Tag Archives: Bishop Karen Oliveto

Tired, Sad, Still not leaving

Last week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church met to rule on the legality or the constitutionality of decisions made in February by the General Conference. I have not posted much about the what happened. Judicial Council has a particular role in the United Methodist Church. Two years ago, I wrote a blog on the ruling the Judicial Council made on the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. It explains the process and my response.  You can read my thoughts here.

Those who know me well, know I was grieved and saddened and angered that in 2019 we still can not move forward on full inclusion. On my church’s website, I posted this video in response. I have no say or vote in the matter, but I felt that the One Church Plan, while not perfect, offered the biggest tent for people who have deep disagreement over the issues of human sexuality to dwell together.

I was wrong. The General Conference voted (by a slim majority) to not only uphold the current stance in the Book of Discipline but to add punitive and mean measures to make sure everyone toed the line. The Judicial Council’s role is to look over the legislation and make a ruling on what is legal and what is not. While this comes from a Progressive point of view, this chart is a good visual for understanding the decisions made.

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I am not particularly surprised by the most recent Judicial Council rulings. Their job is to see how decisions are legal or not legal by the United Methodist Discipline and Constitution. That does not stop me from being sad. I understand that different people can come to our Holy Bible and interpret it in different ways. What I have trouble understanding is the punitive nature of how to punish those who disagree.

The Reverend Doctor Rebekah Miles has reflected on the General Conference actions and the Judicial Council’s response.  I highly respect her thoughts and recommend you read her article in its entirety. She is the Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at Southern Methodist University, an elder in the United Methodist Church and has attended General Conference many times.

Personally, what stands out for me in Dr. Miles post is this statement:
Only one offense with minimum penalty

Speaking of the many things, including celibacy, that have nothing to do with sex, we can at least take strange comfort in the fact that none of them will trigger mandatory minimum penalties for clergy. We, in the United Methodist Church, have mandated minimum penalties for only one offense: officiating at a same-sex marriage. Your pastor could steal the church’s money, have sex with various and sundry people, or even stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, without triggering a mandatory minimum penalty. But if he agrees to officiate at the wedding of his beloved lesbian daughter, we have made it more difficult for his conference to avoid a clergy trial and have mandated that the conference must suspend him for a year without pay if it is his first offense and take away his ordination credentials if it is his second. 

This is stunning. I can basically do all kinds of immoral and unethical and illegal actions, but the United Methodist Church has no minimum penalties for those actions. Now, at any point in the process, a pastor can lose their credentials, but the only “offense” that has specified punishments and penalties are for officiating at gay weddings (which in the United States is legal in all 50 states.) I can get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce and remarry again and again and again; no questions asked. I can abuse people, steal money, create a hostile work environment at church, and there is no minimum penalty for these offenses. If you want to know what “chargeable offenses” are in the United Methodist Church you can find that information here.

Perhaps this is an overstatement, but the truth is that the Discipline of the United Methodist Church does not prescribe any particular resolution for these pastoral failings. This is an entirely new path that the United Methodist Church is taking. The definition of what it means to be homosexual has been changed as well as the understanding that if a person is celibate, they can still serve as an elder, a deacon, a bishop, etc. Now, it only takes a declaration of being “gay” to exclude one from ministry.

After thirty five plus years, I might be given some grace if I had decided I didn’t want to fight any more. It might be understood if I decided to give up, to turn away from any organization that would be so closed, so deeply entrenched, so unwilling to continue to delve into scripture and to find the grace and love I see in Jesus.

I am still not leaving. I am probably too stubborn and pig headed to give up. I just can not imagine giving up on the church that I have served and loved for decades. I may have to, but I am not willing to stop working for what is just and right and good yet. I continue to share with the young LBGTQ people that worship at First that hope is still available. That some day, it is possible that they can live fully into who God has created them to be in the life of the church. Someday, when they want to pledge their love and their life to their partner, I will be able to be their pastor.

I hope and pray that will be true. I know there are discussions on the future of the UMC. I know we may be looking at schism. For the first time in decades, I am believing this may be the way forward. In the meantime, I will continue to work, to pray, to preach, to pastor and do the work of God in downtown Wichita. I will continue to open the doors for all people, no matter their age, their race, their ethnic background, their social economic status, their political leanings, their gender, or their gender identity or their sexual orientation. I am not leaving, I am not going away. I am continuing to believe and base my ministry on love, on inclusion and on justice.

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For the Love of Jesus, I am not going away

Yesterday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) released its decision on a request from the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC concerning the application of certain paragraphs from the Discipline on the nomination, election and consecration of bishops. In shorter terms, the question had to do specifically with the nomination, election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto from the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, and the paragraphs have to do with “self avowed practicing homosexuals.”  Here is the link to the full review of the case before the Council.

