As a pastor in The United Methodist Church, I write to share some happenings in our connectional family that merit a word. One of the great gifts of my life is being the Lead Pastor at Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church. I love our congregation, and it is out of love that I write today. Whether you agree or disagree with what follows, I love you and I hope we can remain friends.
Every four years, regional bodies of representative elected clergy and laity from gather in what is called Jurisdictional Conferences. The primary purpose of the Jurisdictional Conference is for the election and assignment of Bishops in that region. We are a part of the West Ohio Conference which is a part of the North Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. I just returned from Peoria, Illinois, and the holy task of electing and consecrating four new Bishops for our region. Similar conferences were held at the same time in the North East, South East, South Central and Western U.S. A total of 15 new Bishops have been elected and consecrated this week.
The Western Jurisdiction — which has been increasingly strident in its rebellion against our United Methodist Book of Discipline in matters related to human sexuality — elected and consecrated the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a Bishop of the United Methodist Church. This election was made with intent and forethought, and was done in defiance of our Book of Discipline. She is an openly gay woman who is married to her partner which by church law should disqualify her from serving as a pastor in The United Methodist Church. By her own admission, she has performed more than 50 ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions — once again a violation of our Book of Discipline. She did not make a secret of this when she stood for election, and was elected by a regional body as an act of defiance against our polity.
United Methodists believe sexual relations are a gift from God — and our sexuality is best expressed in the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Any other expression — sex before marriage, adultery, polygamy, etc. — is less than God’s best and created design. The teaching of the church has not changed — even though it may be seen as some to be countercultural in 21st Century America — like it was in 1st Century Corinth. It remains biblically and theologically rooted. Our pastors are not permitted to conduct and our buildings are not permitted to be used for same-sex weddings.
Some might welcome this act of defiance. They see this as a justice issue that once “solved” will help make the church more “relevant” for our day and time. I do not. I wept this morning as my phone blew up with messages from across the United Methodist Church. I was surprised by my tears. The election did not come as a surprise to me, but my heart-brokenness did. I wept for what I see as a blatant disregard for the authority of Scripture and the law of the church. I wept for the pain this act will cause. I wept for the spiritual harm that is being done. I wept for the loss of what once was — the church that I was born and raised in appears to be headed for schism — a divorce over irreconcilable differences. I wept for the persons with sexual brokenness in our congregation who might be further delayed in finding wholeness in Jesus because of the confusion this might cause. I wept.
This decision is about so much more than human sexuality. It is about the nature of salvation — what we are saved from and what we are saved to. It is about the relevance of Jesus in every generation. It is about the role, nature and authority of Scripture. It is about the promises we make and keep when we are ordained, and whether there comes a time when they are to be set aside for another calling. It is about the core of the Gospel message in our Wesleyan, Evangelical, orthodox tradition. It is about balancing grace and truth.
The Rev. Oliveto’s election has been appealed to The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council (our Supreme Court) who will decide whether it is legal according to our church law, but in the meantime, the whole of the church must wait. I am not a prophet — nor am I the son of a prophet — and I still hope against hope that we might find a faithful way to be united — but the action of the Western Jurisdiction is the latest sign that we are either in or inevitably headed for schism. Which means the church I was baptized, confirmed and ordained in will look dramatically different in the future.
We must pray for what the next right steps are. Our Church Board has been discussing these types of possibilities for the last year or more. I am so impressed by their deep faith and servant leadership. We will continue our conversation and exploration of next right steps for us — as we strive to be faithful Jesus and our congregation while leading though this time. They have given me permission to serve on the design team for the Wesleyan Covenant Association as we explore what the future holds for all of us (www.wesleyancovenant.org).
Now is not the time for rash action. This is not the time to stop attending, stop giving or withdrawn your membership from Reynoldsburg UMC. We are still the same congregation we were yesterday. Our Mission and Vision are still the same. We will hold to our high view of the Bible and to our commitment to introduce people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. We will still welcome all kinds of folks, and diligently try to show and share Jesus while teaching what it looks like to live God’s best in our lives and community. We will do everything we can do to not become an issue centered congregation while sharing the fullness of the Gospel’s power to forgive sin and transform lives to anyone and everyone who is a part of our community.
I am honored to be your pastor and friend,
Pastor Jeff Greenway