The Method Matters

Today’s post is written by the Rev. Amy Banka, pastor of Hopewell Church, Downington, PA. Pastor Amy delivered this speech at the conclusion of the Eastern Pennsylvania annual conference, on May 20, 2023. The conference theme was “possibility.” The affiliation and change to which she refers is a bishop-led, “strategic direction” in which the EPA and Greater New Jersey conferences of The United Methodist Church share staff, resources, and programs. Both conferences are presided over by bishop John Schol.

Bishop, I stood to speak three times yesterday and was denied the opportunity. I would like to be received today with equity.

On Thursday, you invited us to share our hopes and concerns, and so today with respect and grace, I offer this . . .

I am not afraid of change. For the last 20 years, I have been a leader of change in the local church and this Annual Conference. During the pandemic, I have been blessed to serve on a church and pastoral staff that innovates, pivots, grows. We do not fear change. We know it needs to happen, not just so we’ll survive, but so that we’ll be faithful of our commitment to Jesus Christ. 

Some of us fear change, but many of us do not. We live in the realm of possibility. And yet, we also know that change brings loss and involves people. It requires honesty and a kindness that lasts longer than speeches. It requires an understanding of and appreciation for the people involved. And it requires the kind of change management that discusses first and then acts … that meets around tables and not behind closed doors.

When it is done differently, people inevitably feel unseen and unheard. The method matters. You’ve talked a lot about pace, but I’m talking about method. It matters.

So with the utmost respect, and desire to succeed together, I want to acknowledge that many of us do not fear change, but we lament feeling those difficult feelings after many years of good service.

We lament an affiliation in which our names remain unknown and our gifts underutilized. Hear our grief. We lament statements and actions that insinuate that the best thing we have to offer to GNJ is our newspaper. Hear our grief. We lament the absence of EPA preachers and musicians and leaders from our Annual Conference at this Annual Conference. Hear our grief.

We know we need to change. We want a holy change, but we want one in which we are included and not replaced or displaced, where our gifts and experience are valued and not dismissed, where our voices are heard and not silenced, where we are part of the adventure and not inheritors of someone else’s. The method matters.

Bishop, we want to be part of a change that honors the spirit and ministry of Jesus Christ . . . one that honors the way Jesus loved and acknowledged the dignity of others . . . one that honors the respectful guidelines for communication we heard about earlier. We want to change, and we want to have ownership and participation in it. And when we see an effort that does that, we will be ready to support it. The method matters.

May my words and spirit be pleasing to you, Jesus. 

A Timely Book on Multivocational Ministry

“Bivocational and Beyond offers an insightful and solidly researched entrée into the strange new landscape of part-time and bivocational ministry, not as an indicator of failure in the metrics of numbers and money, but as a rich, new possibility for calling forth Christ’s people in God’s mission.”

Ross Bartlett, Reading Religion, April 2023

“an ambitious, informative resource that delves into the complexity and diversity of bivocational ministry”

Heather Grennan Gary, In Trust Magazine, Fall 2022

Thank you to Ross Bartlett of the Atlantic School of Theology for taking time to review Bivocational and Beyond: Educating for Thriving Multivocational Ministry in the most recent edition Reading Religion, a publication of the American Academy of Religion.

The Injustice of “Just Resolution” in the UMC

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In this day and age of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, churches are on the front lines. Assault victims sometimes confide in clergy and other church leaders when they feel there is nowhere else to turn. Churches are also places of violation.

Yesterday, yet another report of decades of abuse and coverup was released. Every week I read news reports about another church leader abusing their power by taking advantage of someone in their care. Of women who attend church regularly, 1 in 33 reported being the victim of sexual harassment or abuse by their own pastor. A 2017 survey of thousands of United Methodist laity and clergy revealed that more than 50% reported having been sexually harassed or abused in the church, its agencies, or seminaries.

Churches have a poor track record of responding justly to sexual assault by their own leaders. Victims too often encounter coverup, denial, and institutional betrayal when reporting sexual abuse by ministerial leaders. The problem is not confined to Roman Catholic clericalism and Southern Baptist mishandling. The United Methodist Church (UMC) also fails to care appropriately for victims and others adversely impacted by sexual abuse perpetrated by church leaders.

Rather than prioritize the care of the vulnerable, church processes are often written to reduce liability and deny responsibility. Denominational procedures are designed to protect the institution. Churches can do better when responding to sexual abuse and harassment. The General Commission on the Status and Role of Women provides resources, such as Do No More Harm: A United Methodist Resource for Responding to Sexual Misconduct, to advocate for better practices. To provide justice for victims of sexual assault by clergy, churches must become trauma-informed and display institutional courage. Procedures must center the needs of the victim.

