Member's Bill of Rights? : LUSENET : A.M.E. Today Discussion : One Thread

As we look towards the approaching General Conference while most of the attention is on electing Bishops, what new legislation would you like to see enacted? Here are a couple of thoughts. Suppose there was a Member's Bill of Rights, a kind of lay version of the Pastor's Bill of Rights? What would you want it to cover? How about Members having a right to disclosure of certain information when getting a new pastor. Let's say members should have the right to know whether a pastor has been found guilty of a crime within two years prior to an appointment, and or members have the right to know whether there was any financial malfeasence at the Pastor's last charge or whether he or she has filed for bankruptcy in the past two years. This is not the right to veto a Bishop's decision, but it would empower people to have adult conversations about expectations and even the need for support going forward. Just something to spur conversation and thinking. But there's more... What about a right to free speech that would protect any person, clergy or lay from retaliation, adverse actions for expressing their opinion. I know, it sounds odd but just something to think about. And while I'm on that subject there are two approaches on this, one is to create a "right" to free speech. The other is to foster a culture that we are responsible to each other to share our different and sometimes opposing views. The first approach requires a law, the second is a function of leadership. The first approach is sought when leadership is lacking on the second. What legislation do you think would help the Church to pursue excellence!?

-- Anonymous, April 11, 2003


Brother Byrd,

Priase the Lord for your comments, and welcome back!

My question: I thought that convictions and financial malfeasance were grounds for losing your pastorate. Are you telling me that there are seated pastors guilty of such crimes?

Rev. John Harper

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2003

Rev. Harper that is a great question. In practice, it is not always clear that when Pastors have difficulties, that they are encouraged and supported in overcoming those difficulties before being given another charge. It is not clear to me that Bishops have been given clear guidelines on what to do in those situations and we are left with the judgment discretion of the individual Bishop without the Church giving clear direction. On the other hand, sometimes we have unfairly allowed pastors to be slandered because we allow allegations to haunt them without benefit of a full fair investigation that could clear their names and for which interested parties have access. If there is a law that says a pastor must forfeit his or her charge because of financial malfeasance, I'm not sure it is followed in all cases. Also Rev. Harper God bless you as you continue this legacy of Rev. Fisher.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2003

I am curious why would you want to know if a pastor has filed bankruptcy in the previous two years? And would that also hold true for members of the church. I don't quite understand the logic. Thanks for an explanation.

-- Anonymous, April 12, 2003

Parson Byrd:

I like and support the idea of a Member's Bill of Rights. If I could offer a friendly amendment I would propose that the AMEC precisely define that old carnard about someone being in "good and regular standing". I think the current usage of this catch-all phrase complicates the rights and privilieges commensurate with membership. According to page 68 of the 2000 Doctrine & Discipline membership terminates if a person is AWOL for three consecutive years. Inactivity for consecutive days up to 2 years, 11 months and 29 days however would not be subject to this sanction. To equate this form of inactivity as "good and regular standing", I find extremely odd. Why not propose a set of agreed upon metrics which unambiguously define good standing and not leave it to third-party subjective evaluations? QED

-- Anonymous, April 13, 2003

Hello Rev. Rogers, As you know, in the corporate world some companies do a background check before making offers of employment final. Sometimes what comes back in the background check are various financial problems of the individual being offered the job. Those that do the hiring then think about and discuss what job is the person being hired for, is financial decision making an important part of the job and then have a conversation with the individual to assess or find out more about how it happened and then what the individual did to get their house in order. Pastors have a great deal of financial decisions to make with respect to the Church. If a person can't keep their own financial house in order, is it not a fair issue or at least a point for discussion about how are they going to administer the affairs of the church. In my view, nothing should be automatic, bankcruptcies can arise for a variety of reasons and a person should not be judged or condemned etc., but perhaps the requirement of disclosure can lead to productive conversations about whether the pastor needs help or not. Hopefully, these kinds of discussions go on between Pastor and Bishop, but should we not also empower the lay persons who faithfully pay their tiths and offerings week after week?

-- Anonymous, April 13, 2003

I think that Bro. Byrd's concerns are legitimate but a bit over reaching. First, I believe that any congregation should know if a Pastor is guilty of a felony post ordination. (One should not be ordained if there is a felony conviction prior to ordination). But I think the sharing of credit information including bankruptcy should be examined very carefully. As you stated bankruptcies happen for a number of reasons and even Pastors are entitled to some personal privacy. The problem with many of our churches is that the members do not exercise the rights already assigned to them with regard to the financial matters of the church. The officers of the church should also require full disclosure on the financial dealings of the church.

-- Anonymous, April 14, 2003

Isn't it during the session of the Annual Conference in which the character of the ministers is to be examined? I think that with the unfortunate rise in misconduct, whether sexual or professional, the church has now set into motion the function of the ministerial efficiency committee. Persons are now encouraged to speak, provided there is validity to the complaint. There are mechanisms in place to address concerns. Now these mechanisms are being utilized and laws are enforced.

-- Anonymous, April 15, 2003

Praise God! I never thought I would live to see the day when we AME'rs would see the absolute necessity of being able to ask questions regarding our "assigned" pastors, without it being construed, and taken as an attack on the individual. Many is the time the members of a church feel the situation (whatever it is) must be tolerated because the Bishop "assigned" the pastor there. I agree wholeheartedly that this is NOT the way it is done in Corporate America today, there are numerous pre-investigations made into an individual's background, prior to being given a position. Prayerfully, this thread of Brother Byrd's will start a new wave of thinking. It's time.

