Feb 052014
 

Last year, I was forced to file a complaint with the Bishop [Masters v Toms-Complaint to Bishop (redacted)] about hateful and dishonest actions by Bruce Toms, the newly appointed Pastor at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church. At the time, I was told by several Methodist Ministers to not have high expectations; that the Bishop’s first reaction would be to protect the institution; and his second would be to protect the elder. That came true, with a letter from the Bishop making some intellectual contortions that defy belief.

In the end, the Bishop concedes the statement of welcome adopted by the Church in 2011 was not a violation of the Discipline; that a Pastor cannot unilaterally undo the “legal” actions of a Church Council; but still, somehow, managed to find an excuse to side with Toms. Below, is my response to the intellectual gymnastics.

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Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Florida Episcopal Area, United Methodist Church

Dear Bishop Carter:

I know you are aware that I am not at all satisfied with the response you have provided. It’s less about your findings, and more about the logic on which you seem to have based the determination. Much of the reasoning stated in your letter would call into question the integrity of the recollections of me and the other lay members involved in the 2011 process, and that’s just not acceptable to me. I know these people to be of the highest moral character, and I know Bill Josey’s recollection of many events to be substantially different than that of everyone else involved. So that’s just not going to go unanswered.

Therefore, I intend to respond to your letter of findings in some detail. You can disregard it if you wish, obviously, but it is important to me and the others involved to respond.

“The question of justice and grace in relation to gay and lesbian Christians is a matter of great importance. It can be approached missionally, pastorally, judicially and legally. Our Book of Discipline affirms the sacred worth of every person (161f) and our commitment to be in ministry “for and with all persons (161f). These affirmations are placed in the context of the Social Principles, which, “while not to be considered church law”, are nevertheless “a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit” (Preface).”

We all know that 161f is part of the Social Principles and therefore not church law. However, Bruce Toms used it in his now “classified” and secret PowerPoint presentation to make his point that the former (as you call it) statement was in violation of the Discipline. So, since he did nothing wrong, the other sections of 161f would carry the same weight he seemed to give, would they not? In other words, use of the Social Principles was a door opened, not by me, but by Toms.

But then you wouldn’t have that piece of evidence in front of you because:

  1. You didn’t bother to ask for it (I suspect because you knew it would establish the level of dishonesty with which Toms approached this issue with the Church Council, making it more difficult for you to excuse his actions.)
  2. I couldn’t provide it, because despite its being presented in an open meeting (and therefore, should be part of the proceedings of the meeting) Toms acted mightily to withhold it…now why would it matter, if he had only done right, and had nothing to hide?

 “How each particular congregation in the United Methodist Church frames its mission to the community, and exercises a prophetic ministry is a matter influenced by theology, history, context and gifts. At the same time, this has been and is for many congregations a developmental process. As a pastor, Rev. Bruce Toms has not violated the Book of Discipline in the exercise of his ministry in general and in relation to the matters outlined in this supervisory complaint. I sense that the pastor has spent significant time with laity who prefer the former statement and also with laity who find the present statement acceptable and inclusive.”

 Indeed, Palma Ceia had been engaged in development of its ministry to LGBT people by going through a “legal” and open process which engaged both laity and clergy and lay leaders in the church, and had previously, despite the inaccurate claims by you and Bill Josey, developed a statement of welcome to all people, which was to be posted where appropriate.

During this process, at least 15 other lay members of the church were involved in the process. I have checked with each of them, and none have had any contact by Bruce Toms concerning this matter. Prior to the removal of the statement, there had been, by Toms’ own admission, no discussion with the leadership of the Church. If you all are now asserting that he discussed this with others prior to taking his action, someone is not being truthful. I had hoped I could expect better of an ordained Elder and a Bishop.

 After reading the relevant materials, meeting with both Mr. Masters and Rev. Toms. and consulting with members of the Florida Conference cabinet, I have determined that Rev. Toms has not violated the Discipline in reference to paragraph 2702.l.b, and the church activities noted in this section of the paragraph are not relevant to the ministry decisions Mr. Masters describes.

 I find it interesting, but unfortunately not surprising that you would state that 2702.1.b is not applicable. I had hoped for better, as a person recently calling on the Methodist Church to quit using the Discipline as a weapon against LGBT people, but it wasn’t to be. I know what that section says: “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, 15 including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.” Yes, I know Toms didn’t perform any gay weddings, but those are cited only as examples. The primary statement of that section is “Practices declared by the UMC to be incompatible with Christian teachings.”

As you note, the Social Principles are part of the Christian teachings of Methodism, and Bruce Toms has done just the opposite of the equal treatment called for in 161f…not to mention all of the other sections I cited in support of the complaint (which you fail to address). All of those constitute Christian teachings as understood by the UMC, and in some cases, to which Toms made a vow to uphold. Maybe I’m not well-steeped in Methodist teaching, but I was taught that one upholds vows one takes.

“The question of the exercise of unilateral pastoral authority is in dispute by differing lay leaders in the congregation; this may be an appropriate discussion in a pastor-parish relations committee meeting, but not in a formal supervisory complaint.”

There is no dispute here. A resolution was passed, and frankly I’ve grown weary of the on-going inference by you, Bill Josey, and Bruce Toms, that somehow it did not happen. It did, and you three seem to be the only ones with a differing recollection.

I’m weary also of your attempts to push me back to the SPRC at PCUMC. Perhaps it works better at other churches in your Episcopal Area, but, as you are aware, I’m been told by Josey I can’t speak to the committee en banc, and when I attempt, as you suggested, to speak with individual members, they tell me Bill has told them to not speak to me, and refer me to him. What a vicious circle you have bought into here. Can you explain how I’m supposed to work this process through such a situation?

Also, I have held back on this point, but it is now worth noting an interesting discrepancy in the “official” record. According to Bruce Toms, in an open meeting of the Church Council, there is no mention of this matter in the meeting minutes from 2011. On the evening in question, well over a dozen people spoke on the issue, including Josey, then Pastor James, members of the Council and lay members in attendance. The amount of time spent on this one issue was significantly longer than all other agenda items combined. A vote was taken, yet not a mention in the minutes. I would ask if that concerns you, but I suspect you’d just rely on the recollections of Bill Josey rather than the recollections of everyone else in attendance, and assume the rest of us have poor memory. In your world, it would seem none of this ever happened.

“There is within the complaint a compilation of disciplinary paragraphs in support of the argument; some of these paragraphs are within the Social Principles (which “is not to be considered church law”, Preface), and some are taken from board of ordained ministry guidelines with candidates for ordination. The sections related to the nature and mission of the church are broad and interpretive in nature, and a local church could choose to adopt either the former or present statement of welcome and be within the interpretative framework of these paragraphs.”

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