United Methodist Discipline: That which is compatible with the will of one having power to enact it. The Council of Bishops will seek to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the United Methodist Discipline. (The CoB Dictionary, 2016)
Local churches and local pastors have been familiar with this definition for some time. A new District Superintendent is appointed and the local church again finds itself confronted with a list of things they must do because the Discipline requires it. Why were they not required by the Discipline before? Because it was a different DS. The Northern Illinois Conference Board of Ordained Ministry recently joined several others in ordaining persons whom the General Conference has specifically barred from ordination. It is compatible with the will of the Board. There is no recourse. Ministerial candidates learn early that the requirements of the Discipline are exactly what the District Committee or Conference Board say it is. When the Board’s makeup changes then, of course, the requirements change. It is understandable, therefore, how a candidate can profess ordination vows to the Wesleyan Standards which they have never even read. They are required to do so by the power of the moment: tomorrow they will be ministering under a different power who has no interest in such things. United Methodist Discipline is arbitrary.
It follows that this arbitrary will can only be enacted by a greater power upon a weaker power. As currently practiced, that which is required by the Discipline can only be enacted by a District Superintendent toward a church, a Conference Board toward a candidate, or a Bishop toward an Elder. Consider the case of Bishop Talbert who is in continuous and open breach of order and discipline in many ways and yet without consequence. The only greater power which can enact its will upon a Bishop or Annual Conference is the General Conference which meets once in four years, and when they have flown home everyone continues doing what is compatible with their own will. United Methodist Discipline lacks accountability.
Since United Methodist Discipline is arbitrary and only enacted by a greater power upon a lesser, it is necessarily unjust (Hence it is called power and not authority. Authority implies justice.). Arbitrary, unaccountable power is despotism. It may be benevolent, benign, or tyrannical but it is despotism. Now, because I have chosen to describe the condition with great plainness of speech do not assume that I accuse anyone of ill will or unjust goals. I assume the opposite–that their motives are just and their goals are good. The intent seems clear: to bring order to chaos and to preserve unity in the face of schism. The behavior is justified to maintain the existence of the institution which the Discipline was intended to serve. But Woe! There is much more of Machiavelli than Methodism in that.