In moments of tension and high conflict every opportunity for helpful discourse is crucial. It is most unfortunate that Bishop Scott Jones has missed one of these rare opportunities in the case of Rev. Cynthia Meyer.
On the last day of the Great Plains Annual Conference, Rev. Russell Brown proposed a well-crafted motion asking Bishop Jones and both the Counsel for the Church and the Counsel for Rev. Meyer to follow a provision currently in the Book of Discipline (¶2706.c3) that would move Rev. Meyer’s case away from the courtroom and back into conversation between Rev. Meyer, Bishop Jones, and potentially a third party mediator. This provision helps the Church closely follow the guidelines for handling discipline that Jesus gives us in Matthew 18. The only catch is that The Committee on Investigation can only implement ¶2706.c3 at the request of both the Counsel for the Respondent (Rev. Meyer) and the Counsel for the Church.
Please hear me clearly: Rev. Brown’s motion was not to find Rev. Meyer innocent. Indeed, ¶2706.c3 explicitly says “Such referral will not constitute a dismissal…”. In making the motion, Rev. Brown articulated clearly that he was not siding with Rev. Meyer or Bishop Jones.
Unlike some other conferences in our connection, the Great Plains is a body that is not of one mind on matters of human sexuality. One year ago we adopted a motion asking for a third way by roughly a 60-40 margin. We are civil, we are respectful, but we are divided. And yet this year Rev. Brown's motion passed by an overwhelming margin, estimated at 75-25. The will of the body was abundantly clear. This was not a progressive vs. traditionalist vote. This was a vote that was mindful of how destructive church trials can be. The pain of Jimmy Creech’s 1999 trial in the former Nebraska Conference came up repeatedly during the debate.
Thus many of us were encouraged by Bishop Jones’ statement in the days following Annual Conference that he would engage again in conversation working towards just resolution. Acting in good faith, Rev. Meyer has engaged in those conversations. Yet Bishop Jones has still missed an opportunity. Bishop Jones and Council for the Church declined the clear request of three-fourths of the Annual Conference by refusing to hit the pause button on Rev. Meyer’s trial. It is important to say this again – the request of the Annual Conference was not to dismiss the charges. This was a movement of the middle in the spirit of the statement from The Council of Bishops at General Conference that we avoid trials while upholding the Book of Discipline. There was one and only one option available to do precisely that. It was recommended by an overwhelming majority, and it was turned down. I’m confident Rev. Meyer will still work earnestly at just resolution. But working towards just resolution with a trial looming seems much more like negotiating a plea bargain than engaging in Christian conferencing.
Bishop Jones has consistently claimed that his hands are tied by the Book of Discipline, but even within our Book of Discipline we have provisions for common sense and conversation to win the day. It is unfortunate that one week before Bishop Jones' tenure in the Great Plains comes to an end, a time during which so much good was done including the very creation of this new conference, his time will be remembered primarily for a trial that didn’t need to happen.
Rev. David Livingston
St. Paul's UMC