UMC pastor files complaint against election of openly gay leader to bishop hierarchy

The Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth (right), gives remarks on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, shortly after being elected by delegates of the Western Jurisdiction to be the first openly gay black bishop in The United Methodist Church. | Screengrab: YouTube/Western Jurisdiction of the UMC

A United Methodist Church pastor has filed a complaint against a regional body’s leadership over a recent decision to elect an openly gay bishop, which is in defiance of denominational rules.

The Rev. W. Timothy McClendon of St. John’s United Methodist Church in South Carolina filed a complaint earlier this month against the College of Bishops of the UMC Western Jurisdiction.

At issue was both the Western Jurisdiction’s recent election of Cedric Bridgeforth as bishop, as well as the 2016 election of Karen Oliveto as bishop by the same regional body.

McClendon said the election of openly gay bishops undermined “all United Methodist clergy who uphold the highest ideals of the Christian life” and said it “sends a confusing message about the meaning of marriage to the community and potential parishioners.”

He also said it increased “the likelihood of further fracturing of the denomination,” which is presently seeing large numbers of churches vote to leave due to its ongoing debate over homosexuality.

The pastor also invited others to sign on to his complaint against the Western Jurisdiction bishops, with more than 900 people adding their names to it as of Monday morning.

Earlier this month, the Western Jurisdiction voted to make the Rev. Cedrick D. Bridgeforth of the California-Pacific Conference a bishop in their regional body.

Bridgeforth became the first openly gay African American bishop in the UMC after he was elected on the 18th ballot, getting 73 votes out of 93 valid ballots cast.

“It’s in the Church where I have found purpose, even when I felt like it was chewing me up and spitting me out, I still couldn’t let it go,” Bridgeforth said shortly after being elected.

“It wasn’t about the institution; it wasn’t about its rules or its regulations. It was about the call of God upon my life, to be bigger, to be better, to open doors where possible and to chart new ground where we have to.”

Bridgeforth’s election violated the UMC's Book of Discipline, which prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” and thus does not allow them to be elected bishops.

In 2016, the Western Jurisdiction unanimously elected Karen Oliveto to be bishop of the UMC Mountain Sky Area, making her the first openly gay bishop in UMC history.

While the United Methodist Judicial Council, which is the highest court of the UMC, ruled Oliveto’s election invalid back in 2017, she remains in office as of this month.

Oliveto’s election and other instances of UMC leaders refusing to enforce denominational rules on ordination and marriage have led many theological conservatives to leave the UMC and join the newly created Global Methodist Church.

Earlier this month, for example, the UMC Louisiana Conference held a special session that approved the votes of 58 congregations who had voted to leave the mainline denomination.

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