Bright Spots in a Confusing Decision

By Tom Lambrecht-

Last week’s decision by the Judicial Council regarding the election and consecration of an openly lesbian bishop in a same-sex marriage was very complicated and not entirely consistent. The Council strove to tailor its decision as narrowly as possible and delved into many legal technicalities. In the midst of all the complexity, it would be easy to lose sight of several positive aspects of the ruling.

1. The Judicial Council clearly and forcefully upheld the principle that a jurisdiction’s bishops, acting on behalf of the whole United Methodist Church, cannot legally consecrate as bishop a person who does not meet the qualifications for office. The Western Jurisdiction had maintained that it could elect and consecrate whoever it thought would be an appropriate bishop in light of their particular context, and that the rest of the church could say nothing about their choice. The ruling recognized that bishops are bishops of the whole church and that jurisdictional bishops are acting on behalf of the whole church when they consecrate a bishop. No jurisdiction or annual conference is completely autonomous. We are part of a connection that is responsible and accountable to each other.

2. The Judicial Council clarified that “a same-sex marriage license issued by competent civil authorities together with the clergy person’s status in a same-sex relationship is a public declaration that the person is a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” This important ruling will put an end to games that some openly homosexual clergy have been playing by living in a same-sex marriage, yet declining to acknowledge that they are practicing homosexuals. Rather than requiring church authorities to ask intrusive questions about the personal lives and practices of clergy, all that is now necessary for a person to be brought up on a complaint is the public record of being in a same-sex marriage. The Judicial Council recognized that being in a marriage assumes a sexual relationship, and that it would then be up to the clergyperson under complaint to give “rebuttal evidence” during a complaint process to refute that assumption in an individual case. This should make it much easier and more straightforward to hold accountable some clergypersons who are living contrary to the moral teachings of the church.

3. This decision also puts the spotlight on the Western Jurisdiction to make a decision about the future of The United Methodist Church and its participation in that future. The jurisdiction will have to decide between equally unsatisfactory alternatives. Either it will have to remove from office (and from clergy status) a person that it unanimously supported as bishop, or it will have to openly acknowledge that it can no longer be part of The United Methodist Church as it is currently configured.

Judicial Council, UMNS

“This ruling really does nothing to resolve the tension and impatience and anxiety in our system. It’s not clear-cut enough,” Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops, told the New York Times. “One of the tensions that will play out now within our denomination in the next few months is people will be watching carefully whether the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops will in fact follow through and do the due process, and do it well.”

The leadership of the jurisdiction may seek to draw out the process as long as they can, putting off that decision by as many as six months to a year. Delay tactics in themselves will send the message that the Western Jurisdiction wants to play by its own rules, unconnected from the rest of the church. But the time clock on the complaint process will run out long before the special General Conference in February 2019.

The jurisdictional leaders may seek some kind of “just resolution” that leaves Bishop Karen Oliveto in office. But unlike the cases of clergy performing same-sex marriages, there is no middle ground here to find compromise for a resolution. Either Oliveto meets the qualifications for continuing in her clergy status or she does not. And if she does not, the only option is to remove her as bishop and revoke her credentials. No 24-hour suspension consequence is available as a “just resolution.” The Western Jurisdiction’s decisions over the coming months will speak volumes about the ability of progressives and traditionalists to live together in the same church body.

As expected, the Judicial Council decision did not resolve the impasse in our denomination over the role of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church. The only bodies with the authority to resolve the impasse are the Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops, and the special General Conference. As I understand it, the Commission’s final plan needs to go to the Council of Bishops for approval in May 2018. The Council of Bishops then needs to submit it in legislative form by July 2018 in order to meet the deadlines for the February 2019 General Conference. So we will know a year from now the final proposal that will be put before the called General Conference. Until then, we encourage United Methodists to remain steadfast in prayer and continue as members of their local churches, so that the evangelical voice is undiminished in helping to form whatever comes next.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergy person and the vice- president of Good News.

Comments

  1. Licensed Local pastor says:

    And now we wait and see what new act of disobedience and outright defiance the Western Jurisdiction decides to take.

  2. The Western Jurisdiction cannot legally elect a non-qualified bishop but they can still illegally elect one. Ms. Olivetto is still in good standing. Any guesses as to when the WJ removes her from office? Don’t hold your breath. And if they retain her as bishop there is not much anyone can do about it.
    As far as clarifying the eligibility rules it is simply one more rule that can be ignored without penalty.
    I am not seeing a whole lot being accomplished by this ruling.

  3. victoria Frazier says:

    To My Christians Brothers & Sisters, Let’s not “wait & see” anything concerning this attack or think that nothing is being accomplished ….Rather let’s do what Paul teaches us in times of warfare…Ephesians 6:10-18…Let’s be strong in the Lord and in His Mighty power. Let’s put on the full armor of God and take our stand ( prayerfully and be /become the warrior we are called to be) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Remember, one can put a thousand to flight, but two can put ten-thousand to flight. Our battle is won in the Holy Spirit – not by our power nor our might..! Let us declare with boldness that “no weapon formed against us will prosper and that we will stand and therefore stand firm in our faith, having the belt of truth to steady our feet in warfare, the breastplate of “right-standing with God” in our own lives first (so that our prayers will be heard) and our feet fitted with the gospel of peace. Lets raise Our shield of faith in our hearts and our confessions so we can extinguish ALL the flaming arrows (unbiblical attacks & laws being shoved on the church and Christians as a whole) Lets make sure our helmets of Salvation and the Sword of the Spirit (The Living Word of God) is in place ready & willing to fight with… In closing, I challenge all our churches to commit to this warfare by battling the spirit with fasting once a week in your war-room / prayer closet, as well in your private time of prayer & worship. I also challenge our members to select a central meeting place and assign local prayer warriors & intercessors to gather once a month for a day of prayer, intercession. warfare, worship & fasting not only for our church, but for those deceived by Satan in this sin, those confused & those vulnerable to Satan’s tricks in this sin – Satan only knows to steal – kill & destroy….our church, our young, our families…most of all to destroy our faith in Jesus and His Living Word in us. Because He Lives, So can we!!!! FYI: read Psalm 91 with warfare & spiritual victory in mind. Selah!

  4. Our Bishop “problem”
    I recently read “The Rise of Theological Liberalism and the Decline of American Methodism” available from seedbed.com. It was an enlightening read in the sense that it confirmed my own suspicions that Bishops have become too used to keeping multiple theological balls in play. According to the book somewhere in the neighborhood of 97 years ago a set of Bishops decided—with all good intentions–that the survival of the church was best guaranteed if the church did not concern itself with theology/doctrine but rather focused on engaging in Christian endeavors. There was a certain amount of logic to their decision based on the context of the time they were living in. Fast forward to 2017. In the aftermath of the Judicial Council’s decision, I have noticed how focused the Bishops are on what the church is doing and giving only minimal acknowledgement to the Judicial Council’s decision. What I am realizing is that unity has probably become the be all to end all idol of our well-meaning Bishops and this current generation is operating under the premise that structure does not matter as long as we stay together. One set of Bishops–with all good intentions–jettisoned theology/doctrine. The current set of Bishops–with all good intentions and following the lead of their predecessors–are willing to jettison our structure/how we function as long as we stay together….

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