Declaratory decision sought regarding election of gay bishop; Council of Bishops president issues statement


On the heels of the election of the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church in the Western Jurisdiction, members of the South Central Jurisdiction voted late Friday night to ask the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding same-sex church leaders.

Delegates and observers of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference
pray for people who are hurting following the election of an openly gay
bishop in the Western Jurisdiction and a vote by the SCJ to seek a declaratory
decision from the Judicial Council during its meeting late Friday night in
Wichita. Photo by Todd Seifert

In a vote of 109-84, members approved the motion introduced on the floor by Great Plains lay delegate Dixie Brewster.

“I don’t want the United Methodist Church to split” over the same-sex issue, Brewster said after introducing the motion. “I don’t want United Methodist churches to leave the denomination.”

The Rev. David Livingston, a Great Plains clergy delegate who introduced LGBT-friendly measures at both the General Conference and the preceding 2015 annual conference session, spoke against the motion.

“I do not want us to be the body to bring it to Judicial Council,” Livingston said.

A motion to table the issue failed to pass, which led to the vote.

The motion and vote came just moments after news on social media indicated that the Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly gay pastor, was elected as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that self-avowed, practicing homosexuals may not serve as pastors in the denomination.

In an interview Saturday morning, Brewster said the news of Oliveto's approval spurred the motion.

"I believe the United Methodist Church is so much bigger than this issue," she said. "I would love for us to focus on mission and ministry and all of those great things we have in the connection.

"So many of us want to keep the United Methodist Church united, even though we are of different minds," Brewster added. "But this was a blatant approach to misrepresent us as a denomination, as the Book of Discipline has been totally ignored in this case."

Brewster said she had assistance in forming the motion.

"There are many in the church concerned for its future," she said. "Many friends prayed and prayed and prayed."

A call for prayer by those on both sides of the issue resulted in nearly the entire voting delegation linked together.

COB President Addresses Western Jurisdiction Election Results

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement regarding the results of the July 15, 2016, episcopal election at the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona.

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

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