Elections are over in The United Methodist Church, and the future is bright, no matter who tries to steal our joy.
The 2022 episcopal elections in The United Methodist Church were dramatic affairs. WJ elected more “Firsts” in their long list of Firsts for the denomination. SCJ filled every election on the first ballot (!!). And though a Black, queer candidate was a top vote-getter on NEJ ballots, the jurisdiction got locked in a gridlock and delayed the election of their second bishop until 2024. Drama indeed!
UMNS reported several notable election results, including:
- Election of the first Native American bishop, David Wilson
- Election of the first Filipino American bishop , Carlo Rapanut, who is also the first US bishop ordained in a Central Conference, a sign of a connectional future.
- Election of the first openly gay and married African-American bishop, Cedrick Bridgeforth.
Of the 13 U.S. bishops elected at the 2022 jurisdictional conferences, seven are women and eight are people of color. Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai , the first bishop elected this year, is a Black woman and the third Black woman elected to the episcopacy by the North Central Jurisdiction. With the election of seven women bishops this year and seven in 2016 , about 44% of U.S. bishops are now women .
Finally, this class of bishops is uniformly LGBTQ+ inclusive, and they replace some of the most antigay bishops currently serving in America.
I’m personally excited about the three bishops elected in my region, the West. You can read more about Bishop Bridgeforth, Rapanut, and Escobedo-Frank at their links. All three will be welcome additions to the bishops’ circles in my jurisdiction.
There were hard times in our gatherings. Jurisdictions openly dealt with racism in their electoral process. One jurisdiction called to publicly repent of their own antigay actions. And an SCJ delegate credibly accused three bishops of aiding disaffiliation, including the bishop who ordained me, formerly of Oklahoma. It’s important to name these as hard topics, but I celebrate our conversations held openly and transparently.
But alongside the best of conversations were the ugliest of accusations.
Mere days after the election of Bishop Bridgeforth, the second gay bishop in the denomination (after 2016’s Bishop Karen Oliveto), a group of conservative United Methodists sent a complaint over his election, and then—in a serious breach of protocol—posted the complaint online.
Reading through the complaint, I was struck by three things:
- None of the original signers are in the Western Jurisdiction. This is a persistent thing of folks opposed to full inclusion in The United Methodist Church: they practice faceless, distant accountability rather than the face-to-face Wesleyan accountability. They couldn’t find one Prop 8 Californian? Try harder next time.
- 11 of the original 20ish complainants are professed members of the WCA or signed a Mississippi resolution that called for the recognition of the GMC as a denomination. One of those even published a straw poll online that his church is planning to disaffiliate. So those 11 are leaving United Methodism at the next opportunity anyway. Why are they dropping defilement in the pool before they leave?
- Finally, in addition to being spiteful, this is just a useless gesture. The WJ college of bishops and the WJ Episcopacy Committee seem to be clear that acts of LGBTQ+ inclusion will be, at most, held in abeyance. And the Council of Bishops won’t muster the 2/3 vote needed to take it on themselves—especially after January 1 when all the antigay American bishops are retired. Zzzzzz.
Traditionalists Lost Little…except One Secret Privilege
Rev. Dr. Becca Girrell, one of the delegates to the 2022 Northeastern Jurisdiction elections, wrote in response to another NEJ delegates’ blog post (which has since been deleted from that blog and social media, so I am paraphrasing) that 2022 was the right year to put it out there what the United Methodist future is: inclusive, global, and resilient. It was important that churches know who United Methodism is before the end of 2023 timer went off and churches couldn’t leave with their property anymore.
The signers of the complaint letter should know the same thing: the retributive form of Methodism they are living into is a privilege of the past. The one that honored faceless accountability, the one that upheld bullying complaints, and intimidated people out of ministry for LGBTQ+ inclusive actions? That privilege is gone when the antigay bishops retire, the horror stories since the 1980s left to memory and 1-2 remaining antagonist bishops. What continues forward is due process, face-to-face accountability, and a commitment not to prop up unjust ecclesial laws that I hope becomes even more explicit.
Traditionalists have nothing to worry about in the UMC future. Traditionalists are not disenfranchised. No power or position was denied to them. Every piece of our polity and structure caters to them. They can even continue to file complaints, as seen above.
But Traditionalists lost bishop and delegate elections in every jurisdiction in a stunning reversal from their 2019 passage of the retributive Traditional Plan. They no longer have episcopal cover to practice a quiet form of retributive Methodism. That their failure at episcopal elections is a direct result of an organizing failure from their renewal caucus groups should cause some bottom-up reflection from the rank and file as to whether their leaders have their preferred future in mind.
Not going to take our joy
The complaint PDF reads like a private investigator took photos of an illicit, secret. But it was a joyous affair, with all those photos made public. I was glad to be present at Western Jurisdiction Conference as a voting delegate for these elections, both in 2016 and 2022.
May we finish out 2022 in celebration of an inclusive class of bishops that can single-handedly end LGBTQ+ exclusion in the UMC in America (we’ll be reporting more on this in 2023 when the leadership officially changes), may we continue our solidarity work with United Methodists outside America, and may our future church look more like a diverse, multicolored tapestry than a plain white sheet of a complaint letter that tries–and fails–to steal our joy.
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