Invoking the Holy Spirit

By Walter Fenton-

“The Holy Spirit had swept across the room; its power and presence real and obvious. It was a sacred moment on holy ground,” wrote the Rev. Kent Ingram and Emily Allen about the election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly married, lesbian, as a bishop of The United Methodist Church.

Ingram and Allen were two of the 88 Western Jurisdictional (WJ) delegates who voted for Oliveto in July 2016. Later this month the Church’s Judicial Council will rule on whether or not it was proper for the delegates to elect such a candidate.

Recently, other United Methodists have added their voices to the delegates’ claim that the Holy Spirit was not only behind Oliveto’s election, but is also validating her short tenure as leader of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area.

“Bishop Oliveto’s election was a momentous movement of the Holy Spirit,” says a call to prayer on the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference’s website. It goes on to say, “Western Jurisdiction delegates believe something sacred took place in Scottsdale, Ariz., as they responded to the movement of the Holy Spirit and elected Bishop Karen.” 

The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), the leading LGBTQ+ advocacy group in the UM Church, writes in a resource guide in support of Oliveto and preparing people for the Judicial Council’s decision, “Who can deny that the Spirit has produced such fruit through the election and ministry of [her]? Who would dare stand in the way of God’s work of producing fruit?”

“The Spirit is moving,” answers the guide in a suggested prayer, “and wherever we are willing to join in her work, she will birth fruit through us… Holy One, you have assured us that though we cannot see the Spirit herself, we can see the fruit of her work in one another, in our lives, and in the world. We know she is there wherever we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against these things, you have told us, there is no such law.”

And finally, Oliveto herself, in a video released earlier this week, testifies to the Holy Spirit’s movement in her ministry.

What one of us does not want to invoke the Holy Spirit as the guiding power behind our cherished plans and hopes for the future? But these invocations of the Spirit as the guiding force behind Oliveto’s election and her ministry demonstrate just how deep the fissures are between many progressives and the UM Church.

For just as the WJ delegates claim the Holy Spirit “swept across” its meeting in Scottsdale, so a global and diverse church claims the Holy Spirit was guiding its deliberations and decisions at General Conference. It received no word from the Holy Spirit compelling it to overturn its sexual ethics and teachings on marriage. Instead, it heard just the opposite: the Holy Spirit’s reaffirmation or reconfirmation of ethics and teachings rooted in Scripture and 2,000 years of church history.

Anyone who has been party to disruption in a local church can attest that once a faction begins to claim the Holy Spirit’s guidance in contradiction to the wider community of faith, it is time for the parties to go their separate ways. The faction becomes convinced it alone truly discerns the will of the Holy Spirit. Its clash with the church is no longer a matter of differing interpretations and choices, but their superior claim to rightly discern the voice and will of the Holy Spirit.

The United Methodist Church, since its inception, has vested its authority in the will of the General Conference. It has adopted a fair and open polity that allows for a wide degree of give and take in the process of discernment. And yet, by faith, it believes the Holy Spirit is in its midst when it gathers, as a global body, to reaffirm, change, or adopt new teachings for the whole church.

Given the long and acrimonious debate, and now the progressives’ claim that the Holy Spirit is leading them to not just contest, but to defy the teachings of the UM Church, they need to fully embrace where they believe the Spirit is leading. For the sake of comity, and the larger mission of the church, it is time for them to create a new denomination in order to follow the Holy Spirit to a place where the UM Church does not believe it is leading.

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

Comments

  1. Carleene Hubbard says:

    When did the Holy Spirit become a “her”? I see no justification in Scripture for that stance, and I am insulted that other would feminize any part of the Trinity! May our Lord forgive us!

    • Jay R. Newlin says:

      Ever since the use of the feminine noun “ruach” in Greek to indicate God’s Spirit

    • Jay R. Newlin says:

      Ever since the use of the feminine noun “ruach” in Hebrew to refer to God’s Spirit. (Strong’s Hebrew 7307, used in Genesis 1:2)

    • Rev. Julie Wilson says:

      The Her comes from when the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) used feminine words such as ruah and pneuma for spirit.

