United Methodist Church Investigating Voting Irregularities On LGBT Issues During General Conference

LGBT Africa

The United Methodist Church announced Thursday it is investigating potential voting irregularities that could affect a General Conference decision to strengthen its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.

The ineligibility concerns come after a General Conference with especially high security, where extra measures were taken to ensure only delegates or their reserves had access to the voting area, a news release from the church said. Observers of the legislative assembly, held in a former football stadium in St. Louis, only had access to the floor above where delegates convened.

More than 800 voting delegates attended the conference, and a probe by church organizers and an independent auditor examined the credentialing process for the delegates.

A "very limited number" of ineligible delegates were able to obtain voting credentials, the Rev. Gary W. Graves, secretary of the General Conference, said in the news release.

"We take the integrity of the legislative process very seriously, and the breakdown in the process is troubling," Graves said in a CNN article.

According to The New York Times, a review of church records and interviews indicate at least four ballots were cast by individuals unauthorized to vote. The individuals were allegedly from African delegations, the Times said.

The irregularities are likely not large enough to overturn the vote on the "Traditional Plan," which enforces the ban on same-sex weddings and "self-avowed practicing" gay clergy, which passed by a tally of 438-384, according to United Methodist News Service.

However, it could have an impact on the vote for Petition 90066, which passed by a two-vote margin, 402-400. Petition 90066 is a disaffiliation legislation that would allow churches, within limitations, to leave the denomination while keeping church property.

According to a Feb. 26 article in The Atlantic, many of the United Methodist communities in countries in Africa are committed to theological teachings against same-sex relationships and marriages.

"The Church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds because we are committed to biblical Christianity," Jerry Kulah, a reverend from Liberia, said in the article. "The United Methodist Church is not a United States Church."

Voting integrity is important for the outcome of the vote as well as the fair representation of all churches. Some delegations, like South Congo, had delegates who could not travel because of visa issues, The Times reported. In other cases, to abide by the rules, delegations like North Katanga, also a church district in Congo, voted with fewer than their allotted delegates, according to attendance records.

The next step in the investigation is to submit all evidence and voting records to the Commission on General Conference, the authority on such matters.

"At this point, we're going to be submitting everything we have to the Commission on General Conference and they will issue a statement about what they believe has occurred," Graves said in the news release. "The integrity of our election and credentialing process is critical, and we will take the necessary steps to improve and ensure it."