Term limits for bishops fails at GC2016

Term limits for United Methodist bishops got strong support in a vote at General Conference 2016, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to change the church constitution.

The vote on May 17 was 482 in favor of term limits and 332 opposed.

The Association of Annual Conference Lay leaders introduced the petition, arguing that lifetime tenure for bishops in the United States “inevitably invites abuse of power and creates a mistrust with the local churches.”

Lonnie Brooks, legislative chair of the association, recalled that a term limits proposal at General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Florida, had a majority of just one vote.

He noted the stronger support this time and predicted term limits needs “one more go at it,” at General Conference 2020, to get the two-thirds majority.

Constitutional amendments also require a two-thirds majority of total annual conference voters to take effect.

The term limits petition at General Conference 2016 won approval in the Ministry and Higher Education/Superintendency Committee by a 56-30 vote.

The petition said that, beginning in 2020, bishops in the jurisdictional (U.S.) and central conferences would be elected for a term of eight years, and could be elected to another eight-year term.

The petition also said retired bishops would no longer be a member of the Council of Bishops or their respective College of Bishops.

At present, the church constitution says U.S. bishops get life tenure. The constitution allows central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — to set the tenure of their respective bishops.

A bishops’ task force report raised concerns about the variety of length of terms that bishops serve and asked whether it was time to unify tenure.

The Rev. Ellis Conley of the West Virginia Conference gave a heated speech against term limits in floor debate Tuesday, saying bishops would cease to be prophetic voices and strong leaders, and would be forced to curry favor with clergy and laity to be reelected.

“Our fear and suspicion of our episcopal leaders is nothing new, but it’s short-sighted and only a veiled attempt to make our bishops lap dogs to do our bidding,” Conley said.

An effort to refer the bill to the Inter-jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee failed.

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

Sign up for our newsletter!

umnews-subscriptions
General Conference
On Jan. 3, a 16-member group of United Methodist leaders offered a proposal that would preserve The United Methodist Church while allowing traditionalist-minded congregations to form a new denomination. UM News will host a panel discussion on the Protocol of Reconciliation & Grace Through Separation proposal at 9:30 a.m. EST on Jan. 13. Graphic by Laurens Glass, UM News.

Video archive: UM News interviews protocol developers

Leaders who helped develop a separation plan for The United Methodist Church answered questions about their proposal during a live event Jan. 13.
General Church
Delegates pause for prayer at the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis. A group of 2020 General Conference delegates and other church leaders from Africa, Europe and the Philippines is proposing a new form of unity. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News.

Delegates offer proposal for church unity

United Methodist leaders from Africa, Europe and the Philippines are offering a “Christmas Covenant” and inviting others to sign on.
General Conference

Church future under negotiation before GC2020

United Methodist leaders of varied perspectives on LGBTQ status struck an optimistic note about conversations that aim to find consensus before the next General Conference.