What should be the role of a retired bishop?
It’s a question well worth considering, especially in light of the 33 retired bishops who issued their joint statement calling for a change in the UMC’s stance on self-avowed practicing homosexuals as clergy. You can read their statement here: A Statement of Counsel to the Church – 2011.
On the one hand, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I may not agree with these retired bishops, but they certainly have a right to their opinion on the subject. What’s more, they have a right to work for change in the language of the church’s doctrine by legitimate means.
However, where I get uneasy is when they use their position and title as bishop in order to influence the political process.
For me, the issue is two-fold. First, the title of bishop, retired or otherwise, gives the impression of authority. It leads people to believe that these individuals speak for the church as a whole, that their opinion is the view of The United Methodist Church, even if it is not.
Second, there is the matter of accountability. An active bishop has to answer to her or his Annual Conference. A retired bishop does not. To whom are these bishops accountable? To whom do they answer for their actions?
Yet, no matter what they say ‘in the name of the church,’ these retired bishops are still a part of the Council of Bishops – for life.
That seems problematic to me. And my concern goes well beyond the current issue of these particular 33 retired bishops.
For how long should a person get to carry the title ‘bishop’? If their authority and power has ended, shouldn’t the title as well?
Do we really want retired bishops still running around advocating positions in the life of the church? Is that really a retired bishop?
If they keep the title, how do we hold them accountable if they misuse the position? Shouldn’t there be a mechanism for doing that?
What should the role of a retired bishop be? How much voice should they still have?
What do you think?