Rev. Moe’s Response – Judicial Council
Analyses, opinions, and conjecture abounded last weekend, when the United Methodist Judicial Council rendered its decision on the questions before them in re: the election, consecration and assignment of Bishop Karen Oliveto by the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC to the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area in July, 2016. A question of law was filed moments after Bishop Oliveto’s election, and has finally resulted in a hearing before the Judicial Council last week.
“Regardless of the Judicial Council’s determinations and General Church’s decision-making, First Church is committed to loving and just relationships in our congregation and in our community.”
Basically, the decision rendered by the Judicial Council has been summed up by Richard Marsh, the attorney from the Mountain Sky Area who presented the case on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction at the hearing. As Mr. Marsh understands their decision: Bishop Oliveto’s election last July was proper under United Methodist Church Law. She continues as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area.
In their rush to report on the decision, some news outlets created confusion by reporting Bishop Oliveto’s consecration had been held to be unlawful by the Judicial Council. Early on in its decision, the Judicial Council acknowledged that it had no jurisdiction to review Bishop Oliveto’s nomination, election and assignment. Bishop Oliveto was duly nominated, duly elected and duly assigned.
“There is no provision in The Discipline making it lawful to deny consecration to a duly elected episcopal candidate in good standing,” the Judicial Council wrote. The council goes on to state the College of Bishops had a duty to consecrate her. “Episcopal leaders who participate in the service of consecration of a duly elected bishop in good standing are fulfilling a responsibility specifically assigned to them by The Discipline,” they declared.
The council had earlier decided it did not have the constitutional authority to question the actions of the Western Jurisdictional Conference when it elected her by an 88-0 vote on the 17th ballot.
Though it is the Judicial Council’s responsibility to interpret the Book of Discipline’s use, rather than to make new laws, the Judicial Council nevertheless created new law in this decision, related to how The United Methodist Church defines homosexuality when it comes to the eligibility of persons seeking ordination.
The council said the church can now consider the public marriage records related to a marriage between persons of the same gender as evidence of self-avowal of homosexuality. This is a dramatic change that continues to send a message to LGBTQI people that they are not able to have a full relationship inside The United Methodist Church.
Does this new standard affect the election or consecration of Bishop Oliveto, who is married to her spouse, Robin Ridenour? No. It is a forward-looking declaration and does not affect previous actions.
Finally, the Judicial Council did not retain jurisdiction over the parties for future action.
I received a letter from Rev. Steve Bauman, of Christ United Methodist Church in NYC, and am borrowing from it to assure you that regardless of the Judicial Council’s determinations and General Church’s decision-making, First Church is committed to loving and just relationships in our congregation and in our community:
- First, First Church remains fully committed to being a welcoming community for all persons regardless of their sexual orientation.
- Second, First Church will continue to make no distinction concerning who has access to our sacramental life including baptism, communion, and marriage.
- Third, First Church will join its voice with those who share our commitment to loving all of our neighbors as ourselves, showing no partiality, but with a special conviction for those who have been deemed “less-than” by a church that should know better.
- Fourth, First Church continues its affirmation for the ordination of those candidates for ministry who have arisen from our ranks with a clear and authentic call for service within the life of the church.
- Fifth, with open eyes and heart, First Church acknowledges the spiritual and psychic harm that is caused by the UMC in its structural, systemic exclusion of LGBTQ persons. We seek to rectify this malady.
“Every church, formally or informally organized, is a less-than-perfect embodiment of God’s intentions, just like each one of us. Faith calls us to help it grow into a better version of itself, just as that remains our individual struggle as well. And recall that Jesus broke a law or two on his way to his destiny…
“I remain convinced of God’s grace at work in this struggle and am grateful for the partnership of the First Church family. I invite you to claim and live the truth of the resurrection, remembering that, as the Apostle Paul concluded, “faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.”
(With thanks to Rev. Steve Bauman for these assurances.)
Rev. Sharon Moe