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Monday, December 5, 2022

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Blind Loyalty and Nepotism in New Jersey Methodism



The following exposé of patterns of nepotism and blind loyalty under New Jersey Bishop John Schol is contributed by the Rev. Beth Caulfield, who is now an ordained Elder in the Global Methodist Church. She is also the President of the Greater New Jersey Chapter of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a member of its Global Council and one of the 16 members of the Next Steps Working Group that put together the first draft of the Book of Doctrines and Disciplines for the new denomination. She also serves as a Trustee for the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Beth was a clergy in the United Methodist Church for eight years, including serving on the Bishop’s staff with distinction for three years. She and her family live just outside of Philadelphia in Gloucester County, NJ.

UM Voices is a forum for different voices within the United Methodist Church on pressing issues of denominational and/or social concern. UM Voices contributors represent only themselves and not IRD/UMAction.

It is difficult to shine light on the deeds of adept power abusers. They are good at cloaking their offenses and calling upon cronies to both carry out and back up their actions and defenses. They are emboldened when they know the systems that support their power offer easy ways to evade accountability and more opportunities for repercussions to their accusers than to themselves. Narcissistic power abusers enjoy dancing at the lines of appropriateness and legality by arrogantly taunting their victims and those who would dare call their behaviors into question. Why would anyone bother to take that on? Surely only when you are called to do so.

In late May of this year, I published a book entitled People Throw Rocks At Things That Shine: A Clergy Whistleblower’s Journey. The book shares my ministry experience and detailed information about power abuses and a toxic culture within the United Methodist Church, especially within the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference under the leadership of Bishop John Schol.Shortly after the publication of my book, I was interviewed by Cynthia Astle, editor and founder of United Methodist Insight. The article was published in conjunction with a second article publishing responses by Bishop Schol and members of his staff to my book. I have taken some time to reflect and pray on the remarks of Bishop Schol and his team before offering my reply. To be most clear, my answer is given over this three-part article.

In their 2020 book, A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing, Scot Mcnight and Laura Mcknight Barringer write:

How a church responds to criticism or handles information that could damage the reputation of a leader of the church, reveals the culture of that church. Again, compassion, truth, and wisdom should be our guiding lights. But when a culture is toxic, priorities change and truth telling often takes a back seat…In a toxic culture, pastors and leaders tell stories that are false, while the congregation either goes along with the deception or lives in blissful ignorance, (Laura Mcknight Barringer, A Church Called Tov: Forming a Goodness Culture That Resists Abuses of Power and Promotes Healing, [Tyndale Momentum, 2020], pp. 51-52, [ebook]).

It was considering that quote that I offered the following in my book:

 It is my prayer that this book be met with the grace, prayer and resolve for personal growth, glory for God, and institutional improvement that has gone into its writing. I confess additional concerns that this whistleblowing would instead be met with denial or attacks…. I have done my best to offer only what is helpful and true, even when the details cause pain as they are exposed and revisited. That pain includes my own. (p. 9)

I am comforted to share that the vast majority of responses I have received have demonstrated the kinds of healthy responses that McKnight and Barringer reference.  The book was immediately endorsed by Rev. Dr. Rob Nelson, who is an ordained elder in the Indiana Annual Conference and Chair of Associates in Advocacy, a national team of clergy who assist other clergy when they are subject to complaints, charges, and other employment predicaments. He stated, “This book reveals truth, a frustrating truth about a system needing repair. It should be required reading for ALL Candidates for Ministry.”

Publicly posted reviews for the book corroborate my story and give much affirmation that the activities I share are real and indeed hurting many. Including in the reviews, stories have been shared publicly by others  from within Greater New Jersey, Baltimore-Washington (where Schol served as bishop from 2008 until 2012) and elsewhere that offer accounts of similar incidents. I have taken texts, emails and phone calls from leaders expressing repentance and asking for forgiveness for complicity to some of the wrongs I and others have experienced. These reactions have indeed been healing for me.

But perhaps the most poignant responses I am receiving and the ones I hope most for, are best summarized by this review on Amazon.com:

Jeff R.

5.0 out of 5 stars An important read!

Reviewed in the United States on June 7, 2022

Verified Purchase

Could not put the book down. As a United Methodist pastor, I was challenged to be more aware of abuses by those in leadership and wondered if I’ve been quiet when I should have spoken up. And, it encouraged me to be aware of my own leadership style and be alert to abusing my own position. I appreciate the honesty and candor and the risk of the author in sharing her story. I highly recommend it!

