Efforts to overturn a long-standing provision barring divorced clergy nomination for bishop in The United Methodist Church in Liberia were rejected by conference delegates on April 18. United Methodists who wanted the ban lifted picketed with homemade signs and sang, halting one afternoon session of the conference.
During the 182nd Session of the Liberia Conference, delegates voted 433 to 24 to affirm the rule barring divorced clergy persons from the episcopal office. Six delegates abstained from the voting process.
Those opposed to the bar argued the provision violated the rights of individuals who wanted to run for the episcopal office, since the bar is not in the Book of Discipline.
After petitioners disrupted the afternoon session on April 16, they requested and received a preliminary injunction against Bishop John G. Innis and conference officers, as well as heads of committees and boards of The United Methodist Church in Liberia. The injunction, issued by the Sixth Judicial Civil Law Court for Montserrado County after Friday’s annual conference session had ended, barred the bishop and officials from participating in or conducting the conference. However, the order was vacated by the court Saturday morning, so it did not delay proceedings.
Cletus Sieh, one of the opponents of the bar to divorced clergy, told conference delegates that in a connectional church, the denomination in Liberia should not adopt rules or policies that are contrary to the Book of Discipline’s provisions.
“We want you to uphold the only requirement that the Book of Discipline set forth for the nomination and election process which states that the clergy should be an elder in full connection and in good standing,” Sieh said.
The Rev. Paye Cooper Mondolo, superintendent of the Weala district, argued for keeping the provision.
“The decision to bar divorced clergy persons from being nominated for the position of bishop will bring moral credibility to the episcopal office of our church and guide the conduct of those who want to be bishop in the future,” Mondolo argued. He said the rule has been used in the election of previous bishops and must prevail for the good of the church.
Clergy supported ban
In separate sessions earlier in the week, lay delegates voted to overturn the provision while clergy delegates approved upholding it.
On April 14, clergy delegates voted 90-1 to uphold the provision. In a six-page page report, the conference board of ordained ministry outlined five counts dubbed “Reminders of the Conference Major Decisions (1985).” Those included the rule on divorced clergy: “No divorced clergy are allowed to be nominated as a candidate for the office of bishop of our conference.”
Lay delegates voted 116-0 to lift the ban. The delegates called on the conference to uphold ¶¶ 4, 403, and ¶ 604 of the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
The number of people who voted in the clergy and lay sessions is not equal to the number who voted in the general session of all delegates.
During the meeting, Bishop Innis praised the Liberian government and partners in the denomination for their help during the Ebola crisis. More than 10,000 Liberians contracted the deadly virus and about 4,500 died from Ebola as of April 18.
Innis thanked Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a United Methodist, for her caring and committed stewardship. He said she “galvanized local resources and international support for the containment and eradication of the Ebola scourge, which unfortunately claimed the lives of over 4,000 of our people, including doctors, nurses and other health workers.”
In his annual episcopal address to the hundreds gathered at the James E. Marshall United Methodist Church for the opening session of the conference on April 15, Innis lamented the loss of lives from Ebola. He called on United Methodists and others to work together for God’s specific purpose concerning humanity.
He indicated that United Methodists in Liberia and the Liberian diaspora are obliged to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ. “This is evidenced by the level of care we have given and the quality of work we have done together through churches, schools, health facilities, and other vital social services,” Innis said.
Innis thanked the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and the United Methodist Committe on Relief, United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Communications, the Liberia Partnership Summit, and the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, for their financial contribution toward the fight against Ebola.
“We praise God for these timely acts of caring and working together, the intervention of UMCom has enhanced our communications ministry tremendously,” Innis said.
Usually held in February, conference was delayed this year because of Ebola.
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, [email protected] or 615-742-5469.