The delegates’ letter asks the commission to make its decision “as soon as possible to give delegates, bishops, and denominational officials ample time to make preparations and plans…”
Many expect this General Conference to be pivotal. After decades of intensifying debate over the status of LGBTQ people in the church, the coming General Conference faces multiple proposals to divide the denomination along theological lines.
The most endorsed of these is the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation. If adopted, the protocol would allow churches and annual conferences that support restrictions on gay marriage and ordination to leave with church property and $25 million in United Methodist funds to form a new denomination. The Wesleyan Covenant Association is leading the formation of that new denomination, the Global Methodist Church.
With so much at stake, the coming General Conference needs to have integrity, said the Rev. Jeffrey Kuan. He is one of the letter signers and a veteran delegate from the denomination’s California-Nevada Conference.
“If we cannot have a significant number of delegates from the central conferences, this will be a compromised General Conference, whatever the outcome is,” he said.
Central conferences are church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The letter notes that many delegates from those regions may not be able to get visas in time to participate in General Conference because of COVID-related backlogs.
According to the U.S. State Department, the current wait time for a visa appointment is 850 days in Abuja, Nigeria; 448 days in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; 370 days in Manila, Philippines; and 250 days in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.
It is also unclear what Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will mean for travel. The U.S. embassy in Moscow is granting visas only on an emergency basis, and the embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, is closed. General Conference has delegates from both Russia and the Ukraine-Moldova Conference.
Of the letter signers, 43 live in United Methodist central conferences. The other signers come from across the U.S.
The Rev. Betty Kazadi Musau, a veteran delegate from the North Katanga Conference in Congo, is one of 32 signers who live in Africa. She also is one of 19 signers of the Africa Voice of Unity statement.
She typically travels to the U.S. embassy in Lusaka, Zambia, to obtain a visa. Kazadi said she has tried to secure an interview date, but none is available at least through April. Even with an appointment, she said, travel can take three or four days to reach the embassy and another few days after the interview to obtain a visa. She added that COVID-19 tests are required to travel between regions.
While she sees no need for a task force to investigate the WCA, she agrees with the letter that the association is acting inappropriately in sending funds to delegates.