One week ago, the Wesleyan Covenant Association Global Legislative Assembly met in Montgomery, Alabama. About 230 delegates representing WCA chapters in the U.S. met in person, while an additional 25 delegates from the U.S. and other parts of the world met with us virtually. This hybrid in-person/virtual meeting worked well and could prove to be a model that the General Conference could follow in the event that international travel proves problematic next year.
The delegates heard reports about troubling actions by bishops who appeared to be targeting traditionalist pastors in several annual conferences. Perspective has covered these situations previously. They occurred in the North Georgia, Greater New Jersey, and California-Pacific Annual Conferences.
In all three conferences, strongly traditionalist pastors (four out of five of them Korean) were reassigned or told they would be reassigned to different churches or positions. In some instances, the reassignment was explicitly because the pastors were informing their congregations about the possibility of aligning with the proposed new Global Methodist Church after the General Conference passes the Protocol for Separation.
The WCA delegates responded with a strong resolution condemning such misuse of the appointment process and calling for bishops to refrain from ramping up conflict by making ill-advised moves during this liminal time. The full text of the resolution may be read below.
While not questioning a bishop’s authority to move pastors from one church to another, we do deplore the use of the appointment process to either punish pastors or to enable bishops to intimidate local churches into remaining in The United Methodist Church should the Protocol pass General Conference. If pastors are doing something wrong, bishops should use the complaint process, which gives pastors an opportunity to defend themselves and submit to the judgment of their peers. For a bishop to move such a pastor is a unilateral use of power by the bishop that allows no protection or rights of fair process to the pastor. Furthermore, it is an implicit violation of our UM Church Constitution, which stipulates, “The General Conference shall not do away with the privileges of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of an appeal” (¶ 20). Punitive pastoral appointments are an end run around the right to trial and appeal.
The church is in a particularly sensitive time right now. The Protocol has been widely endorsed as the best way to end the irreconcilable conflict within the church. However, pandemic-caused delays to General Conference have postponed resolution of the conflict and created a “stuck” situation for the church. The uncertainty around holding General Conference and whether the Protocol will pass have raised anxiety among all factions of the church. Many bishops are no longer seen by church members and clergy as treating all perspectives fairly, but rather as promoting their own personal agenda for their annual conference and the church as a whole.
In light of that heightened anxiety, uncertainty, and lack of trust, we continue to believe that what best serves the church is to maintain continuity of leadership and direction in local churches while we await General Conference. For bishops and annual conference leaders to attempt to seize an advantage for their particular agenda during this waiting time would be unfair and manipulative. It would be perceived by some like an attack just before a truce goes into effect in order to gain an advantageous negotiating position.
What the church needs now is a de-escalation of conflict, as we seek to work together across the theological spectrum to amicably resolve our dispute. The alternative is a return to fighting and the potential of costly property litigation.
All other mainline denominations have divided contentiously, spending tens of millions of dollars in legal fees and lawsuits and harming the mission and reputation of the church. We have the potential of being the one mainline denomination that found a way to amicably separate and resolve our controversy without such costly and harmful contention. Let’s not blow it!
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RESOLUTION RESPONDING TO RECENT EVENTS
DURING THE 2021 APPOINTMENT SEASON
WHEREAS, U. S. clergy in The United Methodist Church are appointed to serve in a charge annually with their appointments being fixed when their respective annual conferences meet in May and June of each year;
WHEREAS, ¶426 of the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church provides, “Consultation is the process whereby the bishop and/or district superintendent confer with the pastor and committee on pastor-parish relations…. Consultation is not merely notification…. Consultation is both a continuing process and more intense involvement during the period of a change in appointment”;
WHEREAS, ¶ 426.1 provides, “The process of consultation shall be mandatory in every annual conference”;
WHEREAS, the announcement of the proposed Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace through Separation created an atmosphere where all parts of the UM Church could live into a season of reduced conflict and tension while they amicably prepare for the next chapter in Methodism as the UM Church restructures creating one or more new expressions of Methodism;
WHEREAS, during the 2021 appointment process, Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson without consultation recently informed Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in the North Georgia Annual Conference and its senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jody Ray, of her intention to not appoint him to serve at Mt. Bethel, but rather to appoint him to a newly created and still evolving position on the conference staff. Neither Dr. Ray nor the church requested a change in leadership, and both the church and Dr. Ray requested reconsideration of it;
WHEREAS, during the 2021 appointment process, Bishop John Schol without consultation recently informed Bethany Korean United Methodist Church in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and its senior pastor, Rev. James Lee, of his intention to not appoint him to serve Bethany Korean, but to serve another much smaller congregation, in spite of the objection of the church and Pastor Lee. Neither Rev. Lee nor the church requested a change in leadership, and both the church and Rev. Lee requested reconsideration of it;
WHEREAS, during the 2021 appointment process, Bishop Grant Hagiya without consultation has informed three Korean pastors in the California-Pacific Annual Conference that he will not appoint them to continue to serve their current churches without designating their new appointment, in spite of the objections of these pastors and their churches to such action; and
WHEREAS, such actions by these and other bishops are provocative and disruptive, and are targeted at pastors and churches who are theologically conservative and who have expressed their desire to align with the Global Methodist Church once the Protocol is adopted and the Global Methodist Church is legally formed;
WHEREAS, a pattern appears to be developing of specifically targeting Korean pastors and churches as a way of intimidating ethnic pastors and churches; and
WHEREAS, these actions do not comply with the Book of Discipline and are out of step with the spirit of the Protocol;
NOW, THEREFORE, the Global Legislative Assembly of the Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting on April 30, 2021
1. Condemns the actions of these bishops and calls upon them to reconsider each of these decisions, to reappoint these pastors to their current churches during the 2021 appointment season, and to engage in dialogue with such pastors and churches about their future ministry;
2. Calls on the Council of Bishops and each of the active bishops, during this season of awaiting the decisions of the General Conference on the Protocol legislation, to respect the expressions of each pastor and church concerning their desire to continue in ministry with each other in each appointment season and to refrain from changing appointments in churches where the pastor and churches are theologically aligned and wish to continue their appointed relationship;
3. Urges bishops, district superintendents, and pastors to allow and promote the full and complete sharing of information about a potential future restructuring of the UM Church due to our deep divisions as proposed in the Protocol without penalizing those who share such information; and
4. Urges the bishops, churches, clergy, and laity of the UM Church during this season of uncertainty and tension to maintain a spirit of peace and goodwill toward those of differing theological and ethical perspectives.