Reaction to Judicial Council ruling mixed


The woman who questioned on the South Central Jurisdictional floor the right of a gay pastor to become a bishop said she is “basically pleased” by the decision handed down April 28 by the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council.

“It makes me feel good about the church when there are issues that arise such as this that it’s handled in such a positive way,” Dixie Brewster of Milton, Kansas, said of the ruling that the Rev. Karen Oliveto’s election as bishop violates church law, but that she remains in good standing until an administrative or judicial process is completed.

Brewster attended the Judicial Council’s oral arguments on the case Tuesday, April 25, in Newark, New Jersey.

“I was very pleased with the process. It was an excellent way of taking care of church business. I thought it was handled extremely well,” she said. “Both parties were very respectful. For something so tumultuous, it was a very good setting for all that took place.”

Brewster’s motion was made in July on the floor of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in Wichita, shortly after Oliveto was elected as a bishop at the Western Jurisdictional Conference and assigned to the Mountain Sky Area.

Bishop Karen Oliveto (in purple jacket) enters the hearing room for the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Newark, N.J. The denomination's top court has ruled on a petition questioning whether a gay pastor can serve as a bishop in The United Methodist Church. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

“It wasn’t an easy declaratory statement to bring forth. It was hard to do what I did, and it wasn’t something that I wanted to do or looked forward to doing,” Brewster said. “But for the unity of the church, I felt it was necessary.”

Great Plains Conference Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr., in a statement Friday night, asked United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska to pause to pray for “our sisters and brothers who feel like they have lost another endless and bitter battle this day.”

“Our denomination is not of one mind on matters associated with human sexuality,” Saenz wrote.

The Rev. David Livingston, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa, Kansas, said he was disappointed by the Judicial Council’s decision, but agreed with the statements made in the dissenting opinion.

“There’s pieces that those on the left will appreciate, and there’s pieces that those on the right will appreciate,” Livingston said. “For the time being, it doesn’t go far enough in either direction to cause either group to leave the church.”

Livingston was an advocate of the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, a United Methodist pastor who agreed to take involuntary leave from her congregation in Edgerton, Kansas, last year after telling them she is gay in early 2016.

He said he disagreed with how the Judicial Council defined terms including “practicing homosexual.”

“It’s evidence that our language is outdated and insufficient to understand the dynamic of human sexuality,” Livingston said. “That’s very troubling to me.”

The Rev. Kent Little, pastor of College Hill UMC in Wichita, said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the Judicial Council’s decision.

“This ruling, this decision wasn’t just about Bishop Oliveto,” said Little, who serves as pastor of a church that supports the reconciling movement for fully inclusive churches. “This does harm to the whole of our LGBTQ members and clergy across the denomination. It wasn’t an isolated ruling or decision.”

Little also said he was disappointed with the adherence to the Book of Discipline.

“It seems to me that so many times as a church that we continue to hold the Discipline to a higher authority than good Biblical scholarship,” he said. “I’m disappointed that we as a church continue to do that.”

He also thinks the decision would have been best left to the Western Jurisdiction.

“I don’t think another jurisdiction should do that,” he said.

The Judicial Council’s decision comes amid discussion of the newly formed Commission on a Way Forward, which is determining the next steps for human sexuality issues within the church. The Council of Bishops this week called for a special session of General Conference in February 2019 in St. Louis.

“It raises the stakes for the Way Forward Commission,” Livingston said. “Going into this decision I thought there was a very, very narrow path for them to tread even for it to get to the denomination in 2019. I think they did find that narrow path.

“That means the Way Forward Commission continues to have its work cut out for it, and it’s going to be critically important,” Livingston added.

Little said he hoped the decision doesn’t make any changes in the discussions already conducted by the commission.

“I hope they will continue their work unbiased and unaffected by this decision,” Little said. “I hope they continue their conversation and their work and their recommendation not based or influenced by this ruling, but based on the work they’ve already begun.

Brewster said she also was awaiting the commission’s findings.

“Part of me is really nervous about what comes forward will be debated to the tune that we don’t get anything decided,” she said. “I fear the debate of the plan that the Commission on a Way Forward brings. There’s lots of great folks at the table, and I’m hoping that something that everyone likes will be brought forward.”

Brewster met Bishop Oliveto for the first time at the Judicial Council hearing and said they exchanged pleasantries.

“We both are praying for each other, and we both understand that it’s tough times for both of us,” Brewster said.

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