A regional body of The United Methodist Church has voted to promote a man in a same-sex marriage to the office of bishop, despite denominational rules prohibiting such a move.
At their official meeting last week, the UMC Western Jurisdiction voted to make the Rev. Cedrick D. Bridgeforth of the California-Pacific Conference a bishop.
Bridgeforth, who has served as the California-Pacific Conference’s director of innovation and communication, became the first openly gay African American bishop in the UMC.
Western Jurisdiction delegates elected Bridgeforth on the 18th ballot, with him receiving 73 votes out of 93 valid ballots cast, having needed at least 63 ballots to be elected.
During remarks made shortly after being elected, Bridgeforth told those gathered at the Western Jurisdiction meeting that he was “grateful to God Almighty” and “to my husband, Christopher.”
“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.
“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 goes against the UMC Book of Discipline, which prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” and thus does not allow them to become bishops.
The Christian Post reached out to the Western Jurisdiction for comment, however, a spokesperson explained that they were unable to respond by press time due to travel schedules and meetings.
John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion & Democracy, who has served as a UMC General Conference delegate in the past, viewed Bridgeforth's election as part of a broader shift among UMC leadership to embrace views that are contrary to traditional Christian teaching.
“The first new bishop elected last week [Kennetha Bigham-Tsai] has refused to say if she believes in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Apparently [she] does not believe in basic biblical doctrine about His incarnation,” Lomperis told CP.
Lomperis added that he views Bridgeforth's election as “further direct defiance of the UMC’s official rules, which is increasingly becoming normalized.”
“No one forced Mr. Bridgeforth to seek ordination and leadership in our denomination. He knew our rules forbidding same-sex partnerships, along with adultery and pre-marital sex, for our clergy,” continued Lomperis. “Bishops are entrusted with the sacred responsibility of upholding and enforcing our church’s doctrinal and moral standards. When the bishops are so openly breaking these standards, then this is a true ‘inmates running the asylum’ situation.”
For the past several years, the UMC has been embroiled in a divisive debate over whether to change its official rules barring same-sex marriage and noncelibate homosexual ordination.
Although efforts by theological progressives to change the denomination’s rules have consistently failed, many have openly refused to enforce the standards regarding marriage and ordination.
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 the history of the UMC.
While the UMC’s highest court, the United Methodist Judicial Council, ruled in 2017 that Oliveto’s election was invalid, as of November of this year, she remains in office.
These and other events have prompted many theological conservatives in recent months to leave the mainline denomination and join the newly created Global Methodist Church.
Lomperis told CP that he believes such events will encourage more to the leave the UMC, as “remaining United Methodist will require one to pay for and submit to the spiritual authority of theologically secularized leaders who openly, forcefully oppose the biblical, Wesleyan doctrine and moral standards of the United Methodist Discipline.”
“Time is running out for congregations to act if they do not want to become permanently trapped in such a dysfunctional, unfaithful and hypocritical system,” he added.