Conference ban on divorced bishops could be tested

The firm intention of Liberian United Methodists not to have a bishop who has been divorced could be tested at the West Africa Central Conference, set to meet in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, December 14-18.

On April 18, 2015, members of the Liberia Conference voted 433 to 24, with six abstentions, to affirm a conference rule which bars divorced clergy persons from nomination for bishop.

The Liberia Conference endorsed two candidates for bishop on Feb. 13, 2016. They are the Rev. Samuel J. Quire, administrative assistant to current Liberia Conference interim Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, and the Rev. David Tokpah, a pastor in the Greater New Jersey Conference. The Rev. Julius Nelson received votes at the annual conference during February, but was barred by the divorce legislation. Nelson is vice president and dean of student affairs of the University of Liberia.

Rev. David Tokpah (right) and Rev. Samuel Quire (to his left) chat at the Gompa District Conference in Ganta City, Nimba County, Liberia. Photo by Julu Swen, United Methodist Communications.

Rev. David Tokpah (right) and Rev. Samuel Quire (left) chat at the Gompa District Conference in Ganta City, Nimba County, Liberia. Photo by Julu Swen, United Methodist Communications.

Nelson could be nominated from the floor at the West Africa Central Conference, and that could prompt the test of the Liberia Conference’s legislation against bishops who have been divorced.

The Liberia Conference will cite the legislation to challenge any floor nomination of a divorced elder, said Rudolph Merab, the conference’s lay leader and leader of its delegation to the West Africa Central Conference.

Merab said the Liberia Conference’s position is supported by the doctrinal standards in the Book of Discipline, paragraph 104, and by Scripture.

“We will use Scripture to keep the moral standing of the church in the Liberian society,” he said.

Merab said there may well be a vote at the West Africa Central Conference on the Liberia Conference’s legislation. He said the Liberia Conference delegation will speak with one voice, should that occur.

Interim Bishop Kulah, in an interview with United Methodist News Service, said any nomination made from the floor during the West Africa Central Conference will be discussed in depth, including reasons why the individual might not have been allowed to participate in the episcopal election process in the Liberia Conference.

 “The UMC Book of Discipline allows nomination on the floor, but the West African Central Conference must approve the individuals nominated before they become official candidates for the episcopal election,” Kulah noted.

The interim bishop said further said that for the “divorce legislation” to take effect at the West Africa Central Conference, it must be debated and voted upon by delegates attending the conference in Abidjan.

“If the West Africa Central Conference throws the divorce legislation off the conference floor, whoever gets nominated, whether they were barred by the church in Liberia … will be part of the candidates for the office of bishop,” he concluded.

Swen is a communicator in Liberia. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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