United Methodist Church officials admitted this week that some of the votes cast during its recent special session on sexuality may have been invalid.
During a special session of the UMC General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, which met last month, delegates from the largest mainline Protestant denomination made headlines for backing measures to strengthen bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.
However, an independent review of credentials, name badge barcode scans, seating records, attendance forms and other records was conducted after the meeting raised concerns.
“Upon completion of the review, it appears possible that a very limited number of ineligible persons who were correctly denied credentials by General Conference staff were later able to procure them,” the UMC’s Executive Committee of the Commission on the General Conference said in a statement released on Thursday (Mar 14).
But it remains unclear as to how — or even if — the church will respond to the reports of irregularities and whether church bodies properly handled other allegations of voting impropriety.
The review was prompted by an inquiry from The New York Times, which reported that at least four ballots were cast by individuals who were not authorized to do so, pointing primarily to irregularities among a handful of delegates from Africa from the pool of more than 800 delegates at the conference.
Four votes would not overturn some of the most consequential votes of the conference, such as the adoption of the “Traditional Plan” — a reinforcement of the UMC’s ban on same-sex marriages and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy — which passed 438-384.
Other votes passed by much slimmer margins: the vote dealing with legislation that could allow churches to leave the denomination while keeping church property passed by 402-400. The constitutionality of that measure under church law — irrespective of the vote itself — is already in question and set to be reviewed alongside other measures by the UMC Judicial Council in April.
Church officials say they are concerned about the possibility that improper votes were cast.
“We take the integrity of the legislative process very seriously, and the breakdown in the process is troubling,” Rev. Gary W. Graves, secretary of the General Conference, said in a statement.
When Religion News Service pressed Graves for more details such as how many individuals are believed to have voted improperly, why they were allegedly allowed to vote anyway, and how this will impact the votes themselves, he said such questions “will be considered by the Commission and will be part of their report and next steps.”
The Rev. William B. Lawrence, a former president of the UMC’s Judicial Council, explained that the path forward for dealing with possible invalid votes is unclear. The Commission on General Conference is an interim body that does not hold the same power as the General Conference itself.
“Regardless as to what the allegations may involve, the complications are that the General Conference is in charge of its own rules, and the General Conference only exists when it is in session,” he said.
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Source: Religion News Service