Jim Holsinger and the Trust Clause

October 16, 2007 — Leave a comment

A seven-year legal battle between the United Methodist Kentucky Annual (regional) Conference and an affiliated foundation has ended in favor of the conference.

The outcome also upholds the United Methodist “trust clause” pertaining to local church property.

News – Across the Church – UMC.org.

This was the first I had heard about the legal battle between the Kentucky Annual Conference and the Good Samaritan Foundation. You can read the history of this action by clicking on the link above at UMC.org. The quick and dirty of it is that the Good Samaritan Foundation had been created to administer the assets of the Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, which had been founded and owned by the conference. After the sale of the hospital, the trustees of the foundation decided unilaterally that they didn’t want to be affiliated with the UMC anymore, and refused to provide any accounting of the funds to the Annual Conference. After trying to resolve the situation peacefully, the Kentucky Annual Conference finally decided to file suit, claiming a breach in the denominational trust clause, which was upheld in the courts.

It is good that this is finally resolved, and by all indications it sounds like the conference and the foundation are on a sound footing to restore trust in their relationship.

The surprising thing for me is the role of James Holsinger, president of the Judicial Council:

The appeal of the Payne’s ruling was led by James Holsinger, president of the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest court. Holsinger also served as chairman of the Good Samaritan Foundation’s board.

Holsinger, who was nominated by President George W. Bush last spring as U.S. surgeon general, was quoted by Media Transparency as saying the church is “only interested in the foundation’s money, not its cause.”

Of course, we don’t know the full context of the dispute, especially any plans the conference maintained for how this endowment was to be used. Holsinger may indeed be correct in stating that the conference’s interest was strictly financial.

However, do we really want the person who is the “Chief Justice” in our version of the Supreme Court to be using the secular courts to challenge the trust clause? Is it appropriate for an official elected by the General Conference to challenge the authority of the Annual Conference that he theoretically is a part of? Is Dr. Holsinger’s allegiance first to this foundation and then to the church, and does that seem odd for someone holding the position that he holds? Does this really reflect the kind of leadership we need in the church today?

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