Council of Bishops Elects New Officers, No Africans

By Walter Fenton –

Meeting in Berlin earlier this month, the United Methodist Council of Bishops announced the election of eight officers that will assume leadership roles in the council at the 2016 General Conference.

The new officers are: President, Bishop Bruce R. Ough (Dakotas-Minnesota); President designate, Bishop Kenneth H. Carter Jr. (Florida); Secretary, Bishop Cynthia Harvey (Louisiana); Connectional Table chairperson, Bishop Christian Alsted (Nordic and Baltic); Executive secretary, Bishop Marcus Matthews (Washington); and Ecumenical Officer, Bishop B. Michael Watson (North Georgia).

What surprised some observers about the elections was the continuing lack of any African episcopal leaders on the leadership team. Currently, Africa accounts for 41 percent of the church’s membership, and yet none of the elected episcopal officers are from Africa.

According to statistics compiled by the UM General Council on Finance and Administration, church membership in Africa grew at an 11 percent annual rate from 2008 to 2013, while U.S. membership declined at a 1.2 percent rate over that same period. If those rates continue to hold, then by the close of 2016 there will be more members in Africa than in the U.S.

Bishop Ough’s term as president begins in 2016 and will end in 2018. Bishop Carter, as president-elect, will then serve through 2020. By then African membership is likely to exceed U.S. membership by three to four million members, and the gap will continue to widen.

1 GP COVER oct10.inddOugh currently serves as the chairperson of the Connectional Table (CT), essentially the church’s general administrative council. The 59-member body is charged with implementing the vision and ministries of the UM Church as set forth by the quadrennial meetings of General Conference.

Under Ough’s leadership the CT has been criticized for the manner in which it has handled the debate over human sexuality. During its November 2013 meeting protesters from the LGBTQ activist group Love Prevails disrupted the body’s proceedings. Ough yielded to the protesters, and in an unprecedented move, he set aside the CT’s agenda for the day so that Love Prevails could share its own.

Ough will serve through May 2018, and Carter will then follow him. While Carter has stated he will uphold the church’s Book of Discipline, he has exhibited openness to modifying the church’s statement that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

We trust there will soon be a robust conversation about diversity and inclusivity on the Council of Bishops. It will be very odd for the COB’s executive officers to all come from the U.S. and Europe (less than 1 percent of UM members reside there) when the church gathers for the 2020 General Conference in the predominantly white and largely progressive city of Minneapolis.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News. 

Comments

  1. John Kurt Carpenter says

    You can see where the Methodist Church is going and where the gospel is being left. When you get there I will leave quietly by the back door.

  2. Walter,

    I attend a Methodist Church in Florida and read with interest your brief remarks about Bishop John Carter. You may already have this information, but the situation is really more one sided than you might think if you consider these additional facts:

    1. Last January, Bishop Carter authorized pastors in the conference to participate in SSM weddings outside of the church in certain circumstances. Please see the Bishop’s statement on same sex weddings: http://www.flumc.org/newsdetail/931440

    2. Several of Bishop Carter’s key staff, including top aide David Dodge, and four of present nine district superintendents signed Rev. Adam Hamilton’s “A Way Forward for the UMC.” One of two incoming district superintendents signed the document with the line up still being four district superintendents who signed the document. One district superintendent, John Powers, has been a long-time advocate of SSM and ordination of gay clergy. See http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=56f1dc04-1558-4efe-beaf-9fd2c8f4cc96&c=bc5a0550-1d8c-11e3-8f9b-d4ae52843aae&ch=bcd1f470-1d8c-11e3-8fdd-d4ae52843aae

    3. Rev. Hamilton has been invited to be the keynote speaker at the Florida Annual Conference next month. http://www.flumc.org/annualconference2015

    I will let these facts speak for themselves. Blessings, Bruce

  3. interesting article of course there are no Africans elected the bishops are the most close minded bigoted and gutless area of the church

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