By the College of Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church
The members of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops of The United Methodist Church today presented a pastoral message to the church during the meeting of the denomination’s Council of Bishops in Dallas, Texas.
The message (below) is the bishops’ response to United Methodist Judicial Council Decision 1341. The decision regarded the South Central Jurisdictional Conference’s questioning of the process surrounding the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop. That decision was released on April 28 in Newark, N.J.
Below the message is a short Q&A on Judicial Council Decision 1341.
May 4, 2017
As the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, we offer our thoughts related to the recent Judicial Council decision that affects our colleague, Bishop Karen Oliveto, and our entire United Methodist Connection.
We celebrate the good news that Bishop Oliveto is continuing to lead the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church. While Judicial Council Decision 1341 left her election in place, there is additional work that must be done.
These issues will be properly handled within the Western Jurisdiction according to the processes defined by the Book of Discipline.
We, the Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction, speak from the reality of our social location.
Our area is a place of great diversity of races, cultures, languages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities. God inspires our hearts to create a home for all God’s people, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation.
We dream of a United Methodist Church that is multicultural and inclusive, engaged in the life of its communities, with confident, effective lay and clergy leadership who, in diverse ministry settings, form disciples who live out the Good News of Jesus as global citizens.
For many years, the Western part of the United States has been a refuge for LGBTQ persons from across the US and around the world. Our region is a place where they can live fully into who God has created them to be, free from discrimination, violence, and closets.
We hear their stories, of their own witness.
Despite being hurt and excluded by the institutional church many have returned to faith in Jesus Christ in United Methodist churches in the West. In many cases, the families who love them and the friends who walk with them have also come to be part of United Methodist congregations.
This reminds us of Paul’s words as he spoke to the church at Ephesus:
“So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the
saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
We the people called United Methodist in the Western Jurisdiction witness daily the gifts and reflections of God’s grace in LGBTQ persons who faithfully serve among us as lay leaders, pastors, district superintendents, and now, as a bishop.
Our experience informs how we do ministry together, how Boards of Ordained Ministry approach their work, and how we carry out our episcopal duties.
Our life together in Jesus Christ has been enriched by the fullness of their presence and participation. We recognize that we in the church have differing views of what full inclusion means. Even in the West we are not of one mind. Nevertheless, we believe Christ calls us to live and serve together as one even in our differences.
Our Christian experience teaches us that God’s love is wide enough for all of us.
It is not always easy for us to hold relationship with those whose understandings differ from us, but John Wesley encourages us to remember: “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.”
There is much work to be done before we the church are able to love as Jesus has loved us.
We in the Western Jurisdiction will continue to be a home for all God’s beloved as we strive to be faithful disciples of Jesus the Christ.
We shall continue to pray for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, as they lead us into a new vision for our life together as The United Methodist Church. Our church.
Grant J. Hagiya, President
Elaine J.W. Stanovsky
Robert T. Hoshibata
Minerva G. Carcaño
Mary Ann Swenson
Answering your Questions about Judicial Council Decision 1341
- What is the Judicial Council? The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or court of The United Methodist Church. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference. The current members are from the U.S. Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. They follow procedures, in some ways reflecting U.S. judicial processes, that are set out in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. They act on certain appeals, bishop’s questions of law, requests for declaratory decisions from other Church bodies, and whether acts by official bodies of the church conform with the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council meets twice annually. It met on April 25 in Newark, N.J., to consider the case involving the Western Jurisdiction election and consecration of Bishop Oliveto. It released its decision on Friday, April 28.
- What is the case involving Bishop Oliveto? Just after she was elected by the delegates of the Western Jurisdictional Conference, delegates in the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in Wichita, Kansas, voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council as to whether “the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage [is] lawful under The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.” Neither Bishop Oliveto, nor the Western Jurisdiction were named in the question of law. It was, however, brought forward in response to the Western Jurisdiction election of Bishop Oliveto, and the question was intended to challenge her nomination, election, consecration and assignment. The questions were specifically directed at the Western Jurisdiction and its process to elect, consecrate and assign a bishop in July 2016. This is an important distinction.
- How Does Judicial Council Decision 1431 Affect Bishop Karen Oliveto?Bishop Karen continues as bishop of The Mountain Sky Area, and as a member of the Council of Bishops, with the responsibilities and rights associated with the office. The Judicial Council’s ruling did not affect Bishop Karen’s nomination, election, or assignment. The Judicial Council said it did not have authority, under The United Methodist Church’s Constitution, to consider those issues.The Judicial Council discussed whether Bishop Karen’s consecration by the other bishops present at the Jurisdictional Conference was legal. It ruled that Bishop Oliveto’s consecration was not unlawful, but that a future consecration of a clergyperson who was found through church process to be a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” would be unlawful.