A common failing among churches is the attempt to handle an allegation of abuse through a process that does not take into account power differentials. When power differentials are maintained and secrecy is encouraged, victims suffer re-victimization. Thus, in this article, I focus on the injustice use of “a just resolution” process in the UMC. When there is credible evidence of sexual misconduct by clergy or other ministerial leaders, an informal process of resolution is inadvisable and unjust. When caring for a victim of sexual assault, the procedures are as important as the outcome.

Inadequate Supervisory Response

The UMC provides a supervisory process for handling complaints of sexual misconduct (Book of Discipline 2016, para. 362). “A complaint is a written and signed statement claiming misconduct” and may be written by anyone with knowledge of the alleged offense—either the primary victim or a third party. The person writing the complaint is identified as the complainant; the accused is the respondent. When a bishop receives a complaint, one of the options available to the bishop is to begin a “supervisory response.” This is a point where the UMC’s procedures can begin to fail victims of abuse.

The supervisory response is an informal process for handling allegations. “The response is pastoral and administrative and shall be directed toward a just resolution among all parties. It is not part of any judicial process.” This is an admirable goal: “a just resolution among all parties.” It is important to note that sometimes the supervisory process does not fail the victim. However, the process includes many potential pitfalls. Not only does the UMC’s supervisory process fail to center the well-being of the alleged victim, the process does not even include the victim if the complaint is made by a third party.

The UMC’s supervisory response process is problematic in several other ways. The process assumes no guilt. “The complaint shall be treated as an allegation.” The process treats the parties as equals having a disagreement. Additionally, the process is secret. There is no written record and parties are usually asked to sign a confidentiality agreement. Fundamentally problematic, the process to reach a just resolution is patterned after mediation.

Misguided Mediation

The UMC’s informal procedures treat a complaint of ministerial misconduct as a conflict between two persons. “The supervisory response may include a process that seeks a just resolution in which the parties are assisted by a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s), in reaching an agreement satisfactory to all parties.” However, sexual assault or abuse is not a misunderstanding between two equal parties.

Sexual misconduct by clergy and other ministerial leaders is an abuse of power. When a pastor or ministry staffperson abuses the power of the ministerial office by taking advantage of a congregant sexually, the congregant is in a vulnerable position in relation to the clergyperson.

Mediation in cases of harassment or abuse is inappropriate prior to a determination of guilt. On college campuses, for example, Title IX policy prohibits mediation as an alternative to formal hearings in cases of sexual violence because mediation is not appropriate when there is a power imbalance between the parties. The same is true for churches faced with an allegation of sexual misconduct against a clergyperson or others representing the church. According to the FaithTrust Institute, “If an authorizing body suggests mediation before it has investigated the allegations, it is inappropriately using mediation to avoid action” (p. 135).

In the case of alleged sexual abuse perpetrated by a church leader, the supervisory process can replicate the imbalance of power that enabled the abuse in the first place if proper safeguards are not put in place. If the complaint is treated as a mere allegation, the victim-survivor is still vulnerable in this process, only more so. During the supervisory meetings, the bishop (or designee) may bring the respondent and complainant together, each with a support person. In cases of abuse, this is highly inadvisable: the complainant would be faced with a bishop and multiple clergypersons representing the best interests of the person and institution alleged to have caused the violation. The prospect of multiple meetings prior to determination of guilt creates an environment ripe for revictimization, in which the victim would be asked to repeat their story hoping to be believed. I cannot in good conscience recommend to any victim of abuse within the church to subject themselves to this kind of process prior to a determination of guilt.

Mediation in cases of alleged abuse is only appropriate after guilt has been determined, either by admission or adjudication. Only at this point should the bishop attempt a just resolution and then, only in the best interests of the victim-survivor and others harmed, with their consent. According to the UMC, “A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties.” A plain reading of this definition implies that this process is only suitable after guilt has been determined and harm acknowledged. Otherwise, there would be no harm to repair, nothing to be held accountable, and no need for healing.

Furthermore, the secrecy shrouding the supervisory response undermines the possibilities for healing and accountability envisioned within a just resolution. A confidentiality agreement serves to protect none but the guilty. So-called confidentiality serves only to allow the respondent a degree of control over how others may communicate about their violation of church law and to provide legal cover for the bishop and conference insofar as they might be found liable or complicit in any aspect of the matter. Transparency, not secrecy, is required for the church and its leadership to contribute to justice and healing.

