|An Episcopal Response to the Judicial Council Opinion No. 2016-37|
An Episcopal Response to the Judicial Council Opinion
By Bishop Dennis V. Proctor
At the outset, let me present three observations. The first, is that this response in no way impugns or attacks the character or intellect of the members of the Judicial Council. They are intelligent and committed Zionites and Christians!
The second, is that I was a member of the committee chaired by the late P.E. James Crumlin,Esq., charged with investigating other Judicial Councils, and presenting an initial framework for the legislation that ultimately passed at the General Conference. Although the council was established, its procedures, and purposes were never revisited to align this newly created entity into our church’s polity or sacerdotal(sacred) hierarchy. There were persons who wanted to create a tripartite (three prong) structure with equal jurisdiction of Executive, Legislative and Judicial function. That succeeds in a democracy, but our church is a theocracy. The order and objectives of the organism are established and handed down by God to those appointed to such work. The Bible and Discipline are the foundation for the organism and the organization.
The third observation is that I never would have responded to this action were it not causing confusion in certain sectors of the church. This response is to offer clarity and provide a glimpse into this case, and hopefully a corrective for succeeding ones.
The decision of the Judicial Council, related to actions taken in the Western New York Conference, expose a fundamental flaw in its procedure and function. The charge and complaint raised by a member of a church in the Conference never should have risen to the bar of the Council. Simple inquiry, investigation and due diligence would have allowed this to end where it began, in a local context.
The Council began its opinion stating, “The facts of the case..” Herein lies the first step on the slippery slope of supposition! The Judicial Council never received the facts of the case! They never requested the minutes of the Annual Conference, the minutes from the subsequent Check Up Meeting, the full report of the Triers of Appeal and the charge that they received, or requested a statement from the initial respondent or Bishop of the Conference. They simply accepted the statement of the petitioner as fact, without the necessary due diligence of fact checking! Their deliberations were devoid of context which caused them to answer questions that were not germane to the resolution of the conflict. They answered the questions asked of them, but those were the wrong questions to be asked. In preaching, as in life, “A text without a context, is a pretext!” In this instance, context was crucial!
The actions of the Bishop, were an expression of a Conference desirous to bring an end to a personal vendetta. That vendetta sought to disturb and disrupt the work and flow of the Annual Conference. The charges levied were in fact what is called in legal proceedings a malicious prosecution. There was nothing to be gained at the end of the contest, except the satisfaction of winning! The issue should have and could have been resolved between the parties involved in the Pastor’s office! A signed petition from members of the petitioner’s current congregation, several of whom are officers on the local, district and Annual Conference level, expressed their frustration and humiliation with the disruptive, and disrespectful discourse embodied in the conflict. A demand was placed on the Bishop for a resolution. The Conference was adamantly opposed to further actions that attempted to high jack the peaceable, productive and spiritual flow of its assembly. Does anyone really win if the Church loses?
The petitioner lacked standing to inquire into the proceeding of another local congregation and its finances, since she moved her membership from that body. The actions of the Pastor (Rev. Michael Tydus) who had successfully led the congregation to amass $200,000.00 in savings was to be commended! Those funds were, and have remained, in the complete control of that congregation. That same church(Walls Memorial), recently used $60,000.00 of that fund to replace the roof on its building. It is doubtful that there are five churches in our Connection with that amount of liquid cash in their treasury!
The petitioner was not a whistle blower in the classic sense of exposing wrongdoing. Her observation was of no consequence! A simple question and answer would have provided the Council with the reasons that the action was taken. Not one person in that Quarterly Conference raised an issue with the reporting process. They understood the unspoken reason! They understood the spirit of the law behind the letter of the law! Safeguarding those funds was a paramount concern for the current and future stability of that Church. There was no theft, mismanagement or fraud involved. Likewise, there was no reprisal taken against the petitioner for raising a question.
The remedies applied at the check up meeting did not seek to defrock a deaconess of consecration, but would render either party in the dispute inactive, pending the result of the Triers of Appeal report. This was the remedy presented and a adopted, by the Conference, to address an immediate and debilitating reality, impacting the ministry of the Western New York Conference. A Bishop has the responsibility to, “ maintain and set forward, as much as he or she can, quietness, love and peace among all people, and to those who shall be unquiet(disruptive), disobedient, and criminal, correct and punish according to such authority as they have in God’s word, and shall be committed to them.”
There is much more that could be said, but allow me to conclude this cliff note version of my response by saying that the form of government of the A.M.E.Zion Church is episcopal not congregational. Nothing can be done to eradicate that. As a consecrated Bishop of the A.M.E.Zion Church I took the fore mentioned vow seriously. That vow compels me to protect, preserve, defend and strengthen the work assigned to my hands.
The Board of Bishops received and reviewed the concerns raised in this response. They have upheld the correctness of our action. It was necessary to receive their admonition, correction or affirmation on the polity of our church, as they are the voice of the General Conference in this interim period. The Bishop and the North Eastern Episcopal District shall continue to, “Focus on Our Purpose,” and move beyond distractions inconsistent with the Kingdom agenda.
My solemn prayer is, “Lord, guide my feet while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain!”
Dennis V. Proctor, the 97th Bishop in line of succession of the A.M.E.Zion Church
Note: At present, the Judicial Council is an non confirmed body. It failed to receive the confirmation or installation of the 50th General Conference because of irregularities in the vetting, selection and election of its members. Perhaps, now is the time to correct inherent deficiencies of due process, equal protection and original jurisdiction not clarified in the protocol and procedure of the Council’s structure. It is also of some significance that in the absence of a line item in the Connectional budget, the Judicial Council requested and was granted appropriation from the Board of Bishops to conduct investigations to determine whether a claim has sufficient cause to merit judicial interaction. I heartily concur!
Bishop Dennis V. Proctor