Like many of you, I have been waiting anxiously for the Judicial Council’s decision on the election of our first openly gay United Methodist bishop, Bishop Karen Oliveto. Having been at the hearing on Tuesday, April 25, 2017, I wasn’t sure how the Judicial Council would rule on the matter.
Unfortunately, I am not surprised. Disappointed? Yes! Surprised? No…
In short, the Council ruled that the consecration of Bishop Oliveto is against church law. The ruling comes in response to a Petition for Declaratory Decision from the South Central Jurisdictional Conference following the 2016 consecration of Bishop Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction.
I have now read the decision as carefully as I can. Decision No. 1341 is complex, complicated, and convoluted. In the 6 to 3 ruling, the majority opinion is that the Judicial Council only has jurisdiction over the matter of consecration and not those of the nomination, election, and assignment.
The ruling does not nullify Bishop Oliveto’s consecration but now subjects her ministerial office to review according to the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The ruling* also states that, “At all times, the bishop’s constitutional right to fair and due process must be protected. Until the completion of the administrative and/or judicial process, the bishop remains in good standing.”
In one dissenting opinion, two jurists argued rather cogently that the Book of Discipline does not grant the Judicial Council jurisdiction over a request for Declaratory Decision by a jurisdictional conference over a matter pertaining to another jurisdictional conference. I am very much persuaded by this dissenting opinion.**
I continue to be pained and disappointed that the only disqualifying criterion is Bishop Oliveto’s sexual orientation. This continues to send the message that our LGBTQIA sisters and brothers cannot and will not be fully included in the life of The United Methodist Church. The majority of our younger generations, Gen X and Millennial, no longer see homosexuality and same-sex marriage as divisive issues. I urge United Methodists to listen to our younger generations. Let us move beyond this debate and focus on the mission of the Church.
I still have hope. One must always look for signs of hope. For me, hope comes in the loving support those of us in the Western Jurisdiction have received from those in other jurisdictions, denominations, and faiths. And, I rest that hope in the openness of the next generations.
As a Christian and a professor of Hebrew Bible, I rely on scripture to bolster my spirit in troublesome times. Today, I pray that I might live by the guidance of Micah 6:8 — “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In the meantime, I will continue to hold Bishop Karen Oliveto with respect and honor as one of my bishops of The United Methodist Church.
*I encourage you to read the entirety of the decision.
**There is also a concurring and dissenting opinion that the election, certification, consecration, and assignment of Bishop Oliveto is “null, void, and of no effect” because the Western Jurisdiction elected an openly gay bishop. The review process will now be in the hands of the Western Jurisdiction, especially the College of Bishops.
New York Daily News: Methodist court ruling a blow for openly lesbian bishop
Religion News Service (RNS): Consecration of gay bishop against church law, says United
Huffington Post: Law vs. Spirit: United Methodist Court Rules Against Lesbian Bishop