Why would you want to be a bishop in the United Methodist Church now?
The United Methodist Church is in the midst of a great reorganization — shifting generational leadership in the United States, fully realizing its global identity, refocusing away from practices that have led to decline in many congregations, and confronting exclusionary impulses and systems. I’m pretty clear-eyed about the struggle, loss, conflict, and difficulty required for our church to navigate these transitions. And I get that we might not succeed. Being a bishop at this time means signing on for hard decisions, cultivating courageous leadership, embracing grief without allowing it overwhelm hope, and acknowledging that our current structures, including the episcopacy, must fundamentally change or be set aside. If we do not succeed in finding a faithful future for our denomination, then being a bishop in the United Methodist Church could have a relatively short tenure. Even with all of these challenges, I believe that I can be a catalyst for helping our church lean more deeply into fulfilling Christ’s mission of making disciples and transforming the world. I love a challenge, and I feel that God has called me to use all of my gifts and experiences in this important work of transitioning into God’s future.
Should the UMC divide into progressives and conservatives?
I know that some clergy and churches believe that we should divide our denomination, but I do not think this is the best course of action. For those who would like to leave, I support them and would work for a fair and kind way to disentangle those clergy and congregations from our denomination without causing financial or organizational harm to the clergy and congregations that remain. As a church planter myself, I see the allure of starting a new expression of Wesleyan Christianity. I honor those who seek this path, but it is not my calling to do so at this time.
Most of our United Methodist congregations have people who strongly hold divergent views on full inclusion of LGBTQ people into the ministries of our denomination. Our historic strength has been that we are a church where people can think for themselves, study and learn, meet people who are different, and agree to form diverse communities of faith. This is not a glitch in our denomination. This is a feature intended, programmed, and written into our deepest doctrinal code. If we can refocus ourselves on celebrating this feature, we can resist the outside political forces that seek to wedge us apart and seek a humble unity in the midst of diversity.
How do you think we should resolve our conflict over full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the UMC?
The ultimate resolution will require us to respect and value one another through establishing relationships of Christian love within the Body of Christ, especially with those who have been traditionally excluded or devalued. We have a lot to do in establishing an environment that is supportive and welcoming to LGBTQ people. This will be hard work, and in addition to wrestling with heterosexist habits we will be forced to confront our unreflected practices and entrenched systems that exclude people of color, decelerate women’s leadership, and continue colonial attitudes toward Central Conference concerns. Until we welcome and affirm all people, we will continue to limit our evangelistic witness and be susceptible to divisive external influences.
In practical terms, our first steps seem fairly straightforward. We must begin by committing to cease harming one another and fully listen to the voices of those naming the harm we are causing them and their communities. We must seek the good of all people and invest in collective connectional community discernment of the best actions to bring about that good. Finally, we must dive deeply into our individual and corporate spiritual practices that equip us to understand and follow God’s grace guidance for ourselves and our church.
Would you agree to a moratorium on clergy trials for being a self-avowed homosexual or celebrating same-sex marriages?
Yes. Our clergy trial process was never meant to be used as a tool for political purposes. It was intended as a means of final resort at the supervisory discretion of the bishop. The misuse of charges and trials to promote division cannot be tolerated and violate the episcopal vow to promote the unity of the church.
Would you commit to being an anti-racist leader?
Yes. Racism continues to be the pernicious scourge of the U.S. church. We continue to be a church that does not fully represent the diversity of the communities we serve, and we have not yet done enough to confront racism within our churches, our denomination, and our communities. I know that I have a lifetime of learning and growing to continue to challenge my own internalized white supremacy, but I am personally and organizationally committed to the work of anti-racism.
What do you hope will emerge from a General Conference in 2024?
As we move toward General Conference 2024, I'm hoping and praying for three results:
Does the United Methodist Church need another tall, white guy as a bishop?
'No, not if we're electing people just because they are tall and white and male. I am all of those things, and too often people who look like me have been promoted as leaders over more qualified candidates who didn't look like me. I trust the delegates to carefully reflect on the qualifications of all the candidates, thoughtfully consider the need for diverse representation among our bishops, and make decisions for the good of the entire church. This is the delegates' work and discernment. I believe that I bring some different experiences and perspectives that could benefit the leadership of our church, and I offer myself for consideration in that spirit. I will also celebrate and support other candidates who courageously offer themselves to the delegates' discernment. This is no time for anyone to sit on the sidelines, and I believe that our church needs all of our leaders of every skin tone, height, and gender.
