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Dithering UM Leadership in West

Bishop Grant Hagiya, UMNS

Bishop Grant Hagiya, UMNS

By Walter Fenton-

According to a United Methodist News Service article dated August 23, 2016, Bishop Grant Hagiya, president of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops, said newly elected Bishop Karen Oliveto, an open lesbian married to a deaconess in The United Methodist Church, “faces multiple complaints under church law … [and] that he has initiated the church’s supervisory process that seeks to reach a resolution without trial.”

No one has heard anything since.

Oliveto’s election came after General Conference had agreed to table all petitions to change the church’s sexual ethics, and after it had authorized the Council of Bishops to appoint a commission to study the matter and present a definitive plan for resolving the long running debate at an unprecedented, called General Conference. Delegates, church leaders, and bishops left the conference with an understanding the church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality remained fully in force while also allowing time for the commission to do its work.

Oliveto’s election also came amid heightened acts of defiance and votes by progressive annual conferences to reject the will of the church’s governance structure and its good order. When the Western Jurisdiction announced her election it rocked a church already reeling from the long and acrimonious debate, and a massive drop in worship attendance over the past 10 years.

In response, a number of active bishops issued statements lamenting her election as a breach of the church’s teachings and covenant. The South Central

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky receives Holy Communion from protesters, UMNS

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky receives Holy Communion from protesters, UMNS

Jurisdictional Conference immediately petitioned the denomination’s Judicial Council (its “Supreme Court”) regarding the legality of the Western Jurisdiction’s action. The executive committee of the Council of Bishops, citing “the great importance of the matter,” asked the Judicial Council to expedite its hearing of the case. And of course many United Methodists regarded her election as an event likely to tip the church towards separation or dissolution.

In short, Oliveto’s election has pushed the church to the brink of division, and its ramifications are almost certainly taking a toll on worship attendance and giving across the connection. But despite all of the turmoil, the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops has said nothing about its disposition of the “multiple complaints” filed against her.

Its dithering should surprise no one. In October 2013, shortly after retired Bishop Melvin Talbert presided at a same-sex service in Birmingham, Alabama, the Council of Bishops, in closed-door sessions at its November 2013 meetings, directed two of its colleagues to file a complaint against him. The complaint was finally filed in March 2014, and the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops took another nine months for investigation, conversation and deliberation. It finally announced a trivial resolution of the matter on December 30 of the same year.

Talbert’s case was not a complicated one, nor is Oliveto’s. There was no ambiguity about Talbert’s participation in a same-sex wedding in Birmingham. He participated with the express aim of drawing attention to his act of defiance. In the same way, Oliveto has never attempted to conceal she is married to her female partner, and in the past she has boasted that she has presided at over 50 same-sex weddings.

Given the liberal tilt of her four episcopal colleagues in the Western Jurisdiction, few people believe the panel handling the complaint will do anything more than announce a “just resolution” that leaves Oliveto in place. But that decision would be clarifying for the whole church, and it would inform the work of the special commission as it ponders the realistic options before it.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Oliveto’s presiding at same-sex services or her own marriage, fair-minded people can and should expect a just and timely resolution of a case with implications for the entire connection. At a minimum, the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops owes the church some report on the status of the complaints filed against her.

Its failure to act or to even report on the matters is indicative of either arrogance or disdain for the wider church.

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.

Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    This is not dithering. It is ensuring that Ms. Oliveto remains a member in good standing so that her election as bishop has no legal basis for being overturned. This is a very calculated move to establish facts on the ground and change our discipline through common practice.

    • Kevin, you are correct. Bishop Oliveto is a proven leader and was duly elected bishop. My husband and I are doubly happy to see her in this role as she graduated Drew Theological School, and my husband graduated from DTS, too, but years before Bishop Oliveto. My husband stayed in the full time ministry for nine year after which he returned to his previous profession of electrical engineer, and acted as a supply pastor while he was employed at GE. Upon retiring from GE, he took on a part time associate position in our local UMC.
      Congratulations to Karen Oliveto, and maybe this can be a portent of things to come, more acceptance of our LBGT sisters and brothers, along with our QAI sisters and brothers, too.

  2. Bill says:

    For me, the actions of the Bishops (or lack thereof!) in the Western Jurisdiction point to a larger issue: the LGBT movement in general lacks a real biblical morality that would show tenderness and concern for the consequences of their actions upon the larger United Methodist Church. Self interest seems to drive every action and decision. I don’t see how they can sustain a vitality of faith in the absence of biblical truth and real inspiration by the Holy Spirit.

  3. William says:

    Kevin tells us exactly what the goal of the left is at present, de facto governance at the local level until the time when their way is adopted by the whole church. And, the longer de facto governance is allowed to stand, the harder it becomes to reverse it, so they reason. In other words, the “local option” is already underway per their actions. The left has a plan, and they are cleverly working that plan. This all makes it virtually impossible for the new commission to find a way forward short of the left’s way forward per their staked out, hard and fast position.

