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Charges filed against Nebraska bishop Nebraska United Methodists call for removal of bishop

Jan. 6, 1998

by United Methodist News Service

A group of United Methodists in Nebraska has called for the suspension or removal of Bishop Joel Martinez.

Three Nebraska United Methodist pastors, two pastor-parish relations committees and a layman separately filed formal complaints against the bishop last month. They charged that he failed to perform his duties, broke church law and undermined the ministry of the pastors.

The complaints ask that Martinez be suspended or removed as bishop. He has been the leader of Nebraska United Methodists for five years. According to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the church’s book of law, all the complaints are listed as chargeable offenses. A complaint is "a written and signed statement claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties," the Discipline states.

The complaints also charge the Rev. Francis Schmidt of Lincoln and the Rev. Carolyn Waters, both district superintendents, and the Rev. James Brewer, a former district superintendent, with improper supervisory actions.

The charges were filed by the Rev. Mary McQueen and her husband, the Rev. Ken McQueen Jr. of Fullerton, Neb.; the Rev. Jean Samuelson-Bruhn of Bennett, Neb.; the personnel committees of the Fullerton and Genoa churches; and Jerry Pearson, a layman of Genoa. The two towns are approximately 15 miles apart.

The charges have been forwarded to Bishop A. Frederick Mutti of Topeka, Kan., president of the eight-state South Central Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops. He is investigating the complaints. If the issues are not resolved in that phase, the complaints would be forwarded to the Jurisdictional Investigating Committee, which will review the case and recommend a course of action. "I am a servant of the church of Jesus Christ," Martinez said. "The United Methodist Church is a faithful expression of Christ’s universal mission. As an ordained United Methodist minister, I have always valued and trusted our rules of order. Consequently, I have no doubt that everyone, including myself, will be accorded a fair hearing as this matter proceeds."

Since the charges against Martinez were made public, clergy members from several denominations have voiced support for the embattled bishop. Those rallying behind him have included the Rev. Rex Bivens, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Lincoln and chairman of the Nebraska Annual Conference Episcopacy Committee, along with leaders of the Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran and Episcopal churches and the United Church of Christ. This the latest incident to land the Nebraska United Methodist Church into headlines. The conference is already dealing with the case of the Rev. Jimmy Creech, the Omaha pastor who stirred controversy by performing a same-sex ceremony in his church in September. Martinez suspended Creech for 60 days ending Jan. 10 for his actions. The cases are unrelated.

In a Dec. 24 letter, the Nebraska church leaders affirmed the right of Nebraska United Methodists to be heard, but expressed sadness that the "difficult internal issues" had been made public and that their colleague had been portrayed in "uncomplimentary terms."

Martinez, they said, "is a fine Christian leader whom we know as a man of devotions and great personal integrity." They applauded his work and devotion to Native American and Hispanic ministries and his leadership in addressing racism.

In a separate statement, Bivens affirmed Martinez’s leadership and expressed concern about the way the charges were handled by those who filed them. "The intention of the United Methodist Church’s formal complaint process is to address serious breaches of clergy, lay and Episcopal duties, not as a way to air disagreements," he said. "It is my experience that when complainants make public what is to be a confidential matter, they are seeking to discredit, harass and humiliate the person or persons against whom the complaint is filed."

Bivens said the 16-member episcopacy committee has consistently given Martinez high marks and that the bishop has brought a "pastoral heart" to the conference. He said Martinez "bends over backwards to be fair and just in his administration of conference matters."

The charges filed by the McQueens encompass alleged infractions over a two-year period.

Ms. McQueen asserts that her ordination as elder was delayed a year, while Mr. McQueen complained that he was denied his ordination as elder and his credentials as deacon were revoked.

Samuelson-Bruhn complained that after questioning budget increases last spring, she was removed without proper consultation from her 300-member Lincoln church and  appointed to two small rural churches 50 miles away.

The pastor-parish relation committees of the Fullerton and Genoa United Methodist churches and the lay committees at Lincoln’s Calvary United Methodist Church filed complaints against the district superintendent and the bishop for the way the pastors were treated.

According to Bivens, bishops within the United Methodist Church are responsible for leading and overseeing the spiritual and administrative duties of the church. At the same time, the denomination has a decentralized form of administration, in which representative bodies within the conference handle or collaborate on certain areas of decision-making. Those areas include the appointments of pastors and ordination.

The bishop does make the final determination on clergy appointments, using recommendations from the district superintendents. Those recommendations are based on input from pastors and staff parish relations committees and on the superintendents’ assessment of the ministry of local churches.

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