The attitude reflected by that reviewer, sadly, contrasts greatly with the response offered by Bishop Schol. Even though my book devotes considerable space to describing his leadership and events occurring within his responsibility, Schol claims to not have even read it. Instead, his and his team’s response is demonstrative of the narrative I assert in the opening paragraph of this article. It reflects more of the toxic culture and bad behaviors I call out within the book.

The additional comments by several of Schol’s staff members to UM Insight demonstrate his often repeated strategy of calling on loyal insiders to respond for his own offenses. I discuss examples of this behavior extensively in my book. I cite several studies regarding power abusers’ demands for loyalty. Whether such insiders lack the strength and conviction to speak truth to power, or because they choose blind loyalty above the good of the Church; they too are victims of spiritual abuse. They have been carefully chosen and groomed to, above all else, carry out the agenda of the bishop. Those selected to be his team are well-treated financially and with other perks. Furthermore, if you do not conform, you are ousted, shunned, and made an example of to keep others in line.

For example, Schol utilizes one of his district superintendents and his human resources director to defend his practices of nepotism that I, among many, point out. Their responses are weak and do not address the repeated incidents of nepotism through Bishop Schol that have been noted over the years. The DS defends their process of appointing Bishop’s Schol’s own son (Rev. Mark Schol) as ethical because Bishop Schol leaves the cabinet table when his son is discussed and this DS consults another bishop in another conference when he wants to discuss Bishop Schol’s son’s appointment. None of that has anything to do with the fact that Bishop Schol’s son was brought to New Jersey under his father’s own leadership. The HR Director volunteers that Schol’s wife was hired by other staff under Schol because she was allegedly the most qualified, but resigned as a result of concerns of nepotism. These defenses, however, do not tell the whole story.

One year after Bishop Schol’s 2004 assignment to the Baltimore-Washington Conference, that Conference hired his wife, Beverly, as the Executive Assistant to the Bishop. Beverly served throughout his remaining seven-year term in that conference-salaried role. Shortly after Bishop Schol came to Greater New Jersey, Beverly was hired into a significant leadership position as Regional Manager with the Conference’s newly formed Future of Hope 501(c)3 initiative. She has subsequently served in other roles under his supervision including as Manager, Property at the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey, and as a manager of Nehemiah Properties. Nehemiah Properties is a 501(c)3 nonprofit formed by Schol and the conference “to help turn GNJ’s church buildings into financial and mission assets,” through “the re-purposing, redevelopment, and or sale of properties.”

While Bishop Schol served in Baltimore-Washington, he was Bishop in Residence and on the Board of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. His adult daughter, Kristin, was subsequently employed by the seminary. Kristin later obtained her International Coaching Federation Certification while training in conjunction with Greater New Jersey clergy.

Continuing the pattern, Bishop Schol’s son, Rev. Mark Schol, ordained in the Northern Illinois Conference by Bishop Sally Dyck in 2018, immediately began an appointment in Jersey City, New Jersey in 2018. The move to New Jersey  was in conjunction with that of his wife, Meredith Schol. Schol’s daughter-in-law had previously received her PhD in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2016 and had served on the staff of the denomination’s Connectional Table from 2012 until 2018. In 2018, she was appointed as an Associate Professor and Director of Doctoral Studies at Drew Theological School, an institution for which Bishop Schol has served as a trustee since coming to New Jersey in 2012. He also chairs the Drew Theological Advisory Committee. Finally, on February 6, 2022, it was announced by the cabinet that the Rev. Mark Schol would be appointed to Madison UMC, which is a stone’s throw from the Drew campus. It should be noted that Schol’s children and daughter-in-law were not raised or educated in New Jersey or the Washington, D.C. area.

While not saying any of Schol’s family lack the gifts and grace to serve in these positions, to avoid harm to the workplace, people should be deployed in ministry settings and employed based solely on their qualifications and gifts, not nepotism or favoritism. Nepotism, especially when flagrantly repeated, sows seeds of distrust and resentment. Nepotism and conflict-of-interest assignments for staff members, as I gave further examples of in the book, continue as patterns under Schol’s leadership.

Next Week, Pt. 2: Addressing Bullying, Sexism, and Sexual Ethics




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