Stonewalling in the West

Before publishing the following commentary regarding complaints filed against Bishop Karen Olevito, Good News reached out to Bishop Grant Hagiya, president of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops. We asked him if “there [was] any information regarding this matter that [he] could share with us so we can include it in the article? What is the explanation for the unusually long delay regarding resolution or reports on the status of these complaints?”

Hagiya responded as follows: “Due to Judicial Council Ruling 1341, and under advisement of our legal counsel, we dismissed the original complaint without prejudice, and opened up a new complaint submitted in light of 1341 to deal with any issues pertinent to the new ruling.  

“A new complaint supervising committee has been formed and will begin working on this new complaint.”

In light of his response Good News decided not to make any changes to the following commentary by our analyst Walter Fenton.

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Bishop Grant Hagiya, UMNS

By Walter B. Fenton

According to a United Methodist News Service article published one year ago, Bishop Grant Hagiya, president of the Western Jurisdiction’s College of Bishops, said newly elected Bishop Karen Oliveto, an open lesbian married to a UM Church deaconess, “faces multiple complaints under church law.” One year later, and the church has not heard anything regarding the status of the complaints.

While the details of the complaints are confidential, they surely have to do with the fact that Oliveto’s marriage and her admission that she has presided at approximately 50 same-sex weddings constitute serious and serial violations of the UM Church’s Book of Discipline.

According to church law, the status of complaints against a bishop must be reported after 120 days. However, if the parties involved in the matter have not reached a resolution they can request an additional 120 days, and, if necessary, another 120 after that. Apparently, these requests were made, granted, and have now expired. And yet, the Western Jurisdiction’s Episcopacy Committee has failed to issue any report.

Consequently, Oliveto’s leadership in the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area remains under a cloud of suspicion. The episcopal area is comprised of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone annual conferences. Both recently reported financial challenges with the latter characterizing its situation as a “financial crisis.” It recently reported monthly revenue losses are ten times higher than they were in 2016. The conference is in jeopardy of exhausting all of its reserves by the end of the year. To be sure, other factors are contributing to these challenges, but Oliveto’s assignment has clearly exacerbated the situation.

Western Jurisdiction Bishops participate in Bishop Karen Oliveto’s consecration service. (Photo by the Rev. David Valera, PNW Conference)

However, it now appears the Western Jurisdiction’s bishops are attempting to indefinitely postpone any day of reckoning for their colleague. They think the church’s sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and its ordination standards are wrong. While they are certainly entitled to their opinions, their actions – or lack thereof – are raising serious questions about the possibility for church unity and the trust required for it.

What comes of a church when some of its bishops cavalierly decide which laws they will and will not enforce? What comes of church unity when some of its leaders are patronizingly dismissive of values held by the vast majority of United Methodists across a global denomination, and yet continue to draw their pay checks from it? And what comes of trust when bishops give the appearance they are protecting one of their own when it comes to legitimate complaints?

The Rev. Karen Oliveto accepts her election by the Western Jurisdiction as a United Methodist bishop. At the time of her election, Oliveto was the senior pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, Calif. Her wife, Robin Ridenour, stands behind her. Photo by Patrick Scriven, Pacific-Northwest Conference.

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 a 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.

Heedless of all of this, the Western Jurisdictional Conference elected, consecrated, and assigned Oliveto anyway. In response, several bishops issued statements lamenting her election as a breach of the church’s covenant and its unity. The Council of Bishops’ Executive Committee, citing “the great importance of the matter,” encouraged the Judicial Council to take up the matter as soon as possible. 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 taking a toll on worship attendance and giving all across the connection. But despite all of the turmoil it has unleashed, the Western Jurisdiction, which was in such a rush to elect Oliveto, is now stonewalling the complaints filed against her.

United Methodists rightly expect a just and timely resolution of this case. At this juncture, the Western Jurisdiction bishops’ failure to be forthcoming would be indicative of their arrogance and disdain for the wider church.

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

Comments

  1. Don Caffee says:

    Is there any wonder that long time members of the UMC no longer have any confidence in its leadership?

  2. Lilly Garcia says:

    this makes trying to make disciples so hard in this denomination. I am praying for a conviction of sin, and a revival, but if it takes a split i then so be it. I wonder if the comissions would act in the same manner if this was a financial discrepancy instead if a moral sin and a political statement?
    Brother Fenton thank You for being a prophetic voice in this time of chaos.

  3. The only plan that the Western Jurisdiction and its like minded cohorts in other areas of the church will ever accept from the way forward commission would be THEIR plan. And even THEIR plan would only be temporary in that new demands would soon follow in a never ending cycle of BOD revisions. Let’s get real — these progressives in the UMC cannot be worked with and will not work with anyone else. For 45 years they have taken full advantage of a UMC structure that has attempted to accommodate them, even appease them and, consequently, have now arrived at essentially de facto governance in their controlled sectors of the church. If the 2019 General Conference will be unable to revise the UMC constitution so as to remove rebellious members of the church, after due process and opportunity to conform, then a complete plan of separation will be the only way forward.

