January 18, 2013

Has the United Methodist Hierarchy Become Radicalized?

Bishop Melvin Talbert_130118 large

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert speaking at last summer’s Western Jurisdiction meeting. Bishop Talbert was formally asked to lead a jurisdiction-wide movement to defy biblical United Methodist policies on sexual morality. (photo credit: United Methodist News Service)

By John Lomperis

While less high-profile among the general United Methodist public than other major leadership bodies within the denomination, the central coordinating body known as the Connectional Table (CT), which on Thursday concluded its first meeting of the 2013-2016 quadrennium, is a very important group. It is the only group meeting regularly between general conferences that includes representatives of all of the major official denominational power structures.

Thus, what is true of the membership of the CT is in many ways indicative of our denomination’s vast, multi-faceted denominational hierarchy as a whole. This is not the same as grassroots United Methodists.

A review of the new CT membership for the next four years reveals that the composition of the UMC denominational hierarchy continues to be dramatically skewed towards dramatically under-representing generally biblically faithful African United Methodists while over-representing the tiny, theologically radicalized Western Jurisdiction in the United States. This can be simply shown by comparing the relative shares each U.S. jurisdiction and overseas continental area has of total UMC membership and total voting membership on the Connectional Table:

   Global UMC Membership     |   CT Membership

Region  

US – Western Jurisdiction      2.997 %                       17.0%

US – North Central                 11.1                           14.9

US – Northeastern                  10.9                           10.6

US – South Central                 14.4                           14.9

US – Southeastern                  23.9                           25.5

Europe                                      0.5                          6.4

Philippines                                1.2                          4.3

Africa                                       35.0                           6.4

Specifically, the CT membership consists of the chief executive of each of our twelve denominational agencies (who have voice but not vote on the Table), the presidents of the boards of directors of each of these general agencies except for the General Board of Pensions & Health Benefit and the United Methodist Publishing House (all of whom are bishops), a couple additional bishops chosen by the Council of Bishops, a youth and a young adult selected by the General Board of Discipleship’s Division on Ministries With Young People, representatives of each of the five U.S. racial/ethnic caucus groups (each of which is technically just as much of an unofficial caucus group as MFSA or IRD’s United Methodist Action program, but which actually enjoys some official recognition), and leaders chosen from each of the UMC’s regional areas. In the latter category, each U.S. jurisdiction and overseas central conference gets a minimum of one representative, with some additional members distributed between the U.S. jurisdictions (but not central conferences) based on proportionate membership.

While there is some partial proportional representation on the CT, the CT’s overall geographic imbalance is caused by the leadership selections of the other, non-regional denominational bodies. Thus, while there are over 11 times as many United Methodists in Africa as in the Western Jurisdiction, the latter has over twice as many CT members.

Rather ironically, Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the California-Pacific Conference, who condescendingly charged that African United Methodists’s biblical stand on sexual morality stems from their failure to “grow up” and “do their own thinking,” is now president of the board of directors for our denomination’s anti-racism agency. Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Desert-Southwest Annual Conference is an outspoken opponent of United Methodist Social Principles’ teaching on sexual morality, and yet is president of the General Board of Church and Society, which is supposed to promote our official stand on this important issue. And Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area is president of the General Board of Discipleship. Why anyone would think that a bishop from the fast-declining Western Jurisdiction is the best place to look for denomination-wide leadership in biblical, Wesleyan Christian discipleship is beyond me.

Of the five active Western Jurisdiction bishops, three (60 percent) are presidents of a denominational agency’s board of directors. One of the remaining two, one has been elected to become the next president of the Council of Bishops in 2014. No other region comes close to having as large a portion of its bishops in such prominent leadership positions.

In modern times, the Western Jurisdiction has been notorious for the thorough theological radicalization of its leadership, repression of members who actually believe in United Methodist doctrine, widespread, anarchic disregard for the covenants that supposedly bind us together as “United” Methodists, and much divisive and harmful fallout that has reverberated throughout our global denominational connection. It has also consistently lagged far behind the other U.S. jurisdictions in how much of its assigned shared of apportionments it pays, even as the other U.S. regions (particularly the Southeast) have subsidized the West’s disproportionately large share of bishops. This has opened Western Jurisdiction leaders up to charges of biting the hand that feeds it. And yet at the same time, this small region has long enjoyed a somewhat unique place of extremely over-represented privilege within the United Methodist hierarchy.

But the loudest voices are not always the most constructive ones.

Follow United Methodist Director John Lomperis on Twitter: @JohnLomperis.


  • Sara Anderson

    The answer is “yes.” Next question?

