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Official Church Policy Blamed for Omaha Bishop's Woes

Attacks against Bishop Martinez must stop, Nebraskans told

June 10, 1998 By United Methodist News Service

Nebraska pastor files suit against Bishop Martinez

Slanderous attacks, unwarranted complaints, abusive letters and phone calls and violent threats against Nebraska Bishop Joel Martinez must stop, members of Nebraska Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting in Lincoln June 2-5 were told by the chairman of the area's Episcopacy Committee.

"Friends, it's got to stop and the time is now," the Rev. Rex Bevins told more than 800 clergy and lay delegates meeting at Nebraska Wesleyan University.

Pointing to difficulties faced by Martinez during the past year, particularly related to the clergy trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech, Bevins said pastors who have taken their criticisms and complaints directly to the secular press have "undermined the mission and ministry of every local church in the conference."

Bevins is a member of the church's nine-member Judicial Council which is expected to rule on matters related to the Creech trial in August. Bevins also received a substantial number of votes for the office of bishop at the most recent meeting of the church's eight-state South Central Jurisdiction in 1996. Presently he is pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lincoln.

In March, Creech was narrowly acquitted of disobeying the discipline and order of the church after he performed a union ceremony for two women. Martinez placed the Omaha pastor on leave but reinstated him to the pulpit of First Church immediately after his acquittal. However, Creech was not re-appointed when all annual clergy appointments were made this spring. Although offered another appointment within the conference, Creech declined and is now on leave, residing in his home state of North Carolina.

Pointing to authority of Roman Catholic leadership, Bevins said, "this year some Nebraska Methodists wanted our bishop to be a pope."

To the complaint of some that Martinez should have acted immediately to punish Creech and remove him from First Church, Bevins said, "A pope would have the authority to do that, I suppose, but a United Methodist bishop doesn't."

While United Methodist bishops are charged with the responsibility to lead and oversee the spiritual and administrative affairs of the church, Bevins said the denomination's structure provides a decentralized form of administration in which certain powers and responsibilities are given to representative conference boards and agencies which make their recommendations directly to the annual conference.

Bevins said a United Methodist bishop does not have the authority to change the recommendations of boards and agencies or to overturn them once the annual conference has approved them.

"For instance, a United Methodist bishop does not have the authority to overturn a decision of the Clergy Session regarding ministerial orders," Bevins continued. "Yet a complaint has been filed against Bishop Martinez largely because he failed to intervene in this way."

"United Methodist bishops do not have the authority or power that most of us think they have," Bevins observed.

Because of his work on the Judicial Council, Bevins said he is aware that some United Methodist bishops "try to act like popes, employing an autocratic style of leadership, but thank goodness Joel Martinez isn't one of them."

He praised Martinez as a leader who uses his delegated authority with care and humility. "Bishop Martinez bends over backwards to be fair and just in his administration of conference matters." He also credited the bishop with getting matters related to the Creech case on the docket of the Judicial Council at a special session in Dallas August 7-8.

The church's "Supreme Court" has been asked for a declaratory decision on the legal status of the church's Social Principles. The church's most recently General Conference, meeting in 1996, added a statement to the principles against clergy performing same-sex union ceremonies. The unresolved issue is whether the Social Principles are church law and whether violation of those principles can be chargeable offenses against clergy. The Nebraska jury in the Creech case voted eight to five that he violated the order and discipline of the church but nine votes are needed in a church trial for conviction.

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