By Jeff Finley
Free Methodist Elder Amelia Cleveland-Traylor serves on the denominational Board of Administration and as the chair of its Diversity and Justice Committee. She is also the chair of the Ministerial Education and Guidance Board for The River Conference, which she previously served as a superintendent. Her professional experience is medical as well as pastoral. She’s an obstetrician-gynecologist who has served as the residency program director and lead physician at a hospital.
She’s also a bishop nominee — one of eight being considered by delegates who will vote during General Conference 2023, which will be held July 25–28 in Orlando, Florida. According to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, “The General Conference shall elect by ballot two or more traveling elders as bishops to serve as the pastoral overseers of various areas of the denomination who shall constitute the Board of Bishops. … The number of bishops to be elected will be established by General Conference action and remains in effect until changed by a subsequent General Conference action.”
“There’s nothing more exciting to me than to see someone use the gifts that they’ve been given by God for the glory of God or to discover just the ways that God can use them.”
“I would welcome the opportunity to work with so many amazing men and women of God. I would enjoy hearing their stories and lend support to the ways that God is leading them to minister in their current contexts,” Cleveland-Traylor said on a new episode of “The Light + Life Podcast” in response to a question from host Brett Heintzman about what excites her about potentially serving as a bishop. “There’s nothing more exciting to me than to see someone use the gifts that they’ve been given by God for the glory of God or to discover just the ways that God can use them. I’d also welcome the opportunity to establish some meaningful relationships with superintendents and area leaders. The diverse nature of the Free Methodist Church universal is just amazing, and I think it’s a wonderful testament to what God has been doing.”
She said the global denomination “makes it very possible for me now to just see here on earth what God talks about in Revelation … when people of every tribe, tongue and nation are gathered together around Him in a glorious time of worship. That’s a beautiful vision to me, and I’d love to be a part of it.”
When asked about the greatest challenge facing the denomination, Cleveland-Traylor said, “As I see it, the greatest challenge to the denomination and the universal church is sometimes a dangerous union between faith and politics. History is filled with horror stories and disasters of the ways that churches have behaved — or people that are representative of the church have behaved — when the church and the government are entangled. It’s my opinion that too many within the church are so committed to political ideology and partisanship that they do not pause to consider how the biblical perspective on any given issue might be different than that of the party.”
A denominational leader has “a responsibility to redirect the church back to the biblical perspectives as this is a matter of deep discipleship,” she said. “When the church’s highest priority is honoring God and imitating Jesus, it will undoubtedly offend both conservatives and liberals, because our calling at the end of the day is actually higher than both.”
“I believe our goal should always be the biblical perspective.”
She cautioned that “being too married to one ideology or the other, in fact, neglects to see the whole, and I believe our goal should always be the biblical perspective, which is higher than both, that keeps us as a church healthy but also makes us good representatives of what it means to be the kingdom of God here on earth.”
When asked about one of her personal leadership challenges and how she led through it, she said that when she and her husband, Michael Traylor, moved to Texas and became superintendents, “It just felt like all the demonic forces around the universe had come and dwelled in this space. It was incredible the types of things that were happening. … No small stuff; it was a bunch of big things all at once, and I’m asking myself, ‘Lord, why did you tell me I should come out to Texas again, and why am I a superintendent, because this is terrible?’”
She said that she has increasingly been learning her limits, and education and experience don’t always matter as much as how a person responds in the heat of a problem. In the tough period at the beginning of the superintendency, she and her husband “sought lots of wise counsel” and “spent a lot of time praying about situations and gathering others that might have expertise with the things it is that we are now facing in the moment. I really believe that the role of superintendent, the role of bishop, these roles are bigger than any individual.”
Identity, Love, Truth and the Gospel
Heintzman asked Cleveland-Traylor a two-part question that he also asked the other nominees: “Do you as a nominee for bishop fully align with our traditional sexual ethic, believing that marriage and sexual union are reserved for one man and one woman, and secondly, how do we learn to love our neighbor regardless of sexual orientation and yet minister the truth of the gospel to them?”
She replied, “Yes, I do. I recognize our traditional sexual ethic, but as I delve into this issue of being loving and true to the gospel, this is what I’d say: Each and every person on this planet is made in the image of God. That’s every single one period, so when we genuinely believe this, we start by deciding that every human being is to be treated with dignity and respect. That’s the foundation that we start with.”
The LGBTQ+ community includes people who have grown up in the church, and she said they may “have frequently been shamed and demonized by people within the church, so many are deeply wounded. Please know that there’s a difference between identity and behavior.”
She said the spectrum includes some people who identify “as part of that community” who are “fully committed to the church and to celibacy and to a whole range of things that get away from some of the stereotypical things that we sometimes see in the news and social media, so we cannot presume to know how anyone behaves or believes based purely on their identity alone. Many actually desire to seek God.”
She believes Christians should not be afraid to follow Jesus’ example of connecting with people who are considered scandalous.
“We honor God when we allow others to see the transforming power of Christ in our own lives.”
“We as Christians are not compromising when we show members of the LGBTQ+ community basic loving kindness. We honor others when we listen to learn and understand their stories. We are humanizing. We honor God when we allow others to see the transforming power of Christ in our own lives, so that then we can strive to be living witnesses of the power and presence of Christ,” said Cleveland-Traylor who added that God “alone ultimately will change the hearts and the lives. It won’t be because I am so incredibly spiritual myself, or that I have designed the perfect strategy, because I’m going to mess this up. Everybody does, but my intent in my heart is true that I’m trying to represent Christ all the time, wherever I am and to whoever I’m encountering, and I’ll start with that position and allow God to keep working through me and to me for others. To me, that’s how we are loving toward others and also representing the gospel.”
Free Methodist Future
When asked what she sees as the preferred future of the denomination, Cleveland-Traylor referenced going “back to the future” because of “the freedoms that ultimately contributed to the name itself, Free Methodist Church, and how incredibly forward thinking those thoughts were then.” She expressed gratitude to the current Board of Bishops for stating those freedoms in a way that speaks to our current culture through The Free Methodist Way, because the denomination should live into its original identity that uniquely marries holiness with ministry to marginalized people.
“In my mind, the preferred future is: What are the things we need to continue to do so that we can actually reach our neighbors and our neighborhoods regardless of what they look like? That will stretch all of our cultural abilities,” she said. “But it’s a wonderful way for us to get back to who we were intended to be from the start.”
When asked about God-given visions, dreams or words for her as a nominee or for the church, she shared about “the kinds of visions and thoughts that have really been a part of me and growing.” She said her “vision has been toward being an active agent of shalom and encouraging the church to do the same.”
Referencing the priesthood of all believers, she said, “One of the most magnificent things about the Free Methodist Church is that sincere dedication to the activation and the use of committed lay people, knowing that it’s intended that everybody of the church contribute to the health of the church and see themselves as called in different ways to use their talents — whatever they may be — for the thriving of the church and the building of the kingdom.”
Click here to listen to the full podcast, watch a five-minute video featuring Dr. Amelia Cleveland-Traylor, and learn more about all of the bishop nominees.