Will Restructure Give Bishops More Power?



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Expanding episcopal power

Since my ordination in 1959, I have watched the bishops intentionally go after gaining more power on personnel issues. They are now very close to telling pastors who to take into church membership and firing pastors at will.

While I have focussed on that incredible expansion of power and trying to bring accountability to be sure they do not exceed their authority, something else has been going on. As one bishop told me many years ago, "Every time Annual Conference and General Conference meets, we get stuck with more stuff to do."

While it is my contention that the Council of Bishops as a corporate entity seems to delight in gaining any power, individual bishops are going nuts with being stuck with one more responsibility for which they have not been trained.

Our Cabinet members are overworked and undertrained. But as a denomination, we are finding it too easy to just tell them to do what we no longer use our imaginations to figure how better to do it.

Where the Cabinets' first responsibility is to help the pastors succeed at the churches to which they appoint them, it appears most Cabinet members are busy doing program and administration on the national, jurisdictional, and conference levels and no longer have time to do their most important job.

Bishops are seeking more power but they are also being given more power by us. And we still have no orderly way to hold them accountable.

Not all disasters occur in a matter of moments. Sometimes over a matter of years we not only let them happen but we even find ways to help them along!

Jerry Eckert more than 10 years ago


The real issue is that the COA proposal moves away from our historic UM ideal of decision making in a radical form of democracy, where votes (and power) originate from the bottom up---from Charge Conferences and Annual Conferences. Power decisions for the denomination and Disciplinary changes were made by widely and diversely elected representatives from each Annual Conference. This proposed change really is one that makes a change in our historic and corporate culture.

Is our present structure unwieldy? Absolutely. Do our efforts to be deliberately racially, gender, and laity inclusive cost a lot of money? You bet it does. However, programs that are dear to a wide segment of people in the UMC take place, and involve people at the local level both in making decisions and carrying out those decisions. That, in many ways, has been the genius of a structure that primarily was designed by Francis Asbury (until he was perceived as drawing too much power to himself, at which point, the spirit of Jacksonian Democracy in the USA kicked in and made the denomination even MORE "democratic" in a radical way. That is our heritage.

I think most people agree we need to make some serious and major changes in the way we do business. I think the criticism I read is really saying that the "Call to Action" proposal went too far in a more autocratic way.

Tom Griffith more than 10 years ago