WASHINGTON -- Leaders of America's second-largest Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, are gathering next week, November 2-5, to elect 14 new bishops. These new leaders will have great power to reshape the UMC's future.
The denomination is in the midst of a slow-motion separation, with a growing mass exodus of conservative congregations into the new Global Methodist Church.
These elections will impact the ongoing split by sending key signals about the new direction for what will be left of the United Methodist Church:
Will another gay bishop be elected? The denomination welcomes gay members and celibate gay clergy, but longstanding rules prohibit "self-avowed practicing homosexual" clergy, as well as clergy who are otherwise sexually active outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. In 2016, the radicalized Western Jurisdiction defied this ban by electing married lesbian Karen Oliveto as bishop in 2016. Now there is at least one credible gay bishop candidate in the Northeast.
Who do United Methodist leaders believe Jesus Christ is? As documented, one bishop candidate in the Northeastern U.S. recently echoed a current bishop by publicly suggesting that Jesus was imperfect. Another bishop candidate in the North Central U.S. recently declared that "it is not important that" United Methodists "agree on who Christ is."
Is there any room for traditionalists? Some liberal United Methodists claim that after the split is over, the post-separation United Methodist Church (psUMC) will still have a place for "traditionalists," those who support the denomination's historic, doctrinally rooted teaching that marriage is a covenant of one man and one woman. Such rhetoric will ring hollow if effective litmus tests ensure that none of the 14 new bishops are traditionalists.
Bishop elections will happen autonomously and simultaneously in five locations:
The Western Jurisdictional Conference mees in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference meets in Houston, Texas.
The Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference meets in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.
The Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference meets in College Park, Maryland.
The North Central Jurisdictional Conference meets in Fort Wayne, Indiana. IRD's United Methodist Action director John Lomperis will participate as a voting delegate, elected by the laypeople of the Indiana Conference.