  • Gus Ravenwheel

    I’m wondering what the author means by “radicalized…”? We anabaptists tend to consider ourselves “radical,” meaning “returning to the roots…” but that is not what you’re suggesting here, I suppose.

    I fully support more churches becoming “radicalized” in the sense of returning to our Christian roots/mimicking more closely the life and teachings of Jesus and the early church, and worrying less about the more “modern” version of what church/religion has become (“modern” in the sense that it only goes back several hundred years).

  • http://Notesfromthepastorsoffice.com Christopher Tiedeman

    I’m wondering what happened within the IRD? Their language has become more catty and their tone has been far more condescending than in the past. Is that the witness your organization wants to make in the world?

    • Mike Cooper

      Could you be more specific? What words in the article were catty?

      • Dave Gingrich

        I, too, feel that IRD has taken a wrong turn. I think it is more evident since Mark Tooley took the reins. I believe that EVERY IRD communication should FIRST OF ALL communicate deep Christian love. I do not feel that is happening.

      • Eric Lytle

        Speaking the truth is an act of love. Check out the Gospels – a very confrontational Jesus, who talked a lot about God’s love – also about God’s wrath. Our role model was the very Man who uttered the words “You brood of vipers!” Jesus’ harshest words were directed at the “professionally religious” of his time. I think this article is in the same vein. We have a right to criticize bishops who don’t act like Christians – in fact, not a right, but an obligation. IMO

  • John Lomperis

    Gus, good question. You are right that I used “radical” in a very different sense than Anabaptists have traditionally used it, or even very different from the sense that, as I believe, the church is called to be a “radically” different sort of community than anything else that can be found in the surrounding culture.
    In this article used “radical” in this sense for a convenient shorthand to refer to an aggressive, extreme revisionist approach to such doctrines that “strike at the root of Christianity” (in John Wesley’s words) as the authority of Scripture, original sin, the universal need for the salvation that’s uniquely available through the blood of Christ, and Christ’s death for our sins.
    While I of course view such “radicalism” as very negative, I view my use of the word “radical” as descriptive rather than a slur. After all, several of the more intellectually honest adherents of “progressive Christianity” proudly embrace that label.

  • Jeremy Baines

    I clicked on the link to the jeremiad of this far-left bishop Minerva Carcano. She does indeed tell the conservative African UMs to “think for themselves” and “grow up,” meaning “think like American liberals.” Ironic, isn’t it, that liberals claim to hate colonialism, but the bishop has no qualms about imposing her liberal religion on the African delegates. She blamed their “homophobia” on US missionaries, but she should’ve directed her ire at the Bible, which obviously means more to the Africans than to her.

    In that same tirade, she claims that at the UM General Conference, a child at an information booth handed her a band-aid – and she realized the child meant it to apply to the “woundedness” of the Conference, which wasn’t going the way she wanted on her pet issue (homosexuality). Ever noticed how liberals always encounter these extremely bright and insightful children – children who say or do something that supports the liberal agenda? “Our 2012 General Conference showed our woundedness as United Methodists.” And to think, God sent that kid with the band-aid to reveal the truth.

    Despite the bishop’s gloomy mood, she saw one bright spot: the General Conference got reported in the New York Times, which, of course, was on the liberals’ side. Having your pet cause mentioned in the NY Times is the liberal equivalent of beatification.

    Btw, on that same page,the bishop and three other pro-gay clergy refer several times to the General Conference’s “homophobia,” also “racism,” “sexism,” “US centrism” – that last item is ironic, given their desire to impose the moral standards of US liberals on the African churches. Also, the Conference was “mean-spirited,” with “brutal attacks” on gays, so liberal clergy should “righteously disregard” UMC rules. The 2012 Conference was “one of the last bastions of bigotry.” Not approving of gay marriage is interpreted as an “anti-homosexual stance.” Churches should practice “radical hospitality,” meaning, approve gay marriage. The disgruntled delegates didn’t have their stories straight. One claimed that UM churches had lots of gay people as active members, while another made the familiar accusation that gays are “excluded” from the churches. Well, which is is, folks?

    I learned a new word thanks to this link: “genderqueer,” referring to people who “reject traditional notions of gender” and feel oppressed because official forms only offer the options of “male” and “female.” These people have “unique demographic characteristics” (no kidding!) and “experience discrimination and violence.” So good to know that the Compassion League has found another group to champion. The pool of transgender people (as in “changed by surgery”) is never going to be that large, but being “genderqueer” involves nothing more than identifying oneself as neither male nor female. Some time in the near future, walking into the men’s room may get really complicated.

    I manage to find some humor in all this lunacy, but frankly it’s all very sad. How did one of the biggest denominations in the world get so thoroughly screwed up?

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