United Methodist Episcopal Candidate Websites

A conversation with Luke this week tipped me off to the practice of creating websites for episcopal candidates within the United Methodist Church. He pointed me to the Southeast Jurisdiction Candidates and North Central Jurisdiction Candidates where nearly 100% of them have created a website specifically to promote their candidacy.

I think that this is outrageous. There is not even a pretense of avoiding a campaign.

I am so glad that the South Central Jurisdiction Candidates just provide a link to a PDF of biographical information.

14 thoughts on “United Methodist Episcopal Candidate Websites

  1. I don’t understand why the websites are an outrage to you. I don’t get a vote, but were I to have the privilege of casting a ballot I would love to be able to view a collection of the candidates’ writings and other in-depth information that would lead to greater understanding of their theological beliefs, experiences, and qualifications.

    The only thing I can compare it to is when our annual conference (SC) voted for delegates to general and jurisdictional conferences. The thing that bothered me the most about the process was how little information we had to make our decisions with. The less information you have, the more it becomes a popularity contest — you vote for who you already know.

    When a candidate appears before the board of ordained ministry, the BOM has the candidate give a sermon, write a bible study, and other tasks that vary from conference to conference. I am ignorant to the whole process of selecting episcopal candidates, but I don’t imagine each delegate with a vote has the opportunity to interview the candidates, so restricting their knowledge of the candidates theology, gifts, and graces to a single PDF page seems more of an outrage.

  2. I guess, I find the entire Episcopal process to be rather shameless and highly political. It’s sad, we say discernment but what we mean (even in South Central Jurisdiction) is a time to campaign. Yes, it’s all in the name of letting people know who you are, where you stand on issues, ect. But, it is still campaigning. So, ignoring our shame is better? Thinking we are not as outrageous as those in other jurisdictions? I think not.

    My question in the Episcopal process is this: are we electing people who are prophetic for the church of tomorrow, willing to make tough decisions, not stand in the center, but be leaders who will lead (as opposed to manage) the church through change. Tomorrow will be here in 12 hours, not 12 years.

    I enjoy reading your updates and thoughts on the Methodist system and experience. Thanks for making them available.

  3. Anytime folks are voting for someone they don’t know, it is a complete farce without information about the candidates.

    Even with personal information of the candidate there are politics involved by the very nature of voting.

    Point: If we’re voting, there are politics and campaigning. Let us be clear and not naive. Perhaps the question to ask is a vote the best way of appointing bishops?

    What I deem to be outrageous is that when groups are open about their intentions, they are castigated quite often in the UMC politik; however, if a group hides in the shadows and conceals its intentions, it is rewarded. See General Conference as a classic example. That is outrageous.

  4. I wonder what system is better? Is there a better way to select bishops? Just as Mark points out, if we are voting, it is political and there isn’t much way around it. I don’t like mixing church and politics, either, but I don’t see a big problem with candidate websites that seek to give us information about the candidates.

    The only way I think you could remove the “marketing” aspect would be if those casting votes would have other ways of discernment about the candidates. The problem is that in a global context, how can someone from the southeast jurisdiction know anything of substance about someone from CalPac or vice versa? Sure if you just happened to work on a project together.

    I guess that’s why I don’t see an outrage in using technology to draw us closer together.

    Peace,
    Ray

  5. I don’t know if I would have said outrageous, but then again, my outrage-meter is probably out of whack when it comes to church politics. A couple of those sites are hilarious, by the way. A video on one of the SEJ sites is pretty darn funny.

    I would lean towards tolerance when a whole jurisdiction decides that is a reasonable way of spreading information about a candidate. It would be nice to have a writings, sermons, etc. all in one place.

    At the same time, those are more than a little too campaign-ish for me. The reality is, at least in the SCJ there isn’t exactly a dearth of information about candidates available to delegates. Each conference gets the chance to interview the candidates in person in the spring. There are usually a couple people on each delegation who know the candidate. I am well enough acquainted with each candidate in the SCJ now that I could call any one of them up and ask them a question if I wanted to. If you’re a reasonable episcopal candidate shouldn’t you have distinguished yourself pretty well anyways?

    More outrageous aspects of episcopal elections than websites: that women have to feel afraid to have their names put forward as potential candidates and episcopal candidates not leading at General Conference.

    Should be a good time here in a couple days.

  6. Actually, I find the websites (which YOU choose to go to and read) a lot less offensive than the 1)phone calls (which are not solicited) and 2)copious mailings (that clog up my mail box).

    That being said, I know a fabulous person who would make a wonderful Bishop — who will not do it because he’s “not political enough.” That alone would make him a great Bishop (in my eyes.) Yet he will not be selected b/c he doesn’t play the game. Pity.

  7. I found the websites informative and, if I were voting, would be very helpful. As long as they don’t start hosting fundraising dinners, handing out bumperstickers, and mudslinging.

  8. The problem is in the totally wacked out idea that spiritual leaders should be elected at all. Its almost as crazy as the idea that we should vote on doctrine every 4 years. We have serious problems with our polity because it is taken not from a scriptural/historical imperative – but from our American political context. I cant imagine Jesus is all to down with us doing it the way we do. I think everyone agrees that its perhaps the worst way to select leadership – however nobody has a good alternative so its what we have.