There are a “lot of words” out there on this case, before the Council met and now since they have released their decision. For non United Methodists, the Judicial Council is basically our Supreme Court. They make decisions based on requests from United Methodists that question acts by bishops or pastors or annual conferences and rule on what is “lawful” or “constitutional” within the UMC. The Judicial Council doesn’t make the laws or the rules that are within the Discipline, they only make decisions as to whether entities within the church are following them, or upholding them. The General Conference is entrusted with writing or rewriting or changing the Discipline every four years.

The church, for some time, has wrestled with the issues surrounding human sexuality. This is not the first debate the “church” has had over biblical issues. The church has split over many other kinds of issues, over power, over structure, over biblical authority, over slavery, over women in the ministry, divorced people in the church and in the ministry, over the use of alcohol, playing cards or dancing. I am not making light of the conversation and deep divide that is in front of the UMC right now. I am pointing out, that the church is constantly struggling to figure out how to be the church and how to live out following Jesus Christ in a real way in each generation.

The Methodist church divided over slavery a little over 150 years ago. Each side believed they were right. Slavery is biblical, there are verses in place as to how to treat a slave appropriately. And yet…..I do not believe there is a church left that still believes that “owning” another human being is Christian. Women have been in the pulpit just a bit over a 100 years, and yet it was not until 1956 women were full members as clergy. There are still people who walk away from the church when a woman is appointed as pastor. There is plenty in the New Testament to cling to if one wants to deny women the opportunity to live out their call as pastors and preachers and teachers. It has only been since the 1970’s that divorced people could be ministers. If a pastor went through a divorce he (and at that time it was usually a he) had to turn in his credentials. Of everything that I have noted, divorce is the one thing that Jesus had some very strong and judgemental words to say. (Matthew 5: 31-32)

I was saddened by the Judicial Council’s ruling, but not surprised. Their job is to rule on what the Book of Discipline states. As someone who has been clergy for 35 years, I know what the Discipline states and have worked to change the language. Our, as in United Methodists, statements that all people are of sacred worth and that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings is contradictory. Obviously I disagree, but the Discipline states what it states, so the decision by the ruling should not surprise anyone. Judicial Council’s function is not to question or change what is in the Discipline, it is only to rule on whether or not the question before them is valid and then what if any acts are in violation of the Discipline. The Western Jurisdictions College of Bishops released this statement. The College (which is the name of the group of bishops for a particular area) already has had Bishop Oliveto’s “case” under review. The sad thing is that her jurisdiction elected her with no dissenting votes, which is practically a unanimous vote. They elected Bishop Oliveto because they believed she had the gifts and the graces to lead the church forward. Her assigned annual conference also have many who agree with her giftedness for the church.

I am saddened by this because I continue to see the best and brightest and most gifted people turned away because they are gay or lesbian. Men and women are told they are sacred worth, but not holy and sacred enough to share their lives and their gifts for ministry in the church. Some congregations won’t even allow them to be on staff or in leadership. I, divorced and remarried, am allowed to stand up Sunday after Sunday and preach grace, love and hope and promise and faith and the good news of new life in Jesus. Yet, someone, who happens to have a different orientation than I, is denied that privilege not because of an action that Jesus clearly condemns, but on the basis of their “being.”

I have been told that those who think the church needs to change should just go away or start a new church. What if those who had worked diligently for slavery to be abolished had just gone away? Or those who worked for full inclusion of people regardless of the color of their skin had just gone away? Or those who worked for the full inclusion of women just went away? I have loved the United Methodist Church my whole life, I am not going away. I am not leaving. I want to be part of bridging the divide that honors what I believe is the real grace and love of Jesus for ALL people.

There are many bumps and mountains and disappointments in the long round to justice, to the reign of God. I never thought I would see in my lifetime, all the changes that have been made. I never thought I would live to see gays and lesbians being able to marry legally, to have the same basic civil rights that I enjoy. And yet, it is now the law of the land as well as the law in many countries around the world. In the church, I have seen many things that are disappointing, but I have seen a movement towards equality and justice. Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.

Yesterday, in Egypt, Pope Francis spoke these words, “”History does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.” While I know Pope Francis was not speaking about the UMC, he was speaking about equality and justice. I will continue to work for what I believe is true justice in the UMC. I will work with and walk with those who are most hurt by our lack of compassion and grace. I will not walk away or leave, because I believe that I am called to do the working of inviting, including and proclaiming God’s grace for ALL. For the Love of Jesus, I will continue to Stand Up!

 

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