The Church’s Accountability

The UMC’s supervisory process seeking “just resolution” too easily avoids institutional responsibility for holding clergy and other ministerial leaders accountable in cases of sexual misconduct. In many cases, it is up to the victim or a third party to prompt a supervisory response by writing a complaint. It is a lot to ask of a complainant to raise a concern, write a letter of complaint, invest time and energy to participate in a supervisory response, and insist that the terms of a resolution be just. This process seems unduly burdensome, if not punitive, to the whistleblower. What is the role of the church in holding clergy accountable?

In cases of alleged clergy perpetrated sexual abuse, why does the church not hold its own accountable? The Discipline allows anyone to write a complaint—including the bishop or a member of the bishop’s cabinet. For example, a district superintendent could take responsibility for writing a letter of complaint and serving as complainant when there is suspected wrongdoing by a clergyperson under their supervision. The burden of proof is minimal at this point, even less than the “reasonable grounds” required to move a case to church trial. The role of third-party complainant is an undue burden to place on anyone not in a role directly responsible for supervision and accountability.

Perhaps this is the crux of the problem with church accountability: Who is the church? If the church is the laos, the entire membership of the body of Christ, then every layperson needs to be equipped to hold ministerial leaders accountable. However, the secrecy of the supervisory process makes it impossible for laity to do so. Accountability requires transparency. If the church is the clergy, then clergy should hold each other accountable. But, as a layperson pointed out to me, can we realistically expect a clergy member to raise a complaint against a colleague? This is the problem of clericalism. Alternatively, if the church is the judicatory hierarchy, the bishop and cabinet, then it is the responsibility of the bishop to make sure that a complaint is filed, justice served, and healing achieved. This brings us back to the conundrum of supervisory response, in which the whistleblower, rather than the bishop, is expected to bear the burden of holding an offender accountable. Justice and accountability should never be the victim’s burden.

For the supervisory response to work well, even through a just resolution process, it must include agreed upon conditions for accountability and healing, and it must always include creativity, trauma informed responses, and transparency among all involved.

Increased accountability and a victim-oriented process would greatly improve the church’s response. The bishop should proactively assure laypersons, the Board of Ordained Ministry, and the broader church that the allegation is being handled with care. The judicatory should provide support for the primary victim, adversely affected congregations, and other clergy—whose ministry and integrity are implicated every time a colleague violates the sacred trust of ministry. Transparency throughout the process is paramount for restoring trust in the church.

The church can do better in holding ministerial leaders accountable and serving the best interests of those harmed within its structures. The Disciplinary process of supervisory response and just resolution can be implemented in ways that are more just, less traumatic, and more transparent. Bishops are in a position of authority to promote positive change in the way that The United Methodist Church handles complaints about and supervision of clergy. I pray that they will.

Revised April 11, 2023.


General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Do No More Harm: A United Methodist Resource for Responding to Sexual Misconduct, Lesson 14 of 20, Just Resolution, (in particular, the video “When is a facilitated just resolution process appropriate?”).

Sawyer, Lauren D., Emily Cohen, and Annie Mesaros, eds. Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct. Seattle: FaithTrust Institute, 2022.

Shaw, Susan M. “Institutional Betrayal, Institutional Courage and the Church.” Baptist News Global. July 26, 2022.

Stephens, Darryl W. “If Churches Were Frat Houses: Title IX Compliance and Clergy Sexual Abuse.” Feminist Studies in Religion blog, April 7, 2016.

Seeing Stars

I’m seeing stars! Thank you to everyone who has taken time to rate and review one of my books on Amazon. Your ratings and reviews make a huge difference. If you’ve read one of my more recent books, please consider taking a few minutes to offer your review—even if you didn’t buy it from Amazon.

Did you know? Anyone can submit a review for nearly any product sold on Amazon, even if you haven’t personally purchased that product. You can also submit reviews on Amazon if you bought the product elsewhere. Link to my author page:

DOTAC Diakonia Seminars in May

Diakonia of the Americas and Caribbean (DOTAC) is hosting a series of virtual seminars in May on the theme, “Perspectives on the Diakonia of All Believers.” I am honored to be among the presenters (download flyer). Please join us to learn more about ministries of love, justice, word, and service.

A Trauma-Informed Journey from Classroom to Community

COVID, racism, institutional change—trauma is all around us. The project, “Trauma-Informed Classroom Teaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary,” equipped our faculty to improve classroom learning for students with existing and ongoing trauma histories. We became trauma-aware, the first step in becoming trauma-informed. We are still on a journey from classroom to community.

Read more in my blog post for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, January 04, 2023.

