to a remote location, the soldier should have the codes somewhere else:
My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.
In short, for the President to take thousands or millions of lives remotely, the President should have to personally take someone’s life in order to do it. That would be definitely make anyone stop and think if it was worth it! And then only undertake the action if they were willing to feel the weight of their action personally.
A cue from Anti-Abortion advocates…
While I’m not suggesting that I think it’s time to do anything that violent, I do think the idea of making a process more personal has both precedence and applicability to where we are in the United Methodist Church.
Over the past few decades, anti-abortion advocates have legislated an inordinate amount of steps women must go through before ending a pregnancy. In some states, people have to wait a few days, watch a video, view a sonogram, and other things to make a medical procedure more…and this is the least atrocious way I can say it…more personal.
If it’s good enough for anti-abortion advocates to add steps to personalize a process, then it’s a good enough precedence for the United Methodist Church to apply it to the process of making a complaint.
A Checklist before Charges
From the two examples above, additional steps are placed in a process to force the person to feel their decision more. Therefore, before a charge can be filed specific to LGBT-related issues (we do not want any impediments to other types of charges), I suggest the complainant must do the following:
- Complainants must read Defrocked by Frank Shaefer about his clergy trial experience, and read Adam’s Gift and read how after Jimmy Creech was defrocked his family was cleaning toilets to make ends meet.
- Complaintants must read the official transcripts of the three most recent trials of clergy (at the moment, that would be Frank Shaefer, Beth Stroud, and Amy DeLong).
- Complainants must call the Trevor Hotline and ask the people there about how many suicidal calls are from LGBT persons and how many antigay sentiments from the church have contributed to it.
- Complainants must volunteer three times at a youth homeless shelter and have conversations with shelter staff about how many homeless LGBT youth they serve and the reasons for their homelessness.
- Complainants must have a face-to-face conversation with at least one actual LGBT person about why they are relaying charges and why it is important to them.
Let’s be clear: these are not punitive actions meant to make a serpentine process even moreso. Rather, I fully believe that after a person has undertaken these types of preparation, then they are better qualified to decide whether to bring charges. Whether they choose to bring charges or not, they will be bettered by this process that seeks restoration and reconciliation, not just retribution.
This is also a thought experiment: to my knowledge, this is not a proposal before General Conference 2016.
However, it seems to me that the process of making a LGBT-related complaint robs the complainant of full understanding of what the complaint means, and its effects on individuals and the Church.
Therefore, the above proposal offers to help the complainant better understand what “do no harm” means in John Wesley’s largest denomination, and I think we would all be bettered by it.