    Having said that – what else is there to do but campaign. I will say I would love to see some good old fashion attack ads – Just Kidding but imagine it

    “Bishop candidate x once said that infants shouldn’t be baptized – do we really want this kind of person as our leader? A vote for x is a vote for us becoming baptist – dont fall for this vote y for Bishop. I’m Bishop Candidate y and I approved this message.”

    I could have fun with this.

  9. As a Jurisdictional Delegate to the North Central Jurisdiction, I frankly couldn’t disagree more with the thought that websites are bad. Given the fact that process at Conference provides little time for true dialogue to focus the broad range of issues, a website provides additional perspective to “voters.”

    There is a certain level of politics in the process. It is an election. On the other hand, wouldn’t we want an educated electorate. The only thing I would desire more that ability to get straight answers to clear questions. Much of the material, speeches, and even websites are spent trying not to offend anyone, as compared to speaking what they truly feel and how they would lead.

    I frankly would go one step farther in creating dialogue. I would ask for candidates to provide a list of where they served, and what the pre/post numbers were. Did they bear fruit? What did it look like? Why? What are your key to effectiveness, and how does it translate to the episcopacy? This dialogue between candidates and jurisdictional delegates should not be limited to 4 days in 15 minute blocks, but weeks of questions and discernment.

    Now, at the end of the day, I think the election provided a good bishop for the Iowa Annual Conference. Is the system perfect? No. But I would rather that, than allowing a “good old boys club” elect someone just like themselves and prevent potential progress from being made.

    I understand the spirit of the post. I just don’t think it reflects reality.

    God Bless,
    Eric Seiberling

    PS My name is Eric Seiberling, and I approved this message. :-)

  10. To all – I truly appreciate all of your comments. Through reading your comments and through further conversation with others I find that really I am reacting less to the websites themselves (which are helpful in disseminating information) than with the politicization of the process.

    Eric – I particularly appreciate your suggestions about what might be a better process. I am going to continue thinking about this and would appreciate your thoughts

  11. To all – I truly appreciate all of your comments. Through reading your comments and through further conversation with others I find that really I am reacting less to the websites themselves (which are helpful in disseminating information) than with the politicization of the process.

    Eric – I particularly appreciate your suggestions about what might be a better process. I am going to continue thinking about this and would appreciate your further thoughts.

  12. Andrew,

    Thanks for the note on Facebook as well. There is a politicization of the process, since the church is inherently political. Think about the committees, boards, and structure of the UM process. It is all designed to slow down decisionmaking and force consensus. As long as we do not trust a small group to make broad ranging decisions for a massive organization, some sort of democratic (and political process) is required.

    So…question #1: Who should decide? The masses, representatives, or a small group.

    The Framers of the Constitution faced this same question. Who do we trust, and this there sufficent checks and balances to keep the system stable. They believed that power concentrated in the elites hands would lead to tryanny. The mob could not be trusted to protect individual liberty, and this a Republic (with a representative form of government was established.)

    Why a republic? Because it is inherently stable and slow. A representative form of government creates factions and requires consensus building to get anything through (Read Locke and Rosseau for details, as well as the Federalist Papers). The representatives speak for their district, yet have the ability to vote their own conscience.

    Thus, the need to elect will remain, the question is: “how do you inform the electorate without appearing to say “vote for me?”

    Question #2: How do you inform representatives to elect the right person?

    I may not be the right person to ask for it. As a Gen X/Corporate America type, I tend to focus more on results than the “softer-side of the pastorate.” I know both are important, but I believe we as a UM church are bogged down in issues not necessarily core to living the Great Commandant and the Great Commission. I personally would look at results and theology to make the call. But that is the beauty in the “republic”-form of government. It is not just about me!

    What really needs to happen is that there needs to be some integrity in the process. I watch people dodge questions about their beliefs because they did not want to lose votes. I also know a candidate who lost votes because he stated that he would enforce the discipline as it currently reads regarding a certain issue. He would make an amazing and gifted bishop, but will never be elected due to his “perception” in some circles.

    Net: Candidates are sending out all sorts of literature, but saying nothing.

    The DEEPER QUESTION: So what is the real issue behind the symptom call “Episcopal politicization?”

    Is the problem with the process, or the current special interests that have taken over our church? Much like some issues have hijacked the political process, I find the same issue here. As long as there are single issue voters who are more interested in forwarding THEIR agenda vs. GOD’S agenda, we are doomed as a denomination. That is the true reason the UM church has been in general decline over the past 40 years.

    I believe that much of the church has forgotten whose we are. Until that gets solved, the rest of this is just window dressing to the real issue.

    I pray that I am wrong, but I get a feeling I am not. There are pockets of hope out there. It is where we feed the poor, care for the sick, and raise the hope of the hopeless. Who is my bishop is mainly irrelevant to that work. My wife’s church (Elberon UMC, http://www.elberonumc.org) sits in a neighborhood where hundreds of kids go to bed at night hungry, where drugs and gunfire are rampant, and they have a 72% high school dropout rate.

    May be we should let them vote instead. They know who is living out Christ’s commandants and who is not.

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