The following exposé bullying and harmful patterns in New Jersey United Methodist Bishop John Schol’s leadership is contributed by the Rev. Beth Caulfield, 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. 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.
Part 1 of this three-part series was posted earlier.
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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 its publication, I was interviewed by Cynthia Astle, editor of United Methodist Insight. Her article was published in conjunction with a second detailing responses from Schol and members of his staff. I have taken some time to reflect and pray on Bishop Schol’s and his team’s remarks before offering my reply. To be most clear, my answer is given over a three-part article. This is Part Two.
Bishop Schol began his comments to United Methodist Insight by attempting to discredit the criticisms I raise. He states that I am a Wesleyan Covenant Association leader “working to encourage congregations to leave the UMC and join the Global Methodist Church.” He thereby suggests that the purpose of my book is to do just that and so signals to those who are in disagreement with the WCA and Global Methodist Church to discount my story and for others to be skeptical of my motivations. Such conclusions, however, would be based on a false premise.
As clearly stated from its opening pages, the purpose of the memoir is to celebrate life in ministry foremost, but also to expose power abuse and a toxic culture. My hope, as also expressed, is that by revealing the injustices occurring within the United Methodist Church, they can be rectified therein and also not replicated within the Global Methodist Church. It is true that I am a WCA leader. However, my memoir was not commissioned by, formally endorsed nor in any way written as part of my role with them or the Global Methodist Church. I received no assistance from them nor compensation. In fact, in July, 2021, at my initiation, I went off and have not returned to the payroll of my local WCA chapter. I did this in good conscience as my primary focus has been the book and getting its message out, including to those not sympathetic to the WCA.
In the book, I recommend steps to correct and prevent the problems I uncover for both the UMC and the GMC. My hope is for reforms that benefit both denominations. I also wrote the book to encourage others in discipleship, ministry, and standing up to power abuse. Through this publication, I offer explanation to family and friends regarding what has transpired in my life and share insights to the decisions I have made. These include staying with the United Methodist Church through very difficult circumstances in hope of following my call. I also wrote the book to heal myself.
I am healing from being a target of Bishop Schol’s. I was first targeted because of my friendship with another clergy, Rev. Dr. Jisun Kwak, who had run for bishop. Although bishops are not supposed to be involved in electing other bishops, he did not support her candidacy. In fact, he led the filing of an erroneous complaint against her, three weeks before the 2016 episcopal elections, after she had received the endorsement of the annual conference. This action politically assassinated her candidacy. If not for this suspiciously timed complaint by Schol’s team, Kwak, the first Asian-American female district superintendent in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, may have been elected as our denomination’s first-ever Asian-American female bishop. In my memoir, I detail how he isolated, bullied, and threatened me personally because of our friendship. He also removed me from his staff in a way that was detrimental to my ministry and that of others (to be discussed further in Part 3 of this series).
Schol also used the United Methodist Insight interview to continue his misrepresentative and damaging portrayal of the Rev. Dr. Jisun Kwak, her ministry, and even sexuality. He sugarcoats his comments by stating “I regret that Beth continues to raise a complaint and trial of a GNJ clergy person because it is deeply painful to the clergy person, the cabinet, the people of GNJ, and me.” He neglects to acknowledge that my memoir exposes the depth of injustices from him and his cabinet that still have not been resolved. This in itself represents further injustice that causes continued pain for Jisun and all affected. It also causes fear for many that they, too, might suffer injustices and cruelty in some way if they cross him. Therefore, his power abuse needs to be exposed, and that is what I am doing.
In his comments to United Methodist Insight, although carefully worded, Schol once again alleged that there had been an inappropriate relationship between Jisun and a former parishioner and that the parishioner’s wife had been distressed about it. His repeated, unsubstantiated allegations regarding the relationship were refuted once and for all when the complaint filed against Jisun by his cabinet in 2016 culminated in a trial held February 5-7, 2019. At that trial she was cleared of every charge and count. Not a single witness at the trial corroborated the portrayal Schol continues to assert regarding the relationship.
Nonetheless, at the trial, as a result of the picture painted by Schol, Jisun had to face the public humiliation of answering direct questions about allegedly having a sexual relationship with her elderly friend and former parishioner. That friend, in his eighties while she in her early forties, was older than her own father! She, of course, very emotionally, denied the accusations. The trial proceedings showed the allegations to be gross misrepresentation of the facts and Jisun was exonerated.
Schol’s comments to United Methodist Insight also misleadingly narrow the extent of the accusation. In fact, over a two-year investigation—in which significant resources were expended on what many likened to a witch hunt—numerous allegations, complaints, and finally charges were made by Schol’s team against Jisun on a variety of issues far beyond those mentioned by Schol to UM Insight. None of them stuck, however, and she was cleared of everything.