    • Naomi Southard says:

      Does Good News have a different point of view? That is, are they willing to accept any plan that isn’t THEIR plan? After years of legislative struggle, informal and formal dialogue, it is clear that Good News is not willing to compromise in any way on this issue. Therefore, we in the Western Jurisdiction are left with no alternative but “ecclesiastical disobedience,” akin to civil disobedience. I also think the statement that the “vast majority” of UMs support the current disciplinary language is wishful thinking.

      • What you are doing is not akin to civil disobedience since we are all in a voluntary organization bound together by covenant. We are all free to leave at any time. What you are describing is nothing more than oath breaking.

  4. The foot dragging is not surprising to anyone. The WJ will slow roll this with the idea that the special GC will give them the solution they are looking for. The Judicial Council should have pulled her credentials when they made their decision by ruling that her unlawful ordination is not to be recognized by any body within The UMC. But no, we have to drag this out even more.

  5. The Holy Spirit led and Karen Oliveto was unanimous elected by the jurisdiction. I know of no other unanimous elections that year. We United Methodist followers of Jesus Christ here in the west support Bishop Karen.

    • God is not divided against himself, as Christ says ” a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). God has not changed his mind on what is and is not ethical behavior. Homosexual activity shows up explicitly 7 times and is explicitly condemned 7 times. There is never a word said about that can be construed as anything other than negative, and if we allow a more general sense (but well within the historic understanding) then there are many more examples including fromt he mouth of Christ himself. So, no, that was not the Holy Spirit. It sounds far, far more like the Prince of the Power of the Air (Ephesians 2).

    • Duane,

      According to UMNS (http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/western-jurisdiction-elects-openly-gay-united-methodist-bishop) Karen Oliveto was unanimously elected by the jurisdiction only after two other candidates withdrew:

      “Oliveto, 58, was elected July 15 at the jurisdiction’s quadrennial meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. She was elected on the 17th ballot with 88 votes after the Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and the Rev. Walter “Skip” Strickland withdrew from the election. The Rev. Frank Wulf, another openly gay candidate, had withdrawn earlier. ”

      The article also reminds us that under the current Discipline, “The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, directs each bishop to “guard the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline of the Church”

      Until the Discipline changes, Bishops that will not or cannot do so violate our covenant regardless of personal beliefs.

    • Deborah Levinson says:

      Yes, either one accepts that the appointments are spirit led, or one does not.

  6. Dear Duane,
    Thank you for bringing this crisis in our church into full perspective. What you say about this election and its meaning exposes fully this ugly divide in our church. This divide is about God, God’s written Word, the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, the understanding of the Holy Spirit, the understanding of Jesus Christ, the understanding of Wesleyan Methodism, et al. This schism is so wide, so pervasive, so deep that the disagreements over human sexuality and marriage are just symptoms. We are already two opposite and diametrically opposed churches where compromise is impossible. The arguing has more than reached its full measure and must end. This must be recognized and fully comprehended. The 2019 special General Conference cannot avoid this, no matter what the way forward commission brings forth, and must deal with this sad, stark, and crucial reality, and bring it to a close.

  7. I wonder if it would be possible to have a Referendum Sunday. On Referendum Sunday all active members of the United Methodist Church (voting in their own local church by secret ballot) would have an opportunity to express their opinion concerning retaining or changing the language of the Book of Discipline in four areas. First, the definition of Christian marriage as between one man and one woman. Second, the prohibition of the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Third, the language that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Fourth,that same sex weddings will not be celebrated by our pastors nor held in UM Churches. One could tally the votes individually and by church. It is my sense that if we sought the collective wisdom of all United Methodists on this matter we might find that the vast, vast majority of the denomination would be in favor of retaining the current language. Since the laypeople of the church for the most part pay all of the salaries, etc. etc., should not everyone have an opportunity to have a say in our future? But even more importantly, if all members of the UMC by nature of our baptism and confirmation share equally in the ministry of the Church, it seems to me that everyone should have the opportunity to be heard.

    • Harold Downing says:

      I like Keith’s idea but I have two concerns. First, what then? As this article demonstrates. the Progressives would just continue their disobedience. It does not appear that they want to leave the denomination but are intent on changing the UMC to match their vision of it. So, we would be just where we are today, without resolution. My second concern is more to the heart of our church. Since when do we get to vote on Scripture? There are things in the Bible I’d like to change or wish weren’t so but the Lord did not consult me nor ever sought my advise.

  8. Harold, My thought was that it might offer a way to illustrate that the Progressive Caucus does not have as much strength as they imply. Essentially, it is my belief that the people of the United Methodist Church do not support their interpretation of the scripture or their agenda. Secondly, I wasn’t thinking about voting on Scripture but providing one more way that the members of the UM church could affirm it. As to the “what’s next” question, I would hope that the results might be informative to the Commission on a Way Forward and other denominational leaders of the Sense of the Church on this matter.

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