      • Pastor David Goudie says:

        Jay and Rev Julie,
        While I’m hesitant to reply, for fear of the main point of this article being lost. Even so, I felt compelled to address the faulty assumption that because the Hebrew uses the grammatical feminine gender of ruach for Spirit… that this is the reason to ascribe the Holy Spirit as she. This is fault thinking. After all the Hebrew word sin is also grammatical feminine? Does that mean Sin is female? Or that only women sin? No of course not. Study any l;language (Spanish for instance) that uses feminine and masculine grammatical gender and they will tell you that it does not mean that that word describes the items gender fully (for instance a bear in Spanish is masculine but not all bears are male).
        For a clear article about this see https://billmounce.com/blog/holy-spirit-she
        A more logical way to ask what pronoun we should use for the Holy Spirit is by asking 2 questions.
        1) Was Jesus Christ a man?
        2) Is the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Christ?
        According to the scriptures the answer is yes. And Jesus in John refers to The Holy Sprint as He. The scriptures also refer to the Trinity as Father Son and Holy Spirit.
        Having said all that is it the main issue of this article no. And Does God have what we would attribute as Feminine characteristics, nurturing, caring ect. Yes.
        The main issue is when we start to ascribe the Holy Spirit as directing us in opposite views as Jesus or Our Heavenly Father. Just simply attributing whatever we want to occur to the work of the Holy Spirit, and not referencing whether this is consistence with the scriptures, or consistent with the character of the Trinity, or also how the church has together understood God throughout the ages. We should use caution here.(For ascribing something to God which God did not say is akin to blasphemy. Which by the way is why I felt compelled to address your replies because if not thought through it can lead to a dangerous path … which is what happens when we start to get into things like the new age worship of ‘Sophia’ , trying to ascribe and even worship a ‘goddess’ that is not the revelation God has given us in the scriptures and in Jesus Christ.

    • Rev Dawn Blundell says:

      Makes me a little sad and a trifle offended that you would find the idea that being female might be insulting…

  2. Neibuhr’s book Christ and Culture warned of such a cultural shift to the point that culture dictates Christ. How can the Holy Spirit affirm something that is against the very Word of God it is supposed to uphold? And when did the Holy Spirit become a female? Next thing you know, someone will “discover” new evidence that Jesus was married. Where does it end? The failure in leadership came at the very beginning when this movement was first presented at General Conference. And leadership has continued to fail in not standing on God’s Word and the social principles by which this denomination was founded.

    • Perry Read says:

      Patrick, Thank You for Sharing I also am concerned with how the Church is moving to the drum of this present evil world. Are we not to live separate as a light in a world full of darkness?

    • Christina C says:

      Adding the word homosexuality to the Bible is actually conforming the culture. Views of sin are also cultural as are most of our sacraments and traditions. I would actually say that the only things that aren’t cultural are baptism and the direct words of Jesus. Though translations are based on culture so even the words of Jesus could be corrupted by culture.

  3. Michele Cole says:

    The Holy Spirit has never been gendered as far as I recall, so I can’t see why it matters. Besides, Sophia (Wisdom) is clearly defined as the feminine, and as having been with God since the beginning. Please make the effort to worry about those things that are truly worrisome, like the chaos and killing in Syria, over which God is certainly weeping. For all the hatreds, divisions, violence and despair, Lord forgive us!

  4. Earlier comments are missing. Blasphemy, heresy, schism. These are the current facts facing the UMC. This elevates this to a crisis for the church. Claiming the Holy Spirit in this Western Jurisdiction action crosses all lines. The Trinity is ALWAYS in perfect accord. Claiming the intervention of the Holy Spirit here is tantamount to claiming the Holy Spirit is contradicting or correcting the Father and the Son on human sexuality and marriage. Walter identifies the solution — a new denomination that follows this new view of the Holy Spirit. The called General Conference will be compelled to grant this new movement its independence since it is completely incompatible with the theology, doctrine, and beliefs of the UMC. There is no tent in the universe large enough to include this blasphemous position within Methodism.