- What Happens Next With the Decision and Bishop Oliveto? Bishop Oliveto will continue to be bishop of the Mountain Sky Area for the foreseeable future. In its 19- page opinion, the Judicial Council told the Western Jurisdiction to process any pending or future complaints filed against Bishop Oliveto. The Western Jurisdiction would have done this anyway. That means that any complaints against her would go through the detailed process outlined by the Book of Discipline. This is the regular procedure used by the church to handle complaints.The process includes the initial stage of handling a complaint through what the church terms a “supervisory response.” That is a serious effort to engage the parties to try to resolve the matter. If it cannot be resolved, then the president or secretary of the College of Bishops may dismiss the complaint or refer the matter as an administrative or judicial complaint as outlined in Para 413.3d of the Book of Discipline. If referred as a judicial complaint, the matter proceeds to the Jurisdiction’s Committee on Investigation and, if continued, to a church trial. The primary goal throughout the process remains to reach a just resolution between the parties.
- Was the Judicial Council Proceeding a Trial of Bishop Oliveto? No. It was in response to the request for declaratory decision asked by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Simply put, the South Central Jurisdiction asked the Judicial Council if the nomination, election, consecration and assignment of an LGBTQI person as bishop was legal in The United Methodist Church. While the question did not directly refer to Bishop Karen, it was intended to ask the Judicial Council to rule on the validity of her nomination, election, consecration and assignment.
- Why Was There So Much Confusion When the Decision Was Released? Some initial news reports on the case reported, incorrectly, that Bishop Oliveto’s consecration by the bishops attending the Western Jurisdictional Conference violated church law. The decision did not say that. The decision contains a discussion about the hypothetical election and consecration of an LGBTQ bishop in the future, and outlined procedures that need to be followed well before that person could become a candidate for bishop.
- How Does This Decision Affect LGBTQI Pastors and Candidates for Ministry? In this decision, the Judicial Council created new law related to how The United Methodist Church defines the self-avowal and practice of homosexuality when it comes to the eligibility of persons seeking ordination. The Judicial Council declared Boards of Ordained Ministry may now consider the public marriage records related to a marriage between persons of the same gender as evidence of both self-avowal and the practice of homosexuality. Heretofore, self-avowal was a specific process involving statements the person would make to a bishop, Cabinet, or Board of Ordained ministry, and practice was an admission or other objective evidence of physical sex. The new law creates a rebuttable presumption of self-avowal and practice if the person is shown by public record to be in a same-gender marriage.
One thought on “Pastoral Response to the Recent Decision of the United Methodist Judicial Council”
We can probably agree the Gospels do not recount Jesus mentioning anything about homosexuality. I would add that Jesus did not ask his followers to construct church buildings, to appoint bishops, to make rule books and to set up health and pension plans for clergy: The Great Commission did not ask followers to build an institution.
To me, those dissatisfied (disgusted) or satisfied (smug) with the decision in Case No. 1341 are both struggling for one thing – control of the institution. Again, to me, this discussion and struggle is not about Jesus, does not involve the Gospel and diverts attention from the coming reign of God. Instead, the argument about same-sex relations leads inextricably to one side winning and the other side losing.
Jesus offers guidance in such matters, instructing against such “win-lose” discussions. Jesus told his disciples that when they run into people who oppose them, then they are not to argue and fuss, but instead knock the dust off their sandals and move on.
With that message in mind, the rule book, as interpreted by the Judicial Council, states that a bishop cannot be in a married same-sex relationship. So, should Bishop Oliveto consider knocking the dust from her sandals and move on? Such a move would require her to give up her $150,000 yearly salary, her house, her car, her travel, her expense account and other benefits, and look for another place where she can serve.
I anticipate the LGBTQIAPK community exclaim it is unjust that Oliveto and others sharing her situation are being run out of the church because of their orientation. The call is to stay and struggle against such injustice and systems of oppression. And the LGBTQIAPK community asks politely that we ignore that they who struggle maintain their $150,000 yearly salaries, their houses, their cars, their travels, their expense accounts and other benefits while fighting against injustice.
With this stated, the question then is whether Oliveto and others sharing her situation will stay or leave? I can imagine Jesus looking at that question and shaking his head, seeing it akin to small children arguing over who gets to make the rules for the clubhouse in the back yard. But the children don’t see it as a clubhouse, but rather consider the institution as something monumental and substantial, like the Titanic. UMC professionals are bailing frantically to right the institutional ship that is taking on water. They bail because their pots are filled with meat and they eat all the bread they want because of the institutional ship. Sinking means losing the safety and security of the boat and getting out on the water where they could take their eyes off Jesus and flounder.
Hopefully the UMC can regain some perspective, away from clubhouses and boats, and ask different questions – more important questions – like: Is the UMC serving the Gospel, or is the institution using the Gospel to serve itself? If the UMC is serving the Gospel, then is it time to assess the continued usefulness of the institution? Is the institution helping the project of making disciples, or is it getting in the way?
Jesus addressed another religious institution years ago that was getting in the way, telling his disciples that not one stone will be left standing. Maybe its time for a different and better boat?
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