Summary of Jurisdictional Conference Outcomes
Last week, United Methodists from around the United States gathered for Jurisdictional Conferences: opportunities to elect bishops and pass resolutions to advance the kin-dom of God in the denomination.
Episcopal elections are important for LGBTQ+ justice because our Church’s moral direction is deeply influenced by the values of the elected bishops and because bishops hold immense power to affect the livelihoods of LGBTQ+ clergy and congregations seeking justice and inclusion.
The 2022 Jurisdictional Conferences saw a historic slate of episcopal elections for the Reconciling movement, including the following.
- Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth, serving the Greater Northwest Annual Conference and the UMC’s second out-gay bishop
- Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, serving the Iowa Annual Conference
- Bishop Hector Burgos, serving the Upper New York Annual Conference and the first Hispanic/Latino bishop of the Northeast Jurisdiction
- Bishop Robin Dease, serving the North Georgia Annual Conference
- Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank, serving the California-Pacific Annual Conference
- Bishop Carlo Rapanut, serving the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, the first Filipino American bishop in the U.S, and the first U.S. bishop ordained in a Central Conference
- Bishop Delores “Dee” Williamston, serving the Louisiana Annual Conference and the South Central Jurisdiction’s first Black woman bishop
- Bishop David Wilson, serving the Great Plains Annual Conference and the UMC’s first Native American bishop
Other appointments supportive to the Reconciling movement:
- Bishop Tom Berlin, serving the Florida Annual Conference
- Bishop Laura Merrill, serving Arkansas Annual Conference
- Bishop Lanette Plambeck, serving the Dakotas-Minnesota Area
- Bishop Dan Schwerin, serving the Northern Illinois Annual Conference
- Bishop Connie Shelton, serving the North Carolina Annual Conference
We celebrate these newly elected justice-seeking bishops who represent more of the whole of humanity and whose wisdom is invaluable in the ongoing co-creation of our Church.
At the same time, we acknowledge that progress may feel slow in its attainment and fast in its erosion. Trust is hard to build, especially among those on the margins for whom the Church has not always kept its promises. We lament that the Northeastern Jurisdiction had and lost the opportunity to elect an out gay bishop. [Edit 11/17/22: The New England Annual Conference has since announced that retired bishop Peggy A. Johnson will serve as Interim Bishop.]
Among the legislative victories last week, we especially celebrate that the three resolutions RMN supported passed in all five jurisdictions. Though aspirational, as Jurisdictional Conferences do not write policy for the denomination, the adoption of these resolutions in all five jurisdictions underscores the delegates’ prioritization of integrity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the U.S. The resolutions are:
- Leading with Integrity: resolving that Church leaders who intend to disaffiliate from the UMC be asked by the jurisdiction to recuse themselves from leadership positions in the UMC
- Support of a U.S. Regional Conference: resolving the support of the expressed intents of the Christmas Covenant and Connectional Table legislation, including the creation of Regional Conferences in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.
- Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice & Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC: resolving that jurisdictions affirm the spirit of the abeyance or moratorium until changes can be made in the Book of Discipline and furthermore champion the full inclusion and participation of LGBTQ+ persons in the Church
In the Southeastern Jurisdiction, the queer delegates’ resolution was dismissed by the presiding bishop who immediately ruled the resolution out of order. In a prophetic effort to be heard while enunciating the pain and exclusion of queer delegates, RMN Organizer Helen Ryde and other queer delegates stood to be recognized, unwilling to back down until the bishop agreed to acknowledge the resolution and allow it to be amended and approved.
In the South Central Jurisdiction, Rev. Stan Copeland asked the jurisdiction to hold accountable those bishops who worked to form the Global Methodist Church while still a part of the UMC; the bishops agreed to gather more information after the conference. Rev. Katie McKay Simpson called the jurisdiction to collective confession and apology for challenging the historic election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the Church’s first out gay bishop.
In the Western Jurisdiction, delegates passed legislation that creates an LGBTQ+ caucus with a budget and a seat in Western Jurisdiction leadership.
In the North Central Jurisdiction, an unprecedented two-hour plenary session was devoted to understanding the impact of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism in the UMC.
For the witness of individuals like Helen Ryde, Rev. Katie McKay Simpson, and Rev. Stan Copeland, and to RMN volunteer teams around the country who made collaborative strides for justice: we express our deep thanks. We are also grateful to RMN’s Organizers who have worked tirelessly to advance equity and provide important leadership and courageous witness.
Meanwhile, The Philippines Central Conference (PCC) special session is about to embark upon its own episcopal elections. We will similarly update the Reconciling movement on how the PCC votes with regard to justice and inclusion in the Church, and we hold those delegates and episcopal candidates in prayer for the sake of the Church and the world.
The work of the Reconciling people has no expiration date or endpoint. Our charge is the ongoing work that the Spirit has set out for us for an ever more equitable and representative Church.