A Methodist Pope

Okay, maybe that’s taking it too far, but you tell me what you think it means. Here’s part of the news release from UMNS entitled Bishops Seek Change in Presidency:

United Methodist bishops approved a proposal May 4 that would significantly redefine the role of president for the Council of Bishops.

The amendment to the church’s constitution would allow the council to elect one of its own to a full-time, four-year position without the usual responsibilities of overseeing a geographic area.

The individual in that role would serve as the denomination’s chief ecumenical officer, help align the strategic direction of the church and focus on growing vital congregations, among other duties.

I’m not entirely sure what to think of this. On the surface, it sounds harmless enough. Most bishops are overworked. It’s hard for a bishop to oversee her or his episcopal area and serve as president of the Council of Bishops both. So why not create a separate position that doesn’t have the responsibilities of a geographic area? Sounds reasonable enough.

On the other hand, it does seem odd on the heels of the Call to Action report to be laying down another layer of bureaucracy (I thought we were supposed to be reducing these) plus all the additional expense. Creating a whole new formal head of the Council of Bishops doesn’t strike me as streamlining.

What’s more, I’m afraid to ask how much it will cost. I hate to be petty, but bishops aren’t cheap. I don’t know what the average salary is for a bishop, but when you add in benefits, office expenses, and support staff, this new position will likely cost half a million dollars a year. That could be an added $2 million per quadrennium. Aren’t we in a recession still? Shouldn’t we be cutting budgets, not inflating them?

Of course, the deeper question I have is about accountability. The proposed responsibilities of this new position would basically make this presiding bishop the official spokesperson for The United Methodist Church in between General Conferences. To whom does this presiding bishop answer?

Again, I don’t want to be mean, but currently the average bishop is held accountable by their annual conference. I know some people will scoff at that, but I really believe that happens.

So who will hold this non-geographic bishop accountable? What group will hinder what he or she can say on behalf of the UMC? In light of the recent joint statement from 36 retired bishops (none of whom are currently accountable to any episcopal area), this is a real concern for me.

In essence, what are the limits of her or his authority? What do we do if he or she oversteps those bounds?

After all, the lesson of history is, those with power tend to try to add to their power. Just look at the Pope. That’s not how the position was originally designed to function, regardless of what my Catholic friends assure me. Power accumulates more power. What will stop that from happening here?

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. I’m sure that I am. Still, I can’t help but wonder: Is this the start of a Methodist Pope?

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2 responses to “A Methodist Pope

  • jeff

    Good post. it seems to me that the bishops aren’t waiting around for the laypeople of the UMC to decide whether or not to save our churches. They’re taking over. I expect the GC to approve the new superbishop position. there may also be a new committee according to page 27 of the CTA report. basically GC will still vote on various matters but when it comes to really making policies that affect the local churches and how to control the general boards, the bishops will be running the show. will that make us less democratic? you better believe it. it reminds me a bit of when senator palpatine took over the republic in star wars, it soon became the empire. look for a merger with the ELCA at some pint. the superbishop will have power to initiate that too. he’s going to be the chief ecumenical officer. it’s brave new world.
    incidentally i support the retired bishops. they are the only ones showing real leadership on equality for gays.

    • Lauren

      Thanks for the comments. I hope it doesn’t turn out as dire as your prediction, but there certainly is room for concern. To me the big issue is accountability. Checks and balances are important. By the way, nice Star Wars reference.

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