New York, (ENI) — The former head of the United Methodist Church’s main ecumenical and inter-religious agency says his recent dismissal was due to disagreements over the future direction the body should take.
“They didn’t agree with my vision or my ability to bring it forward,” Larry Pickens said of his December 5 dismissal as head of the denomination’s General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, a post he had held since 2004.
Pickens, 49, described the decision as “absolutely disappointing.” He told Ecumenical News International on December 12 it stemmed in part from disagreements between him and some commission members over his support for what he called the “social justice dimension” of ecumenical work.
He said the commission often dealt with the doctrinal and theological issues. “But in my mind, there has to be a social justice aspect for ecumenism to have a real impact,” added Pickens, the first African American to lead the United Methodist body. Pickens also said there were disagreements about his style of leadership, a style he said was grounded in the church’s prophetic tradition. “It became [in part] a style issue,” Pickens said.
He acknowledged that, in retrospect, he should have been more “consultative” in his leadership style. “I don’t think I was wrong, but I could have been more attentive,” he said. “I want to be clear: I learned a lesson here,” noted Pickens, who said he will continue as a member of the key governing bodies of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, its central and executive committees.
Nonetheless, Pickens said some of the issues he raised as head of the agency will not disappear. These included how best to be a global church in a changing international environment, the need for further dialogue with other faiths, particularly Islam, and the need to face issues surrounding race and the “conservative-liberal” split within the United Methodist Church.
“This is not your father’s ecumenical movement any more,” said Pickens.
In announcing Pickens’ dismissal, the United Methodist commission said it “expressed its deep gratitude for the service Dr. Larry Pickens has given to the commission, The United Methodist Church and the ecumenical and interfaith community.”
Bishop Ann Sherer, who serves as the commission’s president, said its directors “finally determined we needed to thank Dr. Pickens and seek new leadership,” the United Methodist News Service reported.
Albert F. Mutti, a retired bishop who served as the commission’s president from 2000-2004, was elected as its interim leader.