Bishop Michael Coyner of Indiana (Photo credit: Mike DuBose/ UM News Service
By John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis)
At the January meeting of the Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Mike Coyner took a minute with me to answer some questions. Bishop Coyner has led Indiana United Methodists since 2004. He currently serves as the president of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA), and is therefore a member of the Connectional Table.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
There’s been a lot of talk about a widespread lack of trust in our denomination. A big point of opposition to the IOT plan was the widespread agreement that it would greatly increase episcopal power. One of your colleagues, now retired Bishop Will Willimon, colorfully described the 2012 General Conference as “episcophobic.” This last General Conference saw the Renewal and Reform Coalition, General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) chief Jim Winkler, and a majority of delegates ultimately support some form of term limits for US bishops.
Why do you think there is this apparent mistrust of US bishops? And what do you think should be done about it?
Some of this is due to the mistrust of institutions and centralized authority typical of our culture today.
The mistrust of the IOT plan was less about mistrusting the authority of bishops than it was an issue of broader mistrust of narrowing centralized authority to a small group of people.
As for solutions, trust is earned. Bishops need to do what we say we are going to do, and do what is best for the church.
What would you say to those who say that the lack of trust in bishops stems from our bishops’ not consistently ensuring that the Discipline is upheld in our denomination, not adequately defending and teaching orthodox Wesleyan theology, and not being seen as graciously and courageously defending Christian values and truth even when they conflict with some parts of secular liberal American culture?
I think that there is some truth to that. I think most of us work hard to uphold the Book of Discipline, but we all have a lot of pressures from people of various perspectives. Even if we bring a complaint against a minister, we cannot guarantee the result of a trial. A key question facing our church is whether or not our clergy are willing to hold each other accountable to the Book of Discipline. But I am fortunate to have not had to deal with much of that in Indiana.
Rev. Gil Rendle shared one perspective at this Connectional Table meeting. But what role do you think that the theology which pastors and laity in congregations adopt has in the reported lack of congregational vitality? And what role do you think that theology can and should play in revitalizing congregations?
At our table [of Connectional Table members in a structured discussion], we raised the question of salvation. We think that our United Methodist Church has really neglected why people need the Lord. This hampers motivation in our congregations. If we just want to make new members, that’s not enough motivation.