|Bishop Oliveto (right) and her wife, Robin Ridenour|
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name
put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD,
have not forsaken those who seek you.
On Thursday the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church rejected an appeal by the bishops of the Western Jurisdiction to reverse its ruling against the election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto last summer (2016). The Judicial Council is our version of the Supreme Court. In matters of church law they have the final say.
The news is disappointing, but not surprising. It did not seem likely that the people who made the initial ruling earlier this spring would have a sudden Epiphany and see light where just a few months ago they had seen only darkness.
But one always hopes.
The news came to me from John Scott Lomperis, writing in the (oddly titled) “Juicy Ecumenism” blog of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The IRD is a very conservative group that has been working hard for four decades to undermine the foundations of several Protestant denominations, most notably the United Methodist Church.
“Today,” wrote Lomperis, “I and others received official notification that our denomination’s supreme court, the Judicial Council, had unanimously decided to reject the request from the Western Jurisdiction bishops to reverse their April ruling against the attempt by this increasingly schismatic, numerically tiny region of the United Methodist Church to elevate an openly partnered lesbian activist to be bishop.”
The Western Jurisdiction is trying to live into the Kingdom of God by modeling a more inclusive ministry than what is prescribed in our United Methodist Book of Discipline. Although Lomperis sees it differently, their goal is not to cause schism, but to effect change. The traditionalists, on the other hand, seem to actually want to split the church. And they want the split to come sooner, rather than later, because they can see the movement within the UMC in the United States toward greater acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ persons as full participants in the life of the church.
His description of Bishop Oliveto as “an openly partnered lesbian activist” is true, but it is not the whole picture. She is a gifted leader, a great preacher, an effective pastor, and an Elder who is by every measure well equipped to her new calling as a Bishop in the church.
In his second paragraph Lomperis makes an important point and then shows us an unpleasant side of this debate.
He notes that “the Judicial Council’s complex ruling ultimately took away any foundation in UMC church law for Dr. Karen Oliveto of San Francisco to indefinitely remain a bishop in good standing, and how more broadly, this ruling fundamentally reshaped our church law to remove what had previously been major barriers to defrocking clergy unwilling to abide by our denomination’s biblical standards for sexual self-control.”
He’s right that the ruling “fundamentally reshaped our church law.” It re-wrote the Discipline, something which the Judicial Council is not supposed to do. And something which traditionalists should oppose.
The unpleasant side is revealed in that last sentence about “defrocking clergy unwilling to abide by our denomination’s biblical standards for sexual self-control.”
Biblical standards for self-control? He means that gay clergy must be celibate whether they are married or not.
The rest of the post is just a series of snarky misleading half-truths about Bishop Oliveto.
Unfortunately, he reports, “none of this appears to matter to the bishops and other leaders of the Western Jurisdiction or to anyone of whom I am aware in liberal-caucus circles. It seems they are absolutely determined to stand behind their efforts to elevate Oliveto no matter how deeply and widely she and they hurt the church, because her being a partnered lesbian evidently trumps every other consideration.”
Bishop Oliveto was not elected because she is gay and married.
And she was not elected in spite of the fact that she is gay and married.
She was elected because the delegates saw her as the most qualified leader.
This new ruling from the Judicial Council brings us one step closer to schism. It was not unexpected, but it is deeply disappointing.
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