    • William, we, also, could adopt a “Big Tent” UMC. Those who are progressive can have churches that accept ALL who love God and their neighbors, and the conservative churches who feel that those who are LBGTQAI should be restricted to membership only, not the right to marry the person they love in a church, or attain ordination.

  4. Licensed Local Pastor says:

    These Bishops in the Western Jurisdiction will not be happy until they have destroyed the authority of scripture with in the United Methodist Church and replaced it with an apostate theology based on, the rights of the individual. Discipleship will no longer be about becoming like the master, discipleship will now be about negotiating with the master and picking and choosing what we like about the master and discarding the rest.

    Once the Local option takes hold, watch out! The United Methodist Church will cease to exist and these Bishops will have killed it!

    • Scripture told the Methodist Church, in the 1840s, that slavery was allowed.
      Scripture tells us that seizures are caused by demons.
      Scripture tells us to refrain from consuming pork and shell fish.
      Scripture tells us that the Sun revolves around the Earth.
      Scripture tells us to refrain from wearing clothing of two or more threads.
      Scripture demands that you take your children who disobey to the gates of the city for stoning
      ( Would you be alive if your parents did that to you? I know that I would not. :-)
      Adultery was punishable by death, but only for the woman, not for the man.
      I am just wondering if these still were practiced today? No, they are not, and so, too, the fact that the UMC thinks that being LBGTQAI is sinful will, also, go by the way of the other “sins” and “truths” that are in scripture centuries ago.

  5. William says:

    When all is said and done, it all comes down to MARRIAGE. The new commission on a way forward will have to READ the Bible and note what it says constitutes marriage, as well as what is says about human sexual relations outside that unique union. And, it must especially read very carefully what Jesus said constitutes marriage in his condemnation of divorce as found in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. They cannot honestly conclude that there is any Scriptural justification for same sex marriage or human sexual relations outside that of a man and a woman in marriage no matter the interpretation technique used. The only way the commission could approve of same sex marriage in any context would require the abject rejection of the Bible and Jesus Christ and adopt a worldly, popular, pagan position on this matter. Therefore, to change the church’s definition of marriage would — first and foremost — require a change of the Bible’s definitions of marriage and sexual immorality. Is this commission in a position to challenge God’s law and commands and do that before it changes the UMC Book of Discipline?

  6. Pastor Glen says:

    From everything I read coming out of the UMC these days, it appears that the denomination is unwilling to deal with heresy. The writers of scripture did not call those promoting heresy and immorality, “progressive brothers and sisters” with whom we must dialog. They called them false teachers who must be exposed and eliminated from the church! But we are so much smarter than Peter, Paul, Jude, and Jesus Himself. The UMC seems more interested in coddling heretics and promoting liberal theology and politics than actually preaching the Gospel and “saving souls” which John Wesley admonished us to do. Thank God for Good News, Wesleyan Covenant Association, Confessing Movement, and those Bishops, Pastors, churches, and individual Christians who are part of those renewal groups. But, if we don’t start taking scripture seriously, we will be exactly what Wesley warned about….a church with the power of the Holy Spirit.

  7. Pastor Andrew says:

    I can’t help but wonder if all who have commented fulfill every command of scripture or every facet we are called to follow in the BOD? We must be careful lest we become like the Pharisees, pious in public yet hypocrites in reality. To error on the side of Grace is to follow in the footsteps and teaching of Christ is it not? Why then can we not explore/embrace a Big Tent approach where we understand we disagree but where we also continue to dialogue in community? Even in the early church this was the case as we see with the conflicts between Gentile converts and Jewish converts, yet they were able to exist in a more Big Tent type of format where not everyone had to follow the same practices; did they not?

  8. Philip Morrill says:

    The Pharisee argument is a red herring in this case. We are all sinners. Christ, in every situation and in His parables, orders us sinners to accept God’s forgiveness, be humble in confession (prodigal son), and go forth and sin no more. We do our best to stop sinning even knowing the gift of God’s grace. To teach otherwise is to promote “Cheap Grace” with no adherence to scripture and church doctrine.

    By their silence and inaction, one can only conclude that the recent events in the Methodist Church have been accepted and sanctioned by the leadership which means to me that we are no longer a denomination because we are not like-minded in our beliefs and the only doctrine we adhere to is that of society. “From Pillar to Patsy” will be the epitaph of the UMC.

