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
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.