Appeal for ‘set-aside’ bishop advances in legislative committee

The Superintendency Legislative Committee spent the majority of Friday morning debating the Council of Bishops’ request for a fulltime president before advancing the legislation with almost no changes.

If approved by the General Conference, Petition 20314 would add two new sentences to constitutional Paragraph 49, allowing the council to elect a fulltime president who would be relieved of residential responsibilities. Because it is a constitutional change, it would have to be ratified by two-thirds of the annual conferences.

The petition was approved in committee by a vote of 49 to 6, with 5 abstentions.

“I’ve gone back and forth, back and forth on this issue,” said the Rev. Debbie Wallace Padgett from Kentucky, “but as a global church, it’s important that the Council of Bishops president have the space to lead in a global way. That would be very important to central conferences. I am also thinking about the health of this person. We’re currently placing unhealthy expectations on that bishop in this time of thinking of better health and wellness throughout the church.”

Delegates heard from three bishops — Larry Goodpaster, Ann Sherer-Simpson and Bruce Oden — late Thursday on the rationale for the petition, and asked to see a copy of the proposed job description for the position, which had to be translated into multiple languages. The Rev. Jerry Kulah from Liberia held up that job description and said, “When I look at what I have here, it is nothing short of a CEO!”

The committee spent the majority of its time on an amendment by the Rev. Tommy Williams of the Texas Conference that would have required the Council of Bishops to nominate three active bishops and that the General Conference (starting in 2016) would select one president from that group.

“That would give more people a voice in the selection, especially the laity” Williams explained. “Bishops make the nominees, while the General Conference retains its historical position as the decision-making body.”

“That’s taking the request for set-aside bishop in a totally different direction,” countered the Rev. Sally Langford from Western North Carolina. “The need is for a fulltime president because the council already has a part-time leader. It becomes more ‘pope-like’ if you have the General Conference voting, because that person becomes accountable to the whole General Conference and would have more authority that the council president already has.”

In the end, the amendment from Williams was voted down by a wide margin.

Committee members also rejected an amendment to the amendment from Williams that would have required the council presidency to be rotated among the four global continents where the denomination is represented.

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