Last week the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church (The Church’s highest court) issued its decision on the request by the South Central Jurisdiction for a ruling on the legality of the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto.
In its decision, the Judicial Council ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law, per the Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline states all persons are of sacred worth and are welcome to become baptized and participating members of the United Methodist Church (Par.4). Among the qualifications and standards for candidates to be Ordained Ministers it states, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” (Par.304.3)
While the Judicial Council ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop is unlawful, such “self-avowal” does not negate the consecration and/or cause the bishop to be removed from episcopal office. The unlawful ruling does indicate that a formal complaint is to be filed against Bishop Oliveto for being “self-avowed and practicing” and therefore breaking current church law. Due process would then be followed. Bishop Oliveto, “remains in good standing, until an administrative or judicial process is completed.” [All UM pastors are deemed to be in “good standing” until they are found guilty, through due process, of violating the Book of Discipline.]
The ruling does not change the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council’s actions are specific to the cases that they are requested or required to consider. Only the General Conference speaks for the church and has the authority to change the Book of Discipline. The Council of Bishops will continue to exercise temporal and spiritual oversight support of the church’s mission.
The Council of Bishops appointed a 32 person Commission on the Way Forward. The commission is comprised of clergy and laypersons of the global United Methodist church who represent the diverse Biblical and theological perspectives regarding homosexuality. The Commission has the charge of finding ways for the denomination to stay together despite deep differences around homosexuality. The Council of Bishops announced last week, the call to a special General Conference on February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri. The special meeting of The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly will be limited to acting on a report by Council of Bishops, based on the proposals from the Commission on the Way Forward.
The responses to this church decision are deeply felt by many as this ruling aired on national media. Some are relieved to know that the Book of Discipline, our uniting covenant, was upheld and its core process is being followed. Some are frustrated that the ruling did not go far enough: that unless a clear stance indicating homosexuality as biblically sinful is thoroughly enacted in these matters, the church will need to split. Some are weeping at the stance of denying full inclusion of gay persons and understand it as disobedience to the Gospel of Christ as known in the Bible. Relief. Frustration. Weeping.
As you react to the ruling and ongoing discussion in the United Methodist Church, please remember that within this church, like many if not most United Methodist Churches, there will be diverse reactions. As with the United Methodist Church, we are not of one mind regarding human sexuality. Some of us are relieved, some of us are frustrated, and some of us are weeping. Let us honor God and the faithful saints around us in the ways we use our words to build up, rather than tear down. Those standing on every side of this discussion include Bible learning, Christ following, truth seeking, and faithful persons.
Let us also remember that we are not just discussing the issue of homosexuality as it relates to the ways of God. At the heart of this discussion are people. People who are beloved children of God. Members of this church have friends and relatives who are gay and/or are gay themselves.
As we United Methodists move toward the special General Conference Session in February which will likely enact new realities for United Methodism, I invite you to be in daily prayer for the Christian church as a whole but particularly for the part of God’s church we call United Methodist.
Keep in mind, via the words of Ken Carter, “There have always been multiple streams of theological diversity in American Methodism… We have been able to live together with theological differences, while affirming a doctrinal core. This is the distinction made in the Book of Discipline between our doctrinal standards and our theological task… We have always been a church with differing theological perspectives; yet, we are united by a rich and deep understanding of the grace of God that leads to sanctification—which is itself God’s gift—and the means of grace that form us as disciples.”
I am praying that we will find the courage to live together following the words of Jesus:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).” My prayer is that throughout this process, the process itself will be loving and gracious among us with differing views. My prayer is that we acknowledge the deep love God has for us and be open to His leading, which has regularly led saints like Moses, Peter, Esther, and Paul to unexpected understandings and ministries. May we pray the will of God and not our own and mean it. I pray that by the grace of God we will live the United Methodist words of consecration at our shared Holy Communion table, “By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through Your Son Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father now and forever, Amen.”
Let us pray that they may know we are Christians by our love. May we live this prayer.
Links for further detailed reading:
Synopsis with detailed descriptions: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/consecration-of-gay-bishop-against-church-law
Full Decision: http://www.umc.org/decisions/71953
Council of Bishops’ Response http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/president-of-the-council-of-bishops-statement-regarding-judicial-council-de
Response Statements from Bishops, Seminaries, Movements/Special Groups and Individuals (Not a comprehensive list.): http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2017/04/29/responses-across-the-connection/
Details about special General Conference Session in 2019: http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2017/04/25/umc-bishops-call-special-session-of-general-conference-for-2019/
This Sunday, May 7, we will honor both high school and college graduates by praying for them and blessing them as they embark on a new chapter in their lives. This will take place at both worship services with the whole congregation will joining in the blessing. We will also celebrate the graduates with gifts and cake on the 10:30am Fellowship Hour in Fellowship Hall BC. Everyone is invited to join in the celebration!
Indianapolis Walking for Dreams 5K fundraising event is May 21. You are invited to join the Old Bethel Tenderfoots team as we walk to raise money for Family Promise (IHN) ministry which aids families experiencing homelessness. Registration and pledge forms are at the Welcome Center. If you are unable to walk the 5K, you may sponsor a walker. Contact Team Captain Nancy Bellinger at 317-375-0711 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Serving Christ Together,