Liberals to United Methodist Church: Drop Dead (THIRD UPDATE)
The United Methodist Church in the western United States is dying. The Western Jurisdiction (which encompasses all U.S. states west of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arizona) is in a terminal death spiral, having lost well more than half its membership and worship attendance over the last half century, and is no longer self-supporting financially. The most liberal portion of the world-wide denomination, it has apparently decided to give a big middle finger to the rest of the church before it croaks.
Holding its quadrennial meeting in Arizona this week to elect a new bishop, it’s choice is the pastor of Glide United Methodist Church in San Francisco, the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto. Dr. Oliveto now holds the distinction of being the United Methodist Church’s first lesbian bishop–the UMC’s very own Gene Robinson, as it were. The director of one of the biggest gay advocacy groups in the UMC writes:
Reconciling Ministries Network celebrates with great joy the election of the first openly lesbian bishop in The United Methodist Church (The UMC). This is an historic moment in the movement of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) persons for spiritual and civil equality both in the church and the public square. The election of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA breaks through anti-LGBTQ law in The UMC and carries queer people to the highest levels of church leadership. Officially barred from so many churches and positions of spiritual leadership, queer persons may now see themselves as leaders of the body of Christ in the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States.
Yes, well. There’s at least one problem with that: sexually active gays (Oliveto is “married”) are barred from ordination as ministers, much less bishops, in the UMC. Another problem is that the College of Bishops just got through persuading the General Conference to leave things unchanged in the Book of Discipline, rather than doing anything to strengthen the prohibition, pending the outcome of yet another study commission. The Western Jurisdiction has spit in the face of the world-wide church with its actions, apparently counting on the change in the facts on the ground to ensure that the denomination–which is predominantly conservative and evangelical world-wide–will simply accept the new reality.
Even before the meeting, there were those who warned that electing Oliveto (or either of the other two gay candidates) wouldn’t be greeted warmly:
Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said he would like to see conferences and individuals honor the legislation approved by General Conference.
The General Conference essentially “hit the pause button,” Ough said. “Personally, I would like to see people and conferences honor that.”
“It is regrettable that we have reached the point of such open defiance of the decisions made in good faith by our global United Methodist Church,” said the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, executive with Good News, an evangelical United Methodist organization that upholds the church’s current stance on homosexuality issues.
“The disrespect shown to our brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and Europe, not to mention United Methodist evangelicals in the U.S., is staggering.
“To elect a self-avowed practicing homosexual as bishop would push many traditionalists over the edge of what they could tolerate, jeopardizing the unity and the funding of the denomination,” Lambrecht said.
The Rev. William Lawrence — former president of the Judicial Council, the church’s top court — said that if an openly gay person were elected bishop, anyone in the denomination could file a complaint. Some evidence, such as a wedding license, would be needed to merit processing of the complaint, he added.
For her part, Oliveto said in prospect that she supported hitting the pause button, just not at the cost of refusing to elect a gay bishop:
“I am very supportive of the Bishop’s Way Forward (General Conference 2016 legislative plan),” said Oliveto. “I believe that what this commission will discover is that while matters of human sexuality are the symptom, the dis-ease within our denomination is cultural and theological and it is impacting our ability to create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Unfortunately, LGBTQ persons have paid a harsh price for our neglect in speaking the truth about our denomination.”
I think it’s fair to say that schism is now inevitable in the UMC. The only question is how to manage it.
UPDATE: John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy posted a picture of Dr. Oliveto from 2015 in which she was apparently taking a courageous stand in favor of people who, if they had their way, would see her dead:
John also has some fascinating tidbits regarding the new bishop’s “theology” that some Anglicans might find eerily familiar, including this:
In her sermon during the closing worship, she criticized St. Paul for casting a demon out of the slave girl in Acts 16:16-18. Oliveto encouraged her audience to question the traditional interpretation that this exorcism was “an act of liberation” for the girl. Negatively comparing Paul’s response to the slave girl to his subsequent saving of the jailer, Oliveto asserted that Paul was not motivated by compassion for the slave girl and noted that the text does not say that she found salvation.
The RMN leader went on to defend the demon’s possession of the slave, as this demon helped enrich her owners by giving her fortune-telling abilities. Oliveto declared that by casting the demon out of the girl, Paul did nothing to make the girl’s life better and “probably made it worse” as she was now “damaged goods.” Oliveto was very concerned by “questions about the imposition of religious values, in this case religious values,” such as if the exorcism was really good for the slave girl and whether she wanted to be exorcised. However, she did not explore the possibility of demon possession having had any detrimental effect upon the girl.
UPDATE: The president of the College of Bishops has put out the following statement:
The Western Jurisdiction has elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco to serve as a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson.” This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.
Our Book of Discipline has clearly delineated processes in place for resolving issues even as complex and unprecedented as this election.
The authority to elect bishops is constitutionally reserved to the jurisdictional and central conferences. Any elder in good standing is eligible for election as a bishop of the church. An elder under an unresolved complaint is still considered to be in good standing. Being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church, if indeed this is the case.
The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely. The Council does not have constitutional authority to intervene in the election or supervisory processes at either the annual conference, jurisdictional or central conference levels. And, we are careful to not jeopardize any clergy or lay person’s due process by ill-advised comments.
However, we clearly understand the Church appropriately expects the Council to provide spiritual leadership and for bishops to uphold our consecration vows. In May, prior to General Conference, the Council again affirmed to keep the promises made at our consecrations, including, among others:
•Shepherding all persons committed to our care;
•Leading the church in mission, witness and service;
•Ordering the church including administering processes for handling complaints;
•Seeking unity in Christ, including the work the Council proposed to the General Conference in “An Offering for a Way Forward.”
There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. Others will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been. Still, others will likely see this election as disrupting or even rendering moot the purpose and work of the Commission currently being formed by the Council.
The Council continues to place our hope in Jesus Christ. Though conflicted and fragile, The United Methodist Church remains a strong witness to the transforming love of God and the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We affirm that our witness is defined, not by an absence of conflict, but how we act in our disagreements. We affirm that our unity is not defined by our uniformity, but by our compassionate and Spirit-led faithfulness to our covenant with God, Christ’s Church and one another.
As a Council, we continue to maintain that the proposal for a way forward and the formation of the Commission is the best path. An endless cycle of actions, reactions and counter-reactions is not a viable path and tears at the very fabric of our Connection. The current and incoming COB Executive Committees recently met by conference call to initiate the implementation of our Offering for a Way Forward and the formation of the Commission called for in the proposal. We will resume this work at our regularly scheduled meeting on July 19-20 following the Jurisdictional Conferences. A progress report will be released shortly after the meeting.
Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable. We are confident God is with us, especially in uncharted times and places. There is a future with hope. We invite your constant and ardent prayers for the witness and unity of The United Methodist Church. May God guide us as we seek to maintain unity in the bond of peace.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, President
Council of Bishops
Translation: We don’t like it, but as of now can’t–or won’t–do anything about it. A little help here?
(Via Anglican Ink.)
UPDATE: According to Mark Tooley of the IRD, this election is going to be challenged in the denomination’s highest court. The South Central Jurisdiction, meeting in Wichita, responded to Oliveto’s election by passing a motion to refer to the Judicial Council this question: “Is 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 lawful under The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church?” Mark has further details, though not when the next meeting of the Judicial Council will be.
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