A Tale of Two Bishops (Conclusion)

(This is the concluding post of a series which begins here.)

African Christianity has both gifts and challenges for first world Christians. I see the gifts as (1) a sense of the presence of God in all things, (2) an experience of the Spirit of God for power to meet the challenges of life, (3) a strong emphasis on the community, and (4) an eagerness to celebrate in music and dance the glory of God. The challenges for Westerners, on the other hand, are to stand up for Africa, the overlooked continent, and to make policies that will enable this troubled continent to overcome poverty, AIDS, illiteracy, corruption, and civil wars. The suffering of African peoples has been immense since the late twentieth century. Only with determined, long-range effort will Africans be able to solve their problems and will Westerners be able to learn from African spirituality.

Bradley P. Holt, Thirsty for God, page 193

One of the dangers of complexity is that people will give up trying to understand how things work. If such abdication of responsibility takes place, we then turn it over to a small group of “experts” who may be able to manipulate the organization for their own ends. Such a result is a tragic denial of the priesthood of all believers.

Jack M. Tuell, The Organization of The United Methodist Church (Revised 1985 Edition), Introduction

Some might accuse me of not speaking in the spirit of love. To borrow from an American’s response to two different Methodist bishops: I would prefer to work toward a positive peace which is the presence of justice rather than a negative peace which is the absence of tension. Such a negative peace may come cheaply today yet becomes exorbitant thereafter.

The Council of Bishops constitutes the leadership of The United Methodist Church. By my count, there are 53 men and 13 women currently among the voting membership of the Council of Bishops. As Judicial Council Decision 1210 (May 2012) reminded the 2012 General Conference, the Council of Bishops is constitutionally obligated to “plan for the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations, and responsibilities prescribed and enjoined by the General Conference…” In other words, their job is to apply the rules equally to everyone and for everyone.

The Council’s silence concerning active Bishop Wandabula’s conduct and the Council’s statement concerning retired Bishop Talbert’s conduct tell a different story. Three possible tales:

  • It’s OK for a bishop in The United Methodist Church to violate the rules as long as this is done on their own turf.
  • When religious leaders face awkward questions about their own conduct, change the subject with a “Call To Action” against someone else.
  • A first-century rabbi had some related comments.

Prior to the 2008 General Conference, there were discussions about where the church should focus its efforts. Out of these discussions came four areas of focus. (I’ve always thought this was a weird conclusion. Not one area to focus on, but four? Additionally, the “four areas of focus” say nothing about how much should be spent on each area. Anyway, welcome to The United Methodist Church.)

The first listed area of focus was, “Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.” Developing principled leadership takes time. Meanwhile, we can only wonder if a majority of “principled Christian leaders” will attend the next Council of Bishops meeting.