Recently, United Methodists in the United States elected eleven (11) new bishops to fill episcopal seats vacated
by retirements. In the United States, the five jurisdictional conferences elect bishops every four years.
For the 2013-2016 quadrennium, there are 140 active and retired U.S. bishops. Out of the 46 active bishops,
11 are women (24%). Of the 11 women bishops, nine are white and two are Latina. No other U.S. racial-ethnic
group is represented among active women bishops. This will be the first quadrennium since 1984 that there
will be no black U.S. woman among the active United Methodist bishops. The denomination has yet to elect a
Native American or Pacific Islander—male or female—to the episcopacy.
During the 2012 gatherings, the Northeastern, Southeastern and South Central jurisdictional conferences
elected three women—two white and one Latina.
Of the total number of 11 new U.S. bishops:
Bishops in the United States are elected for life; in the Central Conferences (United Methodist judicatories in
other nations) the process varies, from term limits to election for life. There are two women bishops outside of
the United States.
In the 2009-2012 quadrennium, there were 49 active bishops, of which 13 were women (27%). Because of
mergers of episcopal areas, there are fewer bishops in the 2013-2016 quadrennium.
Five women bishops retired in 2012, and three were elected, so there are two fewer women bishops in the
2013–2016 than in 2009–2012. Northeastern, Southeastern and South Central Jurisdictional retained the
same percentage of women bishops, 22%, 18% and 23%. North Central went from 30% to 22% and Western
Jurisdiction went from 50% to 40% of women bishops, the two jurisdictions that did not elect bishops and had
There are 11 retired women bishops, three black women and eight white women. Because there are so many
retired bishops (almost twice as many retired bishops than active bishops across the denomination), the role
of retired bishops have changed and they have a more limited voice and leadership now than they did in past
According to umc.org, there were 44 candidates for the episcopacy in the
United States, even though all clergy are eligible for nominations. Of the 44
candidates, 32 were men (73%) and 12 were women (27%), which is similar to the
percentages of women clergy in the United States. Of the 32 men, 19 were white,
six were black, two were Latino, four were Asian and one Native American. Of the
12 women, four were white, four were black, three were Latina and one Asian.
Of the 44 candidates, 37 had conference endorsements and 16 had caucus
endorsements. (Some candidates were endorsed by more than one caucus.) Of
the 37 candidates that were endorsed by the conferences, 29 were men (79%) and
eight were women (21%). Of the 29 men, 19 were white, three were Asian, five
were black, one was Hispanic and one was Native American. Of the eight women,
four were white, two were black, and two were Latina.
Without the caucuses, there would have been fewer women and less racial
ethnic people in the pool of candidates. The conferences endorsed all the white
candidates and some of the racial ethnic candidates.
In terms of race and ethnicity, the 2012 round of U.S. episcopal elections closely
match the current percentage of U.S. population, which is approximately 65% white
and 35% racial-ethnic.
However, while the 2012 episcopal elections leave a gender ratio that approximates that of the U.S. United
Methodist clergy, that ratio falls far below that of United Methodist lay membership—and the U.S. population—
which are each about 54% female and 46% male. We challenge U.S. congregations and annual conferences to
create pipelines for leadership with a diverse pool of men and women, white and racial-ethnic and interracial
people, young people, those who are differently abled, and those with diverse life experiences. While The
United Methodist Church seems to have an unending pool of white men to choose from to fill the highest
positions, often there is only one or two women and people of color.
If we are to reach and disciple all God’s people, we must demonstrate that we respect their gifts and potential
contributions to our denomination.
We can learn something from the National Multicultural Women’s conferences and town hall meetings,
sponsored by Working Women magazine for more than 10 years.
Participants divide into separate racial-ethnic groups to talk privately about the barriers they face,
the obstacles they create themselves and how to move their specific group forward.
Each affinity group also discusses a common topic, such as trust, identity, authenticity, power and
interracial relationships. After the discussion, each group reports back in plenary anything they
choose to share.
If the church is committed to making Christian disciples and transforming the world, then we as a
denomination, as local churches and as parishioners, must also increase our efforts in reaching women
and people of all colors. The U.S. membership in The United Methodist Church is about 95% white; if your
ministry is more diverse, what success stories can you share? And if you are not embracing diversity, what do
you need from the denomination to help you widen your scope?