  5. They also set themselves apart when they inserted their own unique and clearly identifiable Communion stations into the Communion Service at General Conference.

  6. Evelyn Maxwell says:

    Please read Galatians 3:27 and 28. In Christ there is neither male nor female.

    • Pastor David Goudie says:

      Evelyn,
      I’m not sure how you are reading Galatians 3:27 and 28? Are you interpreting Paul to say that now there is no gender distinctions at all? That we cannot refer to a person as a man or as a female? Or somehow that we cannot refer to Christ as a man? Because if so look at the whole context of Gal 3 Paul is clearly referring to our salvation. “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. In other words Men and Women are saved the same … by grace alone.That’s the distinction and commonality made here.

      After all, (as progressives often use the argument to say that the red letters of Jesus take more priority)… If your interpreting Paul to say that there is no longer any gender distinction, then how do you understand Jesus’ own words in Matthew 19, when He sites Gen 2? 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

  7. Pastor David identifies the issue precisely by referencing the words of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 19 as well as in Mark 10 regarding God’s created order for marriage. For the Western Jurisdiction to invoke the Holy Spirit to rationalize their election of a same-sex married bishop is blatant blasphemy. The Holy Spirit CANNOT go against the Father and the Son — IMPOSSIBLE!! The UMC is now in full schism. This new perception of the Holy Spirit calls for another denomination separate from the UMC. This places a whole new, much larger problem before the new commission on a way forward. Unless they come forth with a plan to bring before General Conference that allows this new movement within the UMC to go forth and form their own denomination, then it will fail.

  8. Great reply, David Goudie! In my experience some people try to use the Greek/Hebrew to support their position….when they have actually never taken Greek/Hebrew. Many seminaries don’t require it anymore. But they hear someone else falsely quote the Greek/Hebrew and simply repeat it.

  9. Erin Riley says:

    Hey, all of you! Put aside your keyboards, get off your chairs and do something about making disciples to transform the world. Sitting around arguing about homosexuality or the gender of the holy spirit is just so much easier than finding someone to sit with and listen to. Much easier than sharing your beliefs — whatever they are! — about God and the redeeming power of God’s love. Enough arguing about words, and definitions. I would challenge you all to get out and get busy, but God has already done it.

    • Jane Sheppard says:

      It is vitally important to have the truth put forward. There is so much false teaching in the world, to lead a soul in the Lord’s way is just as important ias any other work effort.

    • Sherry Looney says:

      We would not be leading in way of the Lord………… How can I bring in others when the Lord is falsely taught?

  10. Gary Bebop says:

    This well-intended article surely turned into the devil’s wrangle. The author did not intend to launch a ground war over the Holy Spirit but to call attention to the West’s impious claims for ecstatic authority in pursuing their apostate agenda. We must be smarter than to fall into the trap of wrangling over words.

  11. Greetings! I’m curious about what happened to the comments from when this article was originally posted and then taken down.

  12. Licensed Local pastor says:

    The fact is that the Western Jurisdiction committed a schismatic act in open defiance to the scriptures and the Book of Discipline and are now in fact celebrating their act of disobedience. The Western Jurisdiction is living out 2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

  13. What gets lost in the focus on Oliveto’s sexuality is that the entire slate of candidates for Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction were unqualified due their apostate beliefs. I read their bios and looked up what I could find on Google.. I wouldn’t allow any of them to speak to my youth classes, so why are they even pastors, much less being put forward as Episcopal candidates?

    Sadly, no matter who had been elected, it would still have been a tragedy: Is an apostate unbelieving “lesbian” bishop really worse than any other apostate unbelieving bishop? The only positive outcome of her election is that it has forced many to finally realize just how he far many parts of the UMC have deviated from Scriptural Christianity.

  14. Tommy Stringer says:

    Since when did we start provoking God?

