Divorce legislation prevails at Liberia Conference

The Liberia Conference upheld legislation banning divorced clergy from running for bishop before endorsing episcopal candidates to send to the West Africa Central Conference for election in December 2016. The new bishop will be assigned to the Liberia Annual Conference.

The conference endorsed the Rev. Samuel Quire, administrative assistant to Liberian Bishop John Innis, and the Rev. David Tokpah, pastor of New Covenant United Methodist Church, Greater New Jersey Conference.

At the Liberia Conference meeting last April, delegates rejected efforts to overturn a long-standing provision barring divorced clergy from nomination as bishop in The United Methodist Church in Liberia. During the 182nd Session of the Liberia Conference, delegates voted 433 to 24 to affirm the rule barring divorced clergy from the episcopal office. Six delegates abstained from the voting process. Those opposed to the bar argued the provision violates the rights of individuals who wanted to run for the episcopal office, since the bar is not in the Book of Discipline.

In the voting during the 183rd Conference on Feb. 12, 13 clergy were nominated for bishop in the first round. Ten were eliminated. The next day, Quire won the second round with 581 votes, overtaking Tokpah, who netted 509 votes. According to nominating rules, the Rev. James Labala, with 429 votes, was eliminated from the process but could be nominated on the central conference floor in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivore, in December.

Before the first round of balloting, members of the Liberia Annual Conference agreed to uphold the “divorce legislation,” thus banning all clergy in the category from running for  bishop. 

Although there are several divorced clergy in the Liberia Conference, the divorce legislation was aimed at stopping the Rev. Julius Nelson, considered a favorite for the position of bishop. Despite the rules, several members of the conference wrote Nelson’s name on their ballots, thus rendering them invalid. With 166 invalid ballots in the first round, half of which Nelson received, individuals opposing the divorce legislation hope the West Africa Central Conference will overturn the Liberian rule.

Sierra Leone Bishop John K. Yambasu mentioned a complaint to the West Africa Central Conference from those affected by the divorce legislation. While the West Africa Central Conference is expected to look into the complaint, Yambasu warned that the central conference has no judicial committee and concluding the matter at the WACC session may be difficult.

The head of the Nigeria delegation, the Rev. Ande I. Emmanuel, said his delegation should vote for the candidate(s) who will be the choice of the Liberia church. “I know your rules will not impact the WACC,” he said, “but it will not do us any good as a church if we take a bad decision that will shatter the unity of UMC Liberia.”

Swen is editor and publisher of West African Writers, an online publication about United Methodist happenings in West Africa and assists the denomination in Liberia with coverage for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, newsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5469.

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