Responding to Professional Misconduct

I am excited to announce that the FaithTrust Institute has released a new resource. Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct (updated edition) lays out the basic principles of analysis of misconduct in a spiritual or religious community: who, what, when, and where. It offers the principles for trauma-informed responses to complaints and the conceptual framework to navigate the process of response. Best of all, this resource is free to download!

This resource includes my essay, “Community Healing after Spiritual Leader Misconduct.”

Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct: A Handbook, edited by Lauren D. Sawyer, Emily Cohen, and Annie Mesaros, 181–86. Seattle, WA: FaithTrust Institute, 2022.

The handbook (PDF, 204 pgs) is free and available to download Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct. A printed copy can be purchased at

About Our Disaffiliating Kin: A Reply to Tom Frank

Dear Tom,

There’s more to be said about disaffiliating congregations, to whom you recently wrote words of warning. While your letter conveys the avuncular wisdom I have come to expect of you over many years of mentorship and friendship, I did not recognize myself or my congregation in your depiction. Some of our United Methodist kin are disaffiliating for very different reasons than supposed in your letter.

United Methodism is a large clan, and our kinship ties are deep and varied. We share the DNA of an evangelical, ecumenical, justice- and mission-oriented tradition of Christians seeking to be made perfect in love in this life. God bless our souls! This is a complicated inheritance. I agree with your warnings, particularly about the Global Methodist Church. However, not every disaffiliating congregation embraces the Traditionalists’ quest for a purer expression of their version of Wesleyan piety, centered on LGBTQ exclusion. Some disaffiliating congregations find themselves in quite the opposite situation: seeking a safehouse from their domestic abusers.

This big tent of United Methodism has provided cover for too many abuses for too long. Every four years we gather for a family reunion called General Conference. However, this gathering has ceased to be a place of joy and renewal. Instead of nurturing friendships and fellowship, we spend most of our time together fighting one another, each of us grasping for enough power to bend the others to our will. This self-perpetuating reunion resists reformation. Until we abandon this combative arena, our clan will continue its internecine strife, substituting one issue for another in continual battle. This reunion is structured for little else and needs to end.

General Conference is but one symptom of our broken family system. Tom, you know better than most that abuse through exclusionary church laws has become a normalized dysfunction within the United Methodist clan. Your courageous witness at church trials and other venues over the years attests to the resulting harm to our collective body. Amid our incessant battles, United Methodists have become inured and insensitive to the harms they perpetrate on each other. These political dynamics are played out in our ecclesial households, providing official sanction for the abuse of some of our most vulnerable members.

I, too, would like to belong to a “broad church” inclusive of Methodists of a wide range of religious opinions. However, I can no more insist on a continued union with kinfolks who have enshrined their discriminatory opinions as essential doctrine masquerading as church law than I can insist that a battered wife remain within a marriage to her abusive husband. In both cases, the abuser broke the covenant long before the survivor of abuse sought safety by leaving. Tom, in stating the dangers of disaffiliation, I think you have understated the violence of continued unity. To shame such a congregation for seeking disaffiliation is tantamount to victim-blaming—or worse, collusion with the abuser.

Until The United Methodist Church transforms itself into a place of safety and affirmation for LGBTQ persons, there will be congregations like Grandview Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which chose to disaffiliate in order to protect the vulnerable. This congregation spent years in discernment about God’s call in their lives, learning that they are called to be in ministry with and to affirm the gifts of all persons. Grandview’s action to disaffiliate was a recognition of a covenant already broken within the UMC. As a child of United Methodism, I grieve this divorce of my ecclesial parents even as I support Grandview’s decision.

Grandview is not alone. There are other congregations that have or are seeking disaffiliation from the UMC in order to escape the abuse and to be freed to be fully in ministry with LGBTQIA+ persons. However, it is difficult to know how many progressive congregations are considering disaffiliation because many do not want to have anything more to do with their former abusers. Some, though, have found each other and offered mutually support and encouragement. Three other congregations, formerly United Methodist, are journeying with Grandview toward a new form of Methodist connection. These relationships are growing deeper as we relearn how to do church together.

Any real change in the UMC will require courage—courage enough to leave this clan, if necessary. I give thanks for my siblings in faith, such as the leaders of Love Prevails, who have witnessed to God’s call on their lives and the ongoing hypocrisy of the UMC. Leaving the UMC can be a prophetic act of resting evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves—including the form of a church. We must repent of having asked LGBTQ persons to bear the burden of our ecclesiology while awaiting the moral arc of United Methodism to bend sufficiently to prevent their ongoing victimization.

Disaffiliation is “a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness.” As such, it can be a faithful response to God’s call on our lives. I wish it were not so. May it be so. Amen.