Yet Schol never apologized. Instead, he has continued to repeat his now-discredited, scandalous claims, thereby undermining this clergywoman’s ministry and causing her much personal distress. For example, in my book, I share documents that were circulated by him to the Greater New Jersey Conference shortly after her exoneration at the trial. The documents cleverly raised questions about Jisun’s ministry by using the appearance that they were only generated as a good-faith effort to “provide clarity.” Also, in a special annual conference session held later in the year after the trial, Schol again took power-abusing opportunity to at length detail his unsubstantiated, discredited allegations in front of Jisun’s colleagues and those to whom she ministers. I offer a transcript of his comments in my book. Again, at no time has he offered an apology for the harm that has been caused.
In his statements to United Methodist Insight, not only does Schol continue to raise undermining questions, he adds to his sexuality-based attacks. He states that during a special clergy session he called for several hundred clergy, Jisun’s advocate, “made a speech that the clergy person was not a lesbian now or ever.” Schol stated, “It was very odd because there was never an accusation about the clergy person’s sexuality.” It is very odd indeed that Schol would insert these statements that are clearly out of context with the United Methodist Insight interview. And Schol grossly misrepresents what happened.
The special clergy session to which Schol refers was held January 11, 2017, a few months after Jisun was placed on an unpaid leave of absence while being investigated. During it, Schol shared in elaborate, graphic detail about a years-old clergy sexual abuse case. It had been extremely disturbing for all to hear. Immediately thereafter, Schol cunningly began discussing the complaint filed by his cabinet against Jisun. This gave opportunity for inferences to be drawn that the complaint against her was somehow similar to the clergy sexual abuse case. Schol aided such implications by emphasizing in his statement that because Jisun’s was an active complaint, its details could not be revealed. As I assert in the book, (page 240 of the paperback edition), many across the theological spectrum saw this as a calculated power abuse ploy by Schol. I stand by what I have said earlier about this special clergy session, even though Schol, in his interview, again uses slippery tactics to mislead readers regarding my comments by claiming that I alleged he called the session “about this matter.” A smear campaign against my book has used this untruth in an attempt to discredit me. It was in the context of Schol’s ploy during this session that Jisun’s advocate, the Rev. Dr. Bob Costello, subsequently attempted to combat the false impression being given by Schol to Jisun’s colleagues and potential future jurors. He made clarifying statements that the complaint filed against Jisun had nothing in common with the clergy sexual abuse case that had just been described.
But Schol’s statement to United Methodist Insight on this matter demonstrates a point of my book. It is evidence that as Schol attacks and bullies people, raising questions of their sexuality is not beyond his limits. By making that misleading statement to United Methodist Insight, he intentionally raises questions for the reader regarding Jisun’s sexuality. The statement is a thinly veiled threat. A threat to her and, knowing Schol, probably me. It seems to be saying that he is willing to raise the suggestion in people’s minds that she or perhaps both of us as lesbians, something that of course would be problematic to either of our ministries and certainly my family life. What is odd is to read such obviously calculated statements coming from a bishop.
I have pointed out shifty handling of truths, inappropriate comments. and bullying. As I detail in my memoir, I have seen other unprofessional and apparently calculated comments by Schol. It is my hope that by bringing these incidents to light, his behavior will be addressed and he will be held accountable.Sexual ethics concerns, including harassment, should be taken seriously by the denomination as dictated in the Book of Discipline and through UMC policies carried out through agencies such as COSROW (the General Commission on Status and Role of Women). Sexual harassment is a chargeable offense.
But as I explained in Part One of this series, it is extremely 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 offers more opportunity for evading accountability and delivering repercussions to their accusers than to themselves.
I describe incidents that go right up to the line. Narcissistic power abusers enjoy dancing at the lines of appropriateness and legality by taunting their victims and those who would dare call their behaviors into question. The problem is there is little or no accountability for offenses or repeatedly dancing at the line. Even when complaints are filed, there are more repercussions for those who speak up against misdeeds than for bishops and other leaders who commit them. That is why complaints are rarely filed. Filing complaints risks ruin your career in the United Methodist Church, even if your allegations are completely justified.
During my time on Bishop Schol’s staff, I strongly advocated for mandatory Sexual Ethics Training for all conference clergy and lay leadership as UMC policy requires (see #2046 in the UMC Book of Resolutions, 2016, especially Item #5 on p. 123). As I give evidence for in my book, I, and others, were pushed off about such training, including by the bishop, his cabinet members, Board of Ordained Ministry leaders. We tried raising this need to no avail even as Schol highlighted the aforementioned clergy sexual abuse case. It would seem that that case alone would have brought urgency to heeding our pleas.
Yet at the time of the publication of my book four months ago, sexual ethics training still had not been promoted nor instituted in Greater New Jersey. It is sorely overdue. I also advocate for anti-bullying training and therapy for narcissism to be offered. It would show good faith leadership if Bishop Schol would attend such sessions himself.