Council of Bishops
December 2, 2019
Judicial Council African Methodist Episcopal Church:
The Council of Bishops has received your opinion in which the majority of the Judicial Council grant the request of Bishop Wilfred J. Messiah to not sustain the decision of the Council of Bishops to remove Bishop Messiah as Episcopal Leader of the Seventeenth Episcopal District. After reviewing your decision, the Council of Bishops is not only disappointed with the majority opinion, but also has a number of objections that we note.
First, the Council of Bishops objects to the Judicial Council going beyond its boundaries in making this decision. As an appellant body, your task is not to decide what is best/not best for the Seventeenth Episcopal District, but to determine if the Council of Bishops followed positive law as set forth in the 2016 AMEC Discipline; to ensure that the rights of a member have not been violated; and, that the process is not arbitrary or politically motivated.
The 2016 AMEC Discipline gives the Council of Bishops, by 2/3 vote authority, to remove or transfer a bishop from a district for the “good of the church.” This is the law the Council of Bishops followed. We also object that it took the Judicial Council over three months to consider and make a determination in this matter. Matters regarding oversight of an Episcopal District should be expedited and have priority.
Second, the Council of Bishops objects to the claim that our decision is not “satisfactorily supported by the record.” The majority of the Judicial Council has made information provided by Bishop Messiah “the record” without seeking to corroborate its contents. It does not even mention the information provided by the Council of Bishops where the veracity of claims made by Bishop Messiah were soundly challenged.
For example, Bishop Messiah claims that he did not attend or hold annual conferences in Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo because of political instability, outbreak of Ebola and advisory against such travel by the United States Government. There was no attempt by the Judicial Council to corroborate these claims. The Council of Bishops did. The advisory by the U S State Department against travel to the area was not for seven years, only one. Political instability did not last seven years, and a stable government is in place. If there was political instability, an Ebola outbreak or prohibition by the United States Government why didn’t Bishop Messiah have this put on the Council of Bishops agenda and report this to the Council of Bishops. He has not brought this to the attention of the Council of Bishops, and to say he put it in Seventeenth Episcopal District reports to the General Board is disingenuous. Supervisor Cecelia Bryant led a group to the area and had no prohibition from the U S Government, arrived safely, and faced no violence. Bishops and members of the AME Zion Church traveled and carried out their responsibilities, with no problems. If Supervisor Bryant and her group, and AME Zion bishops and members, could visit Rwanda, the AME Bishop of the Seventeenth Episcopal District could have been more present.
Third, the Council of Bishops objects because Bishop Messiah himself admits that he did not hold or attend annual conferences in this region. He claims that he went to Rwanda, Burundi and the Congo once for annual conference. Under questioning by the Grievance Committee he clarifies and says he did not visit Rwanda, but met with the Area Administrator of Rwanda. He further admits to the grievance Committee that he ordained no one, consecrated no one, assigned no presiding elders. No appointments were made because, for years, no Rwandans attended the Great Lakes annual conferences.
Fourth, the Council of Bishops object because Bishop Messiah contends that churches and members left the AME Church prior to his being assigned to the 17th Episcopal District. Neither Bishop Kawimbe, his predecessor, nor Bishop Messiah reported this exodus to the Council of Bishops. Not a word of this was brought to the Council of Bishops. We found out about the disaffection on the Council of Bishops Conference Call on June 12, 2019.
The dissenting judges mentioned a communication to the Episcopal Committee from a person in the Seventeenth Episcopal District at the 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference in July 2016. The letter complained that there had been no Episcopal presence in the Rwanda, Burundi and Congo region for 10 years. The Council of Bishops verified this to be true by speaking with representatives on the Episcopal Committee at the 2016 General Conference. It raises the question, if these churches and members had left the church ten years ago, why are they writing and registering their complaint ten years later. Why do the Bishops of the AME Zion Church reach out to us to say that AME Churches and members want to join their denomination?
Fifth, the Council of Bishops object as it relates to the $12,500 donated to repair churches in Rwanda. Bishop Messiah’s testimony wavers before finally asserted that $2,500 was disbursed and $10,000 was in the bank. Bishop Messiah did not provide adequate documentation. The disbursements were questionable, and the Judicial Council did not seek to corroborate the report which caused legitimate concern for the Council of Bishops.
The Council of Bishops had cause to be concerned, and act. A civil court in Zambia (2018) found Bishop Messiah guilty of misusing funds donated to families of accident victims. It did not matter that a properly constituted civil court affirmed guilt while our Judicial Council majority said the record is insufficient to remove the bishop.
Finally, the Council of Bishops object because the majority of the Judicial Council states that the Council of Bishops knew, in fact the connectional church knew, that there was no consistent presence in parts of the Seventeenth Episcopal District since 2013. This presumption is inaccurate. The majority of the Council of Bishops did not know this, and the Judicial Council majority rather than inquiring of the Council of Bishops assumed it to be true, substantiating their belief that the Council of Bishops have acted arbitrarily.
Further, rather than seeking to corroborate the record presented by Bishop Messiah, the majority of the Judicial Council seeks to make excuses to justify why he failed to fulfill his responsibilities. They argue the geographical area is too large; there are too many annual conferences; and, too many people for the bishop to superintend the work. It should be noted that prior to 2004 the current Twentieth Episcopal District (Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Uganda) were part of the Seventeenth Episcopal District and previous bishops attended their conferences and did their work.
Bishop Messiah did not submit legislation in 2016, and has not for 2020, to redistrict the 17th Seventeenth Episcopal District to address the challenges. The majority of the Judicial Council declares that “removal of Bishop Wilfred Messiah is not an effective remedy to the problems affecting the Seventeenth Episcopal District.” The majority of the Judicial Council, by its opinion, has justified Bishop Messiah’s failure to fulfill his responsibilities, and denied the Council of Bishops legitimate authority to hold a member of the Council of Bishops accountable.
It is the hope of the Council of Bishops that the Judicial Council, on its own, will reconsider the majority opinion and sustain the action of the Council of Bishops in removing Bishop Wilfred Messiah from Episcopal oversight of the Seventeenth Episcopal District. However, it is the intent of the Council of Bishops to have the forthcoming session of the General Conference reject the majority opinion in this matter, and approve the dissenting opinion drafted by Judges Thomas Bess and Eduardo Curry.
The Right Reverend Harry L. Seawright
Council of Bishops