How do we innovate a new United Methodist Church?
The United Methodist Church is changing to meet the spiritual needs of a changing world, but too often it is slow to react instead of actively innovating new ways of being church. Creating and sustaining a healthy culture of innovation arrives from a combination of four factors:
How will you lead people who disagree with you?
Leadership in polarized times means that everyone won't agree with you. Even if we don't agree on everything, we can agree on respecting and treating each other justly. I have served alongside leaders with whom I disagreed. Sometimes the disagreement was on a small matter of tactic, but sometimes it was a greater issue of strategy or goal. I have always respected those leaders who acknowledged that we disagreed, listened carefully to my input, and respectfully chose a different way. When the disagreement was over essential matters where compromise would have damaged either of our integrities, I've appreciated a frank and direct conversation and mutual parting of the ways. I have modeled my life on several of these leaders and always tried to lead with that level of honesty and care for those who disagree with my decisions or goals.
How do we find and support great leaders for our churches?
Developing, deploying, and supporting lay and clergy leaders is a critical task in innovating a new way of being church. These leaders will experiment and explore how church can work in their changed contexts. This work of leadership development begins in reconnecting church leadership tasks to the energy and excitement of mission, evangelism, and justice. Inspiring church leadership is an outgrowth of an experience of God's loving grace in Jesus Christ and woven into a personal encounter with salvation. We lead because we want others to join in the good news we have found. Inspiring and supporting these leaders requires that we help them identify their giftedness and passions and then allow them to develop their unique leadership roles instead of plugging them in to a predefined committee, board, certification, or ordination category. Supporting leaders happens through the direct relationships of leaders with mentors, coaches, and supportive supervisors.
How do you understand the grace and lordship of Jesus Christ in your life?
Jesus Christ is lord of my life. When I finally fell in love with God's gracious love for me, I surrendered control of my life over to Christ. Christ's gracious love gave me a new purpose and new power for living. My greatest joys have come in the ten thousand surprising ways that God has blessed me as I attempted to follow Christ's leadership. My greatest missteps have come from thinking that I know better, that I don't need to listen, or that I am in control. Jesus Christ is lord of my life because I am a better person, better Christian, better pastor, and better leader when I follow Jesus.
Do you want to do the things that bishops do?
During my discernment about offering myself as an episcopal candidate I watched a group of bishops celebrate Holy Communion together, and I imagined what it would be like to be a Bishop in our United Methodist Church. I have an essential tremor that causes my hands to shake. I've had it since I was a boy, and it's not dangerous to me or a precursor to any other conditions. However, it makes it really hard to hold a microphone in my hand, and I never hold a cup without a lid. After spilling a few times during communion when I first started in ministry, now I try never to hold the chalice either. Watching them I was filled with dread at suddenly having to try to control my tremor after being thrust unexpectedly into celebrating communion, as Bishops sometimes are. It got me thinking about how I feel about other things that bishops do.
Each bishop is faced with a nearly impossible list of expectations and must choose how they will lead, what they will do, what they will delegate, and what they will leave undone. There are parts of the work that I do not see myself doing very well. There are other parts that are a good match for my gifts. I think that it is easy to get sucked into institutionally-focused meetings and tasks that absorb a lot of time without many missional results. I do not want to do those things. However, when I have been disciplined about focusing my work on the mission of Christ, I have rejoiced in using my gifts. I think that I would "bishop" differently and uniquely to match how God has equipped and prepared me. If I can follow God's gifting, focus on my strengths, and avoid organizational and systemic traps, then I would love to do the things that bishops do in The United Methodist Church.
How long could you serve as a bishop before retirement?
Assuming that our structure, denomination, and Discipline remain unchanged, I could serve until 2040, including at least two 8-year appointments before reaching the mandatory age of retirement. However, I believe that we will see significant changes to the episcopacy in the next few years. Our structure is quite costly, and we are already seeing proposed changes. I believe in our mission, and I am ready to take up the challenge of adapting leadership structures and institutions to changing missional needs and capacities.
What has COVID taught you about the church?
The crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the changes in our churches. As one pastor described it to me, "Tomorrow has now become today." The generational changes that we have anticipated rushed into our present reality and destabilized much of U.S. society. I think it has taught me three important things about the United Methodist Church: