Just as I thought the attacks on the United Methodist judicial council would end over the reinstatement of guaranteed appointments for clergy, the council has made another decision that is getting many United Methodists upset. The reinstatement of Bishop Bledsoe will probably lead to more attacks on the council. Some will undoubtedly call for some sort of retribution like weakening the council in the BOD. Perhaps someone will again throw out the idea of cutting all funds to the council as payback. A few have framed this as if the council was thwarting the will of general conference.
Personally, I find this all very heartening. From my perspective the council is trying to ensure that we are abiding by the rules we have agreed to live by. These rules are hierarchal Some take precedent over others. It is how we set up the system in 1968. It reflects our values and aspirations.
I believe it is important to have a fair process in dealing with clergy. If we are going to hold a pastor or bishop accountable, we need to clearly define what they are being held accountable for. Accountability though needs to be mutual. Bishops and cabinets should be held accountable for how they appoint. Churches need to be held accountable too.
My fear though is that we are not really interested in accountability. I think the issues of effectiveness are really a cover for expediency. As a church we have been infected by the values of the business/leadership world. In the business world, you have a clearly defined CEO/leader. The leader has the power to fire, often at will. Need to sure up the bottom line? Fire the employees, change their compensation, and scare them into submission.
Expediency is often the currency of leadership. You do what you have to to achieve the results you want. Need to look good? Blame someone else for failure, and fire them. You do what you have to. Survival of the wiliest.
Trying to eliminate the processes that protect clergy feeds into expediency. It would be a lot easier for people in positions of power to do what they feel they need to, if they did not have to worry about people. Some crave the power that expediency brings. They seem to hate the messiness of ministry. Things seem so much better on the other side of the fence where leaders have the power to do what they want.
Ineffective pastors are the bogeyman. If we want to get rid of ineffective pastors, now, we could do it. Sure it would require communication, clearly defined goals, mutual accountability, and conflict resolution, but it could be done. The trouble is that we don’t really want to delve into the messiness of ministry. Churches and people in positions of power really don’t want to confront the real issues of ineffectiveness. Removing people from appointments without trials would be more expedient and easier for those on top.
Fairness, while not exactly a biblical value, is a currency of relationships. As a connectional church, we are a series of relationships. Healthy relationships require trust, communication, boundaries, and fairness. Relationships get in the way of expediency.
As a church we have to decide ultimately, what do we value? What currency are we going to use? I applaud the judicial council for not being infected by the currency of expediency. It would be easy to buy into the values of our society and disregard the values and rules we have agreed to. I believe that we would not be better for it though. I would pick fairness and relationships over expediency any day.