-- Anonymous, April 15, 2003

What legislation do you think would help the Church to pursue excellence!?

God question but it is also troubling. The Minister's Bill of Rights appears to be an attempt to protect the rights of ministers from bishops who misuse the power vested in the bishopric. I assume that a members Bill of Rights would be designed to protect the rights of ministers from pastors who misuse the pastoral powers. May I suggest that the solution could be to remove those persons who abuse the powers of their office; and to consider a more equitable distribution of power. Perhaps the local congregation should be involved in the "Selection" of a pastor rather than having one "Assigned" to the charge. After all, godly judgement must be based of accurate information. If we assess the state of the AME Church and are not satisfied with the results, maybe a change in the current law rather than new legislation is needed? It is insane to expect different results while doing things the way we've "always done it".

Be Blessed

Pastor Paris

-- Anonymous, April 16, 2003

I appreciate that this is designed to encourage conversation as we head to the General Conference of 2004, but i must express my concerns as it relates to the issue of "freedom of speech," I have seen in my experience were individuals claim the right to speak freely, only to engage in accussations against the character of either the pastor or lay leadership of the church. I have seen times if some were not so constrained by the Holy Ghost, it would have resulted in physical assault. I think we should walk carefully in some areas, because words once spoken cannot be reclaimed.

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2003

I have been Methodist since I was 16 and it does not matter what branch of Methodism one belongs, Unite Methodist, AME, AME Zion, CME etc. the same sentiments are echoed regarding the calling of the pastor. First and foremost Methodism is an Episcopal system which mean the Bishop appoints the pastor. We are not A CONGREGATIONAL SYSTEM where the congregation calls the pastor. Denominations that do that are Baptist, UCC, Assembly of God, Presbyterian, Reformed Church etc.

Methodist have an appointment system. It was suggested in a previous post that we change the "law" regarding appointments. We cannot for we would be creating a different denomination. That is why it is so important during new member classes that new members understand the doctrine and polity of our denomination. The same should hold true for clergy transfering from other denominations and members transfering from other denominations into the AME church. As a pastor I am pro laity for there would be no church without laity! God has equipped every person with a gift that they can use to glory him. Never should a clergy person feel they are better than laity but instead clergy should have the heart of a servant and imitate Jesus in ways of the church and that is to empower laity and raise up leaders so that the church can grow. I think it is important to note that no matter the denomination, there are those on the pulpit who are not called by God. They called themselves to the position for personal gain. This is seen in all denominations. There are also laity that do not walk with Christ, and there sole purpose is to tear down the church, others and the pastor. I hope we can discern when these people are in the church. For they are also in our work place. Every member should be treated with respect, and dignity. For God has given us a "Bill of Rights" his son who is our advocate. PLEASE IF YOU HAVE HAD BAD EXPERIENCES WITH CLERGY, do not lump all clergy and Bishops in the same category. I pray we will all work as a united front for God and our church.

-- Anonymous, April 27, 2003

Hello Rev. Rogers, I praise God for you and for your very positive voice in our Church! I suppose I have a question and (I can't help it) a comment or two. The question is, given your position with respect to a heretofore abstract, accademic Members' Bill of Rights, would you (if you could) eliminate the Pastor's Bill of Rights? Does that compromise the Episcopacy as well? The comment is that it is essential to recognize that the Member's Bill of Rights that I proposed was geared soley to giving the laity the right to certain information. I tried to make it an open question as to what information; I did make some suggestions. That's all. Indeed, I said that it should not be seen or treated as veto power over the Bishops decision. But one wonders would the same decisions be made to recycle pastors who needed some help if certain information had to be disclosed to the laity. It is a little astonishing that people merely having the right to information would convert us from Methodism to Congregationalism. Maybe if the laity had more of a right to information about say the finances of Morris Brown College, it might not, might not, be in the predicament that it is today. In addition, the proposal is not an attempt to lump all pastors in the same boat, just as the Pastor's Bill of Rights does not lump all bishops into the same category. I too have been an AME for some time (he says coyly) and I LOVE this Church. LOVE it! And so I've decided that as long as I'm in it I am going to lift my voice to make a difference and try to make it better. Sometimes that means being very honest about some of the things that need to change. I have some certainty about the what, less about the how, and much about the WHO. God Bless!

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2003

Dr. Santucci. How are you my brother? Hope all is well with you on the beautiful island of Bermuda where as you know I learned to say "Don de road, rond de co'na, b'y!" Ah the days of my youth! Of course you raise an important question. But I think the issue is slightly different. You for example have a right to free speech as a government official, and as a citizen (I believe). The right is given because sometimes there are abuses of power intended to silence opposition or unpopular positions. We have a right to free speech against gov't abuse of power in the U.S. Quiet as it is kept, on occasion there can be abuse of power by our leaders as well. They are human like everybody else. Why can't the laity have the same rights that we have in other context to protect against similar abuses? Their voices are just as important. Intelligent, robust debate is just as critical to the church as it is in gov't and in society at large. For too long, in my view, there has not been the kind of robust discussion of issues in our Church because of fear of losing a position, of not being elected a delegate to the General Conference, on and on. This has got to stop. But I do agree with you to the extent you are lifting up the situation of false allegations or inappropriate attacks. That should not be. But I think sometimes these things happen when people do not feel that they have a strong voice. Blessings!

-- Anonymous, April 29, 2003

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