Next week, the ecclesial trial of Bishop Minerva Carcaño will begin at the Wespath (Pensions) Headquarters of the United Methodist Church.
Over the past year, advocacy groups such as COSROW, GCORR, and MARCHA have raised concerns over the length and severity of Bishop Carcaño’s suspension, calling for her process to either move forward or be dismissed. In response, the trial date and location were set with a change of venue to the North Central Jurisdiction.
In yet another unprecedented step, the trial will be broadcast live through the Internet to serve the interest of transparency. 1
When voices that usually consider transparency as a cynical attack on confidence in authority suddenly call for transparency, we should respond with caution. Bishop Carcaño is very experienced with mass-media, and there are many more persons who desire to witness her trial than available space on site, but that does not change the fact that this is a clergy trial within a denomination that generally restricts access to such delibations.
If the history of crucifixion and other forms of public violence and humiliation teach us anything, it is that visibility of process is not the same as transparency.
True transparency is a measure of responsibility wherein contrary and critical voices have access to the process and the means of holding power accountable. If that takes place during this trial, as we hope it will, it will not be due to a public broadcast. Instead, the broadcast of this trial has the potential of unintentionally serving agendas that have little to do with Bishop Carcaño’s clergy status, providing opportunity and raw material for the creation of toxic propaganda harming the integrity of the UMC.
BISHOPS AND FAIR PROCESS
Making decisions collectively via trial is an expression of what United Methodists call “fair process.” Through fair process, one’s status as a lay member or clergy member within the UMC cannot be revoked without a process of investigation, an attempt at reconciliation, an impartial trial and verdict rendered by one’s peers.
It is important to note that the most common form of trial in the UMC is within the process of admission, not removal. All candidates for ordination are approved through a trial process. Trials for removal of clergy, in contrast, are both rare and unpopular. Accountability always costs political capital, and few want to handle the proverbial hot potato.
Regarding the greater policy of fair process, the Carcaño trial takes place within a context with direct ties to legislative efforts to dismantle fair process.
In 2012, the Council of Bishops defended legislation abolishing appointment security and fair process through a legal brief and oral arguments at Judicial Council.
The reader will note that the retired bishop who will be presiding over the trial of Bishop Carcaño also made the oral argument at Judicial Council in 2012 seeking to abolish fair process. The Judicial Council ruled against them, stating that “Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal and is an absolute right which cannot be eradicated by legislation.” (Judicial Council Decision 1226.)
After months of silence, secrecy, and seclusion, viewers will be invited to drink access from an information fire-hose. Viewers could be exposed to an embarrassing show-trial complete with elements of political intrigue, false accusation, character assassination, ulterior motives, corruption, and hypocrisy.
Could the anxiety created by this broadcast be used to scandalize the church against all trials the way legislative bodies and standing rules in some conferences have been biased against floor debates. motions, and resolutions?
PIRACY AND PARTITIONING
It is no secret that the United Methodist Church is experiencing a crisis of disaffiliation and schism.
While the focus has been upon the conservative exodus from the UMC, we are also aware of conversations within the Western Jurisdiction to form its own separate new denomination or even a new religion. Within that jurisdiction, Bishop Carcaño, a native of Texas and social progressive who remains a professing United Methodist, has provided a vital link between to the rest of the denomination.
Scandalizing, oppressing, silencing and severing that link would be an important step toward partitioning the Western Jurisdiction while serving to alienate centrists and those desiring to remain within the UMC who agree with her approach.
It is not lost upon us that this trial takes place during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Although Hispanics represent the growing edge of the U.S. population and the majority population in many areas, they are persistently one of the the most under-represented ethnic groups within the UMC.
Many Hispanic UMC members have generational roots going back to 19th century Methodist missions. As progressive evangelicals, Hispanic United Methodists do not find an easy home within a church biased toward high incomes and polarized between liberals and conservatives, blacks and whites.
Hispanic churches and communities are often misunderstood or mischaracterized as unsustainable and segregationist, their people valued only as potential clients of philanthropic paternalism. In recent years, structures supporting the United Methodist Hispanic mission have been systematically dismantled, pulpits left unstaffed, curriculum cancelled, and disaffiliation allowing dozens of Hispanic church properties to be given away at pennies on the dollar.
Bishop Carcaño is one of the most prominent Hispanic public figures within the United Methodist Church. She is also an exemplar of the values of the Hispanic Church. Her life story, faith practice, UMC identity, and success resonate with many of the Hispanic United Methodists and churches that have chosen to remain in connection with the UMC. At a recent general assembly of MARCHA, the UMC Hispanic/Latino caucus, delegates prepared an empty chair to honor their bishop.
The mass-media broadcast opens the trial to her supporters and detractors, but it also has the potential to amplify and spread vicarious trauma, putting on public display the menosprecio experienced by so many Hispanic United Methodists while destructively scandalizing non-UMC Hispanics against the UMC.
FROM TRAGIC TO TOXIC
In conclusion, while opening the trial to greater observation among those who are properly prepared and understand its context, a public broadcast of this trial also has the potential to scandalize viewers against fair process and the UMC while providing raw material for the fabrication of toxic propaganda.
If you plan on viewing it, please do so in consultation with your spiritual leaders.
Watch with critical eyes, listen with critical ears, and most of all, keep a cool head. You will be consuming mass-media. The way that broadcast makes you feel could be exactly how a propagandist wants you to feel.
Most of all, remember to center yourself in prayer, pray that truth and justice and healing prevail, pray for the Spirit of Christ to guide the process, and intercede in love for those directly affected.