Last month, when the United Methodist Church voted to reinforce a traditional stance on marriage and block gay clergy from serving in its midst, many UMC pastors and members, especially in the U.S., were shocked and dismayed. Now, these more progressive members of the UMC may have reason to believe the monumental vote was subject to improper voting methods.
“At least four ballots were cast by individuals who were not authorized to vote, according to interviews and a review of the church’s records,” an article in the New York Times reports.
Could Voting Irregularities Have Skewed the Decision on Homosexuality?
Even though the Traditional Plan won out over the One Church Plan at the UMC’s General Conference in St. Louis in February by a margin of 54 votes, this information is reason enough for leaders of the UMC to consider holding another vote. The UMC has also hired a consulting firm to examine whether everyone who voted at the conference was indeed eligible to cast a vote.
According to the New York Times, church officials who oversaw the conference said the audit showed it was “possible that a very limited number of ineligible persons” had voted. Apparently, these individuals were initially denied voting credentials by staff at the conference but were somehow later able to obtain them.
The Times also did a bit of its own investigating and found “additional regularities” with the voting. Their inquiries found two names on the delegate list from South Congo. These two people, however, were not able to travel to the U.S. because of visa issues. Additionally, three people voted as delegates from South Congo, but “their names are absent from conference attendance logs and delegate election records.”
A more troubling account includes a delegate voting as a representative of Congo. The Times explains:
One unauthorized delegate was Philippe Kasap Kachez, whose father is Bishop Kasap Owan, a prominent opponent of gay clergy. Three Methodists from the Congo region identified Mr. Kasap Kachez to The Times as a voter seated on the floor. Mr. Chali spoke with him in St. Louis and asked why he was present.
“He said he did not go to a Methodist church in Congo; instead he lives in Brussels,” Mr. Chali said in a phone interview. “He said, ‘I came here because my dad asked me to come vote against the lesbians.’”
When contacted on Facebook and WhatsApp, Mr. Kasap Kachez declined to comment. Bishop Kasap Owan did not respond to questions.
Who Is Technically Eligible to Vote in the UMC?
The UMC is composed of “Annual Conferences” that are organized by geographic location. For instance, the Mountain Sky Conference in the U.S. includes churches in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and a small section of Idaho. Countries outside the U.S. are organized into three conferences: Africa Central Conferences, Europe Central Conferences and the Philippines Central Conference. Each conference elects delegates to send to the General Conferences, which typically occur every four years. The conference in February was a Special Session of the General Conference to address the growing question of homosexuality within the UMC.
The delegates are composed of clergy and lay members. How many delegates a conference is allowed to send is dependent on the number of church members that conference serves. Reserves are also elected, in case an elected delegate cannot make a General Conference. Since it is sometimes difficult for delegates from Africa to obtain visas to enter the U.S., they typically elect more reserves than other conferences might.
Irregularities Are Concerning
“To learn that there were irregularities in the voting is distressing and of great concern,” said Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, the president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops.