Beliefs Culture Ethics

Liberia’s United Methodists keep ban on divorced clergy becoming bishops

Members of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, attend a special welcoming and thanksgiving service honoring Bishop John G. Innis. Photo by Julu Swen, courtesy of UMNS
Members of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, attend a special welcoming and thanksgiving service honoring Bishop John G. Innis.  Photo by Julu Swen, courtesy of UMNS

Members of First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, attend a special welcoming and thanksgiving service honoring Bishop John G. Innis. Photo by Julu Swen, courtesy of UMNS

(RNS) In the United States, United Methodists are fighting about whether to allow clergy to marry gay couples. In Liberia, divorce is on the line.

The United Methodist Church in Liberia recently voted to uphold a long-standing provision barring divorced clergy from running for the office of the bishop.

The church’s leaders say the ban brings moral credibility to the office and guides the conduct of those who want to be bishop.

“The entire conference believes this is the right thing to do,” said the Rev. Isaac Chuckpue-Padmore, conference secretary. “Being able to keep a marriage, no matter what, is a high moral standard a candidate for episcopacy must meet.”

But the ban is not part of the Book of Discipline, the rulebook that defines how United Methodists govern themselves. And it is meeting resistance from some church members.

“We demand free, fair and transparent process,” read a placard displayed by one of the protesters during last month’s annual conference meeting in Gardnersville, a north central suburb of Monrovia City.

Some church members protested the ban, disrupting an afternoon session.

Earlier in the conference, lay delegates voted to lift the ban.

But Chuckpue-Padmore said laypeople do not set standards.

“It is the responsibility of the ordained clergy who call the church to these ideals,” he said. “Moreover, laypeople do not put candidates for nomination to the episcopacy.”

Although the protests appear to signal a rift between the church’s clergy and some of the lay leaders over the issue, Chuckpue-Padmore said the latest decision would impact the church in a positive way.

“God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage,” he said. “The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages.”

Black immigrants from America planted the 150,000-member church in Liberia in 1922.

YS/MG END NZWILI

About the author

Fredrick Nzwili

Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more than 15 years, he has written about religion, politics, peace and conflict, development, security, environment and wildlife. His articles have appeared in international media organizations among others; The Tablet, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Geographic and Kenyan local newspapers; The Standard and the People Daily.

15 Comments

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  • Liberia is a country which is recovering from both an Ebola epidemic and the effects of one of the bloodiest civil wars in Africa. I am sure that whether clergy can be divorced really ranks up there with important issues that must be addressed by churches in that nation. /sarcasm

  • Do any Protestant sects have doctrines that are followed universally? Is there any church that has a leader as the Catholics do? How are any of them representative of God’s one truth?

  • Charles,

    Didn’t all of the New Testament churches eventually fail, except for one? Why and how could that happen? Paul’s words seem empty when he describes church conduct yet he has no lasting example to point to.

    As I understand it, the only NT church to survive since that period is the Catholic Church we have today. And they give Peter the credit for that.

    What happened to Paul’s work?

  • I agree. There are other issues here in Liberia. So it is sad that the church needs to keep reinforcing basic morality and Biblical fidelity when indeed it could be addressing other issues. There needs to be a return to an unconditional acceptance of truth, the Bible. The word of God is to mold our behavior. Our behavior is not to mold the truth.

  • Paul planted many churches in the eastern portion of the Roman empire — the area that eventually was overrun (and Christianity mostly wiped out) by Islam.

  • All the orthodox responses here seem to show a clear insight to Scripture. The Liberian Methodists have taken the proper tack insofar as the church is concerned, clearly there are other serious issues in Liberia and elsewhere, but that does not eliminate the need for people of faith to practice that faith consistent with the bible, though others outside the faith view it as pointless in the best case and regressive in the worst. Every sect, branch, version, etc. of any faith experiences practical anomalies in the behavior of its adherents, that does not invalidate the organic process. Even the RCC with one supreme head experiences internal dispute. In the case of Christianity, the answer lies in returning to primary source documents, i.e. the bible, as the Liberians are doing with respect to church leadership. Those outside the faith don’t have a dog in the fight; it is a wholly internal issue

  • The difference between the United Methodists in Liberia and those in the United States is that the United Methodists in Liberia believe in Christ and accept His Scriptures. The United Methodists in the United States are prone to toss out any Scriptural morality they deem inconvenient.

  • I am absolutely certain the people who were conscripting child soldiers, using slave labor to work diamond mines and stealing everything not nailed down in a 2 nation radius considered themselves good Christians. Like a everyone else in the country.

    The church has its priorities all backwards. Your reaction is similarly out of touch with reality, sanity, morality and common sense. But addressing doctrines on divorce is far easier than addressing war, atrocities and suffering.

    People who talk about “unconditional truth of the Bible” usually like enforcing such ideas on unconsenting populace.

  • Obviously Liberian Methodists aren’t worth any time and effort to take seriously. They would rather dither about divorce than minister to an impoverished, war torn, plague stricken, population. Why care about people in a real way when you can waste time on irrelevant points of doctrine?

    Christian doctrinaire thinking at its most pointless.

  • No, the iron fisted rule of a monarch is generally not seen within Protestant churches unlike the Roman Catholic sect. Even in the cases where there is a presiding bishop the authority is severly limited. The Orthodox Patriarchs might be close but I understand that it still doesn’t approach the level of the Pope. As for the other miscellaneous catholic sects some recognize the RC Pope but many do not.

  • The fact that this story has made news beyond the nation’s borders and alleged efforts to minister to the war/plague/corruption/poverty stricken population has not. I am pretty sure people abroad are interested in stories of war, famine and pestilence.

  • Shawnie5,

    Thanks for your interesting answer. I’ve always wanted to ask that question.

    Paul could well come back then and say, ” hey fellas, look at all the churches that still recognize my authority ‘today’. “

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