Wilson: Bishop’s decision was political and not spiritual

Jarrell Wilsonby Jarrell Wilson*

There is only word that comes to mind to describe the action of Bishop Dorff concerning the rule of law called for by Reverend John Elford – cowardly. Cowardly is the word that comes to mind, but a word that suits it better is political. Bishops are good politicians, and politicians get elected – plain and simple. That’s not to say that bishops are not well-suited for their jobs, or that the Holy Spirit plays no role in their elections, it is just s simple reminder, bishops are politicians and politicians do what they have to do to stay in power.

I expected Bishop Dorff to see the unconstitutional actions by the Board of Ordained Ministry and the SWTX clergy and restore what was stolen from Mary Ann Kaiser; instead he chose to see a loophole and a way out that let him look like a hero to conservatives in my conference, while not entirely looking like a villain to progressives – because he was just following the rules, the perfect political strategy. If he were running for public office I might even have cheered for that move because it was very cunning and not outright evil, but this isn’t a public office, it is an Episcopal office.  I have this really bad habit that I try to break year-after-year, but I never seem to break it, that habit is: expecting more from Christians.

I expect Christians to practice what they preach; to follow Christ; to be bold proclaimers of truth; I expect humility; grace; mercy; and sacrificial love. Every time this habit rises up in me, I feel proud of my Christian heritage and proud of the Bride of Christ, but silly me the Bride of Christ has opened her heart once more to: patriarchy; eisegesis; back-room dealings; power struggles; etc. – instead of embracing the Gospel. Shame on me for expecting more of people that claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Shame on me for expecting Bishop Dorff to be a voice against oppression, when there is no political gain in it for him to speak out against injustice. Shame on Mary Ann Kaiser, for casting her pearls before swine. Shame on John Elford for taking the people in power to task for the injustices they committed, he should have known better.

The right to due process in our ordination process was stolen from Mary Ann Kaiser, she was called by God and the Church plugged its ears to the voice of the Creator.  She began this process of ordination before even she knew she was a lesbian, but she has been painted as a villainous activist seeking to divide a church that is already so divided already it can’t even agree on the character of Jesus.

The late Will Campbell has seen drama like this before in his life, he wrote a book called The Convention about the Southern Baptist Convention, which at the time was on the verge of a split (into the SBC, CBF) History tells us that the SBC did split but in 1988 when Campbell published his book there were only rumors of schism.  [Spoiler Alert] He tells the story of a woman who gets elected to be the president of the Convention (which is obviously humorous because the SBC, or the ABC as they were in the book don’t even ordain women), the climax of the story is this sweet old woman moving to the pulpit to give an acceptance speech. She takes the gavel, representing the power of the office of the president, and she sits it back down, walks down the aisle to get her husband and she leaves the convention and the church without looking back.

Progressives, moderates, conservatives have been fighting for the UMC so much I, much like the woman in the story, am beginning to wonder  if this denomination is worth fighting for. Even if “my side” wins the fight, will the church be worth it? What kind of example would it be able to set for the world that is just as divided on this issue of justice? Right now – we are just being political; eventually we need to get spiritual again.


*Jarell Wilson is a senior undergraduate student at the University of North Texas. When he isn’t reading his Book of Discipline for fun, or dancing to Beyonce, he’s brainlessly watching Dr Who, Arrested Development, and the West Wing on Netflix. Currently on the ordination track to become an elder, Jarell will start seminary this Fall at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. 


  1. garryruff says:

    One word concerning this article comes to mind: rude. This young man needs to re-examine his attitude toward people who believe differently from him. Also, he needs to re-examine his support of actions that intentionally subvert the intent of the members of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Were I in that conference, I would be questioning this candidate's ordination as well.

    • Yup. A United Methodist who reads church history, the Book of Discipline, and is headed to seminary? Sounds like questionable character to me!

  2. methodistpie says:

    Wow, "cowardly" is quite a charge. I was reading Paul's letter to Timothy today: "Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father…" Anyway, I would use this one word to describe the bishop's action: Wise.

  3. Jarrell, I understand all of your frustrations. I share them as well. My only comment is that I also understand that Bishop Dorff's decision was technically correct. What I am most discouraged about is that this inability to rule and act on the basis of what is right, seems to be crippling the UMC at the present moment. I would have felt better if in his Pastoral letter he had addressed the reasons why the BOM was wrong in handling this matter in the way they did. Not even interviewing Mary Ann goes against everything we hold to in terms of reason, fairness, justice etc. I see nothing in the differing ways different conferences and jurisdictions address the issue of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons which leads me to believe we can remain United as one denomination. If we try, we will merely remain frozen and unable to be about the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ.

  4. peterdeg says:

    As a retired pastor, I am encouraged by young folks like Jarrell. However, his doubts about the church's future seem likely.

  5. Might I suggest both the Bishop and those in support of Mary Ann Kaiser are as both as political. The Bishops responses was political, but the claim that due process was not given to Kaiser is also political. By the Book of Discipline, Mary Ann Kaiser is not someone who should be ordained, whether that is righteous or unjust, and so the Board of Ordained Ministry took action that would, in effect, ensure she would not be ordained. While they may or may not have overstepped their bounds, it could be argued they were acting within the spirit of the ordination process. To appeal to to a due process type argument is JUST as political as the Bishops response, as both arguments are based upon interpretation of discipline and technical arguments. However, it is easy for us to describe our actions as honest and label it as the Gospel and labels others with impure motives.

    But the arguments have been the same thing, just in argument of different direction; both have been trying to argue based upon technicalities of UM discipline. If it is good enough to argue that the BOOM decision was unconstitutional, then it should also be appropriate for the Bishop to make the same type of argument in his decision making. Otherwise, it is a double standard we employ to denounce others but that we makes ourselves immune to. What this suggests happens is that because he did not take action that the supports of Kaiser felt should have happened, his actions are explained as 'political' with negative connotations to incriminate and denounce him by a standard that does not play both ways.

    Furthermore, it is entirely judgmental to read the internal motives of people who you have not have conversations with. It is judgmental is entirely against the Spirit of grace, mercy, and truth. The Bishop took an action that was disagreed with; that does not give a mandate to talk about people's motives who we have little personal relationship to, as if we are God who sees people's hearts.

  6. roberto says:

    The UMC may be "grappling with how to best recruit enough young clergy to lead the church into the future;" however, this young man's post (as a special contributor) may be the perfect example of why the UMC needs to carefully examine and perhaps prayerfully reconsider any clergy age guideline policy.

  7. gingerlouise says:

    My word is not cowardly but Chicken. Whatever happened to "Do no Harm" and Love is the greatest commandment. The clergy session's decision sealed my decision to leave the Methodist Church because the church as a whole is continuing to ignore the call of God in the lives of all people. Ms. Kasier should be given her time in front of BOOM. She should be given the opportunity to confront those who are willing to diss her just because oh my – she recognizes who she loves.

    and in all of this – what happens to the idea of ministering to people, all of whom the Book of Discipline say are of sacred worth? Where is the ministry to lgbt who are struggling to reconcile their orientation to what the Methodist Church taught us – GOD created us. GOD loves us. GOD calls us "Child". Where is the ministry to those of us who are called? We try to live honestly as Christ did we get kicked in the butt. We live in the closet to serve as GOD called us and we're still kicked in the butt and only half serving GOD because we're looking over our shoulders constantly in fear of being charged with what amounts to heresy in the Methodist church? No thank you.

  8. Our friend and teacher Jesus was quite a rude and subversive young man, as well.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)


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