Judicial Council rules consecration of gay bishop against church law

The Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church heard oral arguments and has released this information to the parties involved regarding the motion for a declaratory decision submitted to the Judicial Council. The focus of the motion was squarely on Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s first openly gay bishop. Oliveto, elected in July, currently serves as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area, which encompasses Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and a church in Idaho.  

The top court of The United Methodist Church ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law. However, the bishop “remains in good standing,” the Judicial Council said in Decision 1341, until an administrative or judicial process is completed.

“Under the long-standing principle of legality, no individual member or entity may violate, ignore or negate church law,” said the decision, made public April 28. “It is not lawful for the college of bishops of any jurisdictional or central conference to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual bishop.” Read full news story on ruling. 

In the days ahead, let us be reminded that we belong to God and we belong to one another. You are encouraged to put on the garment of grace, to walk humbly with one another, to seek justice for all. We share a common heritage and a common rule of life – to do no harm, to do good and to stay in love with God. Let us redouble our efforts to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For there is one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, who is above all and through all and in all.

May we continue to join together in prayer for our beloved United Methodist Church, all involved in today's decision, the ongoing work of the Commission on a Way Forward, and especially the missional engagement of our United Methodist Churches of Indiana, as well as each of our churches in every corner of the world. 

Thank you, Lord, that you are near to all who call upon your name in truth.  We open up to you, Lord, and pour out our hearts and emotions before you. Help us to be slow to anger.  We allow you to remove resentment and fear and to give us a new depth of understanding.  

Help us to be gentle, to do our part in keeping peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  May we forgive as you so freely forgive us.  Thank you for your cleansing blood that reminds us to truly love one another.  May our thoughts be pleasing to you and our words bear fruit.

Let us not forget your wonderful love  and healing power so that we can continue to share that with the world.

You are our Rock and Redeemer.

In the strong name of Jesus, Amen.

Additionally, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President of The Council of Bishops released the following statement on the court ruling: 

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, the Judicial Council released its decision on a request for a declaratory decision from the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) in response to the Western Jurisdiction’s (WJ) nomination, election, consecration and assignment of Karen Oliveto as a Bishop of the United Methodist Church.

In its decision, the Judicial Council ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law but also said Bishop Oliveto “remains in good standing,” until an administrative or judicial process is completed.

This decision means Bishop Oliveto will continue as a Bishop of the church until such process is completed.

The Council of Bishops expresses our appreciation for the Judicial Council’s careful and deliberate consideration of this matter and for the thoughtful and considerate participation of all parties to the case.  The Judicial Council has a distinct and critical role in the governance structure of the denomination.  We recognize and respect the Judicial Council as the body responsible for deciding complex questions of church law, including the right to declare jurisdiction.  We implore all within the United Methodist structure and family to honor the Judicial Council ruling.

Yet, we acknowledge that the decision does not help to ease the disagreements, impatience and anxiety that permeates The United Methodist Church over the matter of human sexuality, and particularly this case.  Our compassion and prayers of intercession extend to all those who are hurt, relieved, confused or fearful.

The decision 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 remains committed to the unity of the church and the flourishing of its mission. We are confident of the work that the Commission on a Way Forward has begun and we believe the Holy Spirit is working through the Commission and Council to accomplish God’s purposes.

I am encouraged by the relationships that are developing within the Commission.  The distinct and diverse opinions among its members reflect the richness and vitality of The United Methodist Church. The Commission is committed to its task. I believe that their work will bear fruit as we meet for a Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019.

We continue to urge the entire church to stay focused on the Commission’s work as our best opportunity to determine God’s leading for a way forward. We believe the God who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). We are strongest when we remain in connection with each other.

We urge you to join your bishops in daily prayers for all United Methodists and for the denomination as we tenderly hold the unity and mission of the church in our hearts and hands.

Just as Jesus’ disciples were patient in waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Christ into heaven, we too are being called to wait for the revealing of what God has in store for our church. In this Easter Season, let us hear one another, let us understand one another, let us maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Where do we go from here?  We put our trust in God to strengthen us even as we hold differing views about human sexuality. We must continue to love one another just as Christ instructed us to do. It is by loving one another fully that the world will know we are Christians (John 13:34-35).  It is through this incarnational love that we go forth to make disciples of Jesus Christ and transform the world.

Nearly every day, I hear an inspiring new story of how the people of The United Methodist Church are at work in the world transforming and enriching people’s lives. This is what we’re about. This is our calling. This is the work we do together, no matter our differences. May we continue to do so for the greater glory of God.

Additional Links:

UMNS story on hearing: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/court-hears-arguments-over-gay-bishop

Documents motion for declaratory decision: http://s3.amazonaws.com/Website_Properties/who-we-are/judicial-council/judicial-council-dockets/Docs_0417-1.pdf

Oliveto elections: http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/western-jurisdiction-elects-openly-gay-united-methodist-bishop