District superintendent suspended

A district superintendent in the Greater New Jersey Conference has been suspended while under complaint, the conference announced June 24.

The conference’s cabinet in June filed the complaint under church law against the Rev. Jisun Kwak. According to the conference, the case is related to issues in a 2010 complaint that resurfaced in May this year. The conference did not disclose any further details.

District superintendents help oversee groups of churches and assist the bishop in appointing clergy.

“Because this is part of a complaint process, I will not respond to any questions at this time,” Bishop John Schol, who leads Greater New Jersey, told United Methodist News Service.

The Rev. Robert Costello, a former district superintendent who is acting as Kwak's advocate, responded to questions on her behalf.

"It is not appropriate for me to disclose details of the complaint," he told UMNS.  "I do not think it is helpful to complainants, respondents, the church or the ministry of Jesus Christ to attempt to settle such disputes through mass communication channels.  There is a process in the Book of Discipline by which we can handle such matters."

He added that Kwak is not accused of abuse, harassment, sexual misconduct or conviction of crimes. She also is not accused of issues related to ministry with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, her advocate said.

"It is worth noting that she is not involved in any cases in the civil or criminal court systems," Costello said.

Paragraph 363 in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s governing document, allows a bishop to suspend clergy under complaint “to protect the well-being of the person making the complaint, the congregation, annual conference, other context for ministry, and/or clergy.” Such a move requires the recommendation of the conference’s board of ordained ministry executive committee.

Greater New Jersey’s committee voted for the suspension, the conference reported. It is not clear why the bishop and committee took this action.

While under complaint, clergy are still paid. Suspensions are not to exceed 90 days.

The conference announced that because of his working relationship with Kwak, Schol decided to recuse himself from leading the complaint process. Another bishop is handling the complaint, but Schol did not name the bishop.

The United Methodist Church embraces the concept of fair process, including requiring that allegations be substantiated.

"The Book of Discipline is very clear that at this time the items discussed in the public announcements are only 'allegations,'" Costello said. "Rev. Kwak has not been convicted of any violations of church law."  

Complaint process

Complaints can potentially lead to church trials and the loss of clergy credentials. However, the Discipline also calls church trials “an expedient of last resort” and urges a just resolution of complaints. 

While complaints related to human sexuality frequently make headlines, church law lists a number of chargeable offenses. These include immorality (including adultery); practices the denomination deems incompatible with Christian teaching (including being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member or officiating at a same-sex union); crime; disobedience to the denomination’s order and discipline; disseminating doctrines contrary to those of the church; undermining the ministry of another pastor; abuse; racial or gender discrimination; sexual misconduct and harassment.

General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, in May added to the list fiscal malfeasance and the use or possession of pornography. These additions don't take effect until Jan. 1, 2017, so they do not apply in this case. 

Kwak, the first Asian woman to be named a district superintendent in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, has led the Delaware Bay District. Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, who now leads the New England Conference, installed her as a superintendent in 2011.

Greater New Jersey Conference members elected her to be a delegate to General Conference 2016 and the subsequent Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference. The conference and National Federation of Asian American United Methodists also have each endorsed her as a candidate for bishop. If elected, she would be the denomination's first Asian woman bishop.

"While the timing of this matter is unfortunate, coming just prior to the jurisdictional conference, I have confidence in the process set forth in the Book of Discipline," Costello said. "I am certain that Rev. Kwak and those who know her best will stand firm in seeking justice.  Please pray for everyone involved.”

During Kwak’s suspension, district superintendents the Revs. Myrna Bethke and Brian Roberts will cover Delaware Bay’s needs.

“I am very sad that these measures had to be taken and I call each of us to pray for Rev. Kwak, the Delaware Bay District and all involved,” Schol said in a statement to the conference. “I have complete confidence in the cabinet’s work and discernment and in those who will be leading the complaint process.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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