The West leads the rest of The UMC by opening the episcopacy to ethnic minorities long before other jurisdictions.
A Region of Firsts
While the current rhetoric is that the Western Jurisdiction is schismatic and costs so much money and is basically “all things bad” after electing our most qualified person–who happens to be gay–to be bishop, United Methodism would not be the same if it weren’t for the Western Jurisdiction.
A clergyperson in my annual conference articulated as much with a writeup about the many “firsts” in the West when it comes to empowering ethnic minorities, which is reposted as bullet points instead of a quote below:
- In 1972 Wilbur Won Yan Choy was elected by the Western Jurisdiction as the first Asian-American bishop in The United Methodist Church.
- In 1984 the Western Jurisdiction elected the first African-American female bishop of The United Methodist Church, Leontine Kelly; the first Hispanic-American Bishop, Elias Galvan; and the first Japanese-American Bishop, Roy Sano.
- In 2000 WJ was the first to have a Tongan-American (born in Hawaii) candidate for bishop; Eddie Kelemeni.
- In 2004 the WJ elected the first Latina Bishop, Minerva Carcaño.
- In 2004, the WJ was the first to have an openly LGBTQ candidate for bishop, Frank Wulf.
- Also in 2008, WJ became the first jurisdiction in the US to not have a white male serving as an active bishop. From 2008-2016 the active bishops were 2 Japanese Ancestry males, 1 African-American male, 1 Latina, and 1 white female.
- In 2016 WJ had the first native Pacific-Islander candidate for bishop, Siosifa Hingano (Rev. Sifa); and was the first jurisdiction to have 2 openly LBBTQi+ candidates for bishop, Frank Wulf and Karen Oliveto; and elected the first openly LGBTQI+ bishop, Karen Oliveto.
- Also in 2016, WJ became the first jurisdiction to have more active female bishops (3) than male bishops (2). Current bishops are 2 Japanese Ancestry males, 1 Latina, 1 straight white female, 1 lesbian white female.
See others pre-dating United Methodism here.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
One gauge of how fully included a people group is in a church is whether all levels of the Church are open to them. While the South has reached more people in the almost 50 years of United Methodism, it’s clear that the West has fully included more people groups in its bishops. In fact, in at least two cases, when one candidate was not supported in the South, they were elected in the West:
- In 1984, the first African-American female Bishop, Bp. Leontine Kelly, was actually a candidate in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. She failed to get the votes in the SEJ, so hopped a plane and was elected mid-flight to the Western Jurisdiction, having to borrow a robe for the consecration service. 32 years later, the Southeastern Jurisdiction elected their first African-American female bishop in 2016: Bp. Sharma Lewis.
- In 2000, Rev. Minerva Carcaño was a candidate in the South Central Jurisdiction for bishop and was not elected by the SCJ. She transferred to the Western Jurisdiction and served as a District Superintendent in Portland, Oregon. She was elected at the next 2004 election as the first Latina bishop. A second Latina bishop was elected in 2012 by the SCJ: Bp. Cynthia Fierro Harvey.
I was reminded of these “firsts” after watching Rev. David Wilson, a Native American clergyman, who was poised to be a “first” people group finally reached by the South. I waited in celebration at the South finally breaking this streak…and winced as he sat at the #2 or #1 position for over 25 ballots in the South Central Jurisdiction before being passed over for two white men by a close majority vote. The comments on my Facebook were “He should have ran in a different jurisdiction”…indeed.
The West is the place where ethnic minorities can see they are fully included in The United Methodist Church everywhere. The West has as many problems as any jurisdiction with reaching ethnic minorities and we have our own history of racism, but when it comes to the upper echelons of United Methodism, the doors are all open.
My clergy colleague closed with this statement:
What comes next? The first Filipino, Pacific Islander, or Native or Indigenous person to be elected bishop. The first jurisdiction to have an open LGBTQI+ person of color run for bishop? I have no doubt that this jurisdiction is not done paving the way.
No wonder the rest of the jurisdictions are mad at us. They are tired of playing catch up.
An Institution with a Movement
The United Methodist Church is structured to do what its parent Church of England could not do: absorb the gains of the movement. Author Brian McLaren says the best institutions absorb the progress and advancements of the movements within it:
Effective institutions consolidate the gains of a movement.
Brilliant ones keep the movement alive.
Anyone remember President LBJ calling MLK Jr to “turn up the heat” so that he could pass civil rights legislation?
Jurisdictions make United Methodism a far stronger force in the world through the institution absorbing the gains of the separate movements. While there is much rhetoric about doing away with the West, we see that the Institution has already gained so much from the Movement.
I think we see that the South and the West need each other. The South’s evangelical reaching of people surpasses the North and West, to be sure, and that reaching of ethnic minorities is made better by ethnic minorities seeing they are fully included in The UMC, from the Bishops to the local church. Every barrier the West breaks makes it easier for the other jurisdictions to do so, and bring people to Christ by showing their identity doesn’t preclude them from being part of the Church.
These Western movements for ethnic minority inclusion have opened the institution to all people, and now LGBTQ persons can see the same in Bp. Oliveto, thanks to creative minorities in the Church.
May we continue to benefit each other’s efforts to open the table of God’s love to everyone, and move forward United in love and Methodist celebration of each other.
Thoughts? Thanks for reading and your shares on social media.