    • Pastor Andrew says:

      I don’t know that is possible to be completely “like-minded in our beliefs” because regardless of what we agree on we will never agree on everything. There are clergy serving who don’t believe in Infant Baptism yet they’re a part of the denomination. There are persons in our churches who disagree completely with their neighbor on how to interpret and approach scripture, and yet they are still able to worship together. It is for this reason that we are called to do theology in community, because our myriad of views come together in the dialogue and help us to find common ground.
      I don’t think that the comparison to the Pharisees is a red herring, I acknowledge that we must not teach cheap grace and that we are all sinners; but to forgot the base component of Christian teaching which is love and to adhere only to laws and rules is the crime which Christ assessed and accused the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the time of.

      • William says:

        Pastor Andrew,
        It seems love is often cited as the solution to our crisis. I am unable to find a way to see love as a means to override or ignore Scripture, especially the recorded words of Jesus. With relation to our UMC conflict over marriage and sexual immorality, how can people disagree with the meaning of Jesus as to what constitutes marriage in his condemnation of divorce as found in Matthew 19 and Marc10? With all the love a human can muster, how can one extract same-sex marriage from this fundamental teaching of Jesus?

      • Rick says:

        Addressing your second comment, ‘persons in our church who disagree . . . are still able to worship together.’ I am not concerned with the beliefs and actions of the person sitting next to me, so long as he doesn’t proselytize to those around him. Each person has to stand before God on their own.

        Addressing your first comment, ‘clergy serving who don’t believe in Infant Baptism yet they’re a part of the denomination.’ How can a clergy person effectively serve his parishioners if he believes something totally different than what the church subscribes to? How can a clergy person, in good conscience, ask God and community to bless the Baptism of an infant if that clergy person doesn’t believe it is a ‘real’ Baptism? Is this a clergy person you would want baptizing your baby; someone who doesn’t believe his actions are valid? How will this person answer to God for his heresy?

        The same holds true for homosexuality. How can a clergy person deliver a heart felt sermon on sin, which includes the practice of homosexuality, when he doesn’t believe it to be a sin? Would you want a clergy person using the ‘pick and choose’ system for his sermons, thus refusing to talk about those sections of the Bible he disagrees with? How can parishioners experience the richness of God’s word from the pulpit if they only receive a version that has been censored by their clergy?

      • Phil Morrill says:

        What would happen to a minister who refused perform infant baptism if the family demanded it?

        The church is being like the Pharisees if it tells a sinner, say an known public adulterer, that they can’t be a leader in the church until they repent because their democratically chosen doctrine believes that course of action is in accordance with scripture? Not only has the church ignored scripture and church doctrine (again, not handed down by some corrupt powerful oligarchy but democratically adopted and approved and reaffirmed multiple times) but wants to celebrate sin as some type of epiphany of New Testament liberation. This theology is Unitarian Universalism, of which, Wesleyanism is not “like-minded”.

      • John Cobil says:

        “There are clergy serving who don’t believe in Infant Baptism yet they’re a part of the denomination.”

        These clergy are in the wrong denomination. There are thousands of churches out there with a myriad of beliefs, and one of them fits this clergy. Unfortunately, the clergy of whom you speak and the liberals within the denomination feel that it is more appropriate to take away the church that millions have enjoyed for decades and make it fit their views rather than go find a church that already does. Our church announced today that it is withdrawing from the United Methodist Church, so that’s 4,000 people who won’t have to worry about this any more. I hope that there will be a biblical, Wesleyan survivor of this debacle that we can rejoin in the future.

  9. Joyce Baughman says:

    As far as I can determine, we have two different religions under one umbrella. It doesn’t matter how many cliche’s people throw out there, they are just words. We are not speaking of minor differences here, rather we are speaking of core beliefs. Whatever I permit, I promote. I would have to break my alliance with God to “wink” at what the “Progressives” believe regarding the Bible. The Bible is my authority. Anyone changing it to suit their sins is only fooling themselves. BOTTOM LINE: I can’t worship with people who don’t acknowledge the entire Bible as the Word of God. The Bible tells me that if I support false teachers, then I am partakers with them in their evil deeds. These people talk about “love”. Well, I love people so much that I don’t want to mislead them. Only the truth will set them free.

    • Philip Neville says:

      Well put Joyce! I have left the UM Church for exactly the reasons you mention. I am completely frustrated with the UM Church. I have chosen to terminate my membership and attend a church that really believes the Bible. I would like to come back to the UM Church but not until it gives up trying to sanctify homosexual behavior. I expect the UM Church to split as that is the only realistic solution available.

      • Joyce Baughman says:

        Your plan appears to be the same as mine. I doubt seriously that I would ever return to it once I have gone. One reason being that I believe the UMC is dragging their feet to avoid the inevitable. The church must split before everyone who believes the scriptures is gone. The longer this drags on the worse it becomes. I also feel for anyone who is of Wesleyan orientation who works with these people who have corrupted the church. It turns me against the whole set-up of a church who leaves openings for wide spread betrayal to its congregants. This is where it all began. The hierarchy of the UMC has been flirting with the devil longer than I care to think.

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