  15. Paul W,
    Amen. I’ve already said it — but invoking the Holy Spirit to explain this election crossed all lines. The Holy Spirit does not contradict the Father and the Son. This is blasphemy. The new commission on a way forward has its hands full. Whether it likes it or not, it is dealing with a full blown schism. As Walter points out, out of this needs to be another denomination that follows this new view of the Holy Spirit. There’s no turning back now. Again, please place this before a special General Conference and grant thiis “new denomination” their official independence from the UMC.

  16. In my rural UMC community, we are shepparded by a pastor who Is working tirelessly growing 2 UMC communities, attracting new membership of all ages while fervently preaching and believing “All are welcome, Love first – Love always” as Christ taught us. Easter Sunday we had a newly baptized woman, and three who received membership into our one community. praise be to God! God continues to bless us. It is a very sad day when those with power, weld with closed minds and hearts. It is my humble opinion that we are to be like our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, the King of Kings who came to us in Flesh and blood, asking us to walk with him. I ask you what did he directly have to say, the word of God himself, against our Brothers and Sisters made different in their sexuality, by him? This sounds like the threatened high ruling Pharisees condemning Christ himself to the cross, who suffered greatly for us, and by his unfaltering love for us, all of us. The Glory of our Great God revealed. I love my church, and Pastor, and community. I shall be praying on what Christ wants me to do. You see, I was created a part of the Gay community

    • Jim Womack says:

      Hallelujah!!

    • Rev Dawn Blundell says:

      AMEN!

    • Peace & Love Mark!

      It doesn’t matter to Jesus Christ whether a person is gay or not. It doesn’t matter whether we think the Holy Spirit is more akin to the male or female gender either. What matters are those commandments we have had handed down through the centuries, the apostle’s creed, our shared core beliefs and our desire to see transformation of the world.

      If Christ was here in flesh again, I fear we’d all be chanting crucify him. Awkward dealing with someone who challenged the norms.

      Enjoyed your post.

  17. Is anyone else concerned that GN was hacked? Although I don’t wish to get off-topic, I’m very concerned about the why someone would hack this particular discussion. Have we now gotten to the point that people are so disagreeable that they’ve taken to hacking this website, if a discussion does not please them?

  18. Morris Floyd says:

    It’s no surprise that people who would call those with they disagree “apostate,” whatever that means, would spend so much time dancing on the head of a pin to fight about what gender, if any, should be attributed to the Holy Spirit. This is a perfect example of the anti-evangelical effects of “evangelical” Christians. It’s no wonder so many are shaking the dust from their feet and moving on from organized Christianity.

    • If you don’t like the term “apostate” (which means one who has abandoned a religious belief), what term would you prefer to describe the beliefs of Oliveto and the other Episcopal candidates in the Western Jurisdiction? All those who are ordained in the UMC freely indicate their agreement with the UMC Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith, and John Wesley’s Sermons. The folks I refer to as apostate do not hold to these doctrinal standards, whether by 1) having never agreed with them, or 2) agreeing with them only through an act of willful self-deception by redefining the normal meanings of every term they personally disagree with. Either way, what they proclaim is neither orthodox Christian belief (what Wesley referred to as Scriptural Christianity) and certainly not Wesleyan doctrine. Preaching universalism, denying the need for salvation in Christ, denigrating the moral law, denying miracles including the physical resurrection, redefining the meanings of sin, repentance, salvation, etc.all fall outside of and are inconsistent with our Wesleyan doctrine. These are all views that, to use Wesley’s words, “strike at the root of Christianity”. The fact that many in our denomination hold to these beliefs does not change the fact that these views are apostate when compared to our doctrinal standards. That the UMC has failed to uphold and teach our doctrinal standards is a very sad commentary indeed and is the primary reason for the current mess we are in.

      • Sherry Looney says:

        To “strike at the root of Christianity”, is I believe, Satan’s plan, hitting one community at a time. Thank you for there beautiful explanation.

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