Bishops Sally Dyck and Jane Middleton

By Thomas Lambrecht-

Two of the Judicial Council’s decisions reinforced the duty of annual conference boards of ordained ministry to determine that candidates for licensing, commissioning, and ordination all meet the requirements of the Book of Discipline, including the requirement for “celibacy in singleness and fidelity in a heterosexual marriage.”

In the run-up to General Conference 2016, at least six annual conference boards of ordained ministry (BoOM) issued statements saying that they would no longer consider sexual orientation when evaluating candidates for ministry. In two of those conferences, New York and Northern Illinois, persons raised questions of law aimed at overturning those BoOM policies. In both cases, the respective bishops ruled that the questions were “moot and hypothetical” and thus did not need to be ruled upon. Last fall, the Judicial Council disagreed and mandated that the bishops issue a ruling.

Bishop Jane Middleton of New York upheld the BoOM policy, stating that the BoOM is not required to ascertain whether a candidate meets the qualifications for candidacy and ordained ministry. Instead, the BoOM is to use “a process of examination, review, measurement and evaluation, not a process of ascertaining with certainty.” The bishop did acknowledge that “if a person being evaluated is known, by extrinsic evidence or self-admission, to be self-avowed practicing homosexual, they cannot be commissioned or ordained.”

Bishop Sally Dyck of Northern Illinois ruled the BoOM policy out of order, but qualified that ruling by stating that the BoOM “does not have the capacity to conduct an investigation leading them to be certain of anything; but in the exercise of their discernment and judgment, they can be satisfied as to the integrity of the answers to Disciplinary questions for ordination.”

Both bishops played word games with the definitions of “ascertain” and “believe.” Both said we couldn’t possibly “ascertain” something about a candidate and that we should not make recommendations based upon what we “believe” about a candidate.

In two strong and concise decisions, the Judicial Council modified both bishops’ rulings. In the New York decision [1343] the Council stated, “The Board is charged with identifying and recruiting ministerial leadership for our churches (¶ 624.h), required to examine all applicants as to their fitness for ordained ministry and make full inquiry into the fitness of the candidate.” “The prohibitive language of ¶ 304.3 [‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church’] prevents a Board of Ordained Ministry from ignoring statements of self-disclosure about any action that violates any portion of church law as is the case for these persons who avowed their homosexuality.”

In the Northern Illinois decision [1344], the Council stated, “The Board of Ordained Ministry … is mandated by The Book of Discipline, 2012, to examine all applicants as to their fitness for the ordained ministry, and make full inquiry as to the fitness of the candidate … The Board’s examination must include all paragraphs relevant to election of pastoral ministry, including those provisions set forth in paragraphs that deal with issues of race, gender, sexuality, integrity, indebtedness, etc.” “This provision obviously aims to ensure that the Disciplinary standards are met. The duty of the Board is to conduct a careful and thorough examination and investigation, not only in terms of depth but also breadth of scope.” “The Board can only legally recommend to the Clergy Session a candidate for whom they have conducted a thorough examination and who has met the disciplinary standards for fitness.”

Based on these decisions, annual conference boards of ordained ministry cannot continue their “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies. Instead, they are required to ask questions about the candidates’ fitness for ministry, ensuring that they meet the standards set forth in the Discipline. Candidates who have not received a thorough examination cannot be legally recommended for commissioning or ordination.

Questions can legitimately be raised at upcoming Clergy Sessions about whether ministerial candidates have been properly examined. Some have suggested that approval by the Clergy Session can be temporarily postponed to allow the BoOM to carry out its full examination in order to verify that candidates meet the qualifications around sexuality. These Judicial Council decisions certainly mandate that a full and proper examination is required in order to legally recommend a candidate for commissioning or ordination.

The need for these decisions illustrates once again how broken our church has become. Bodies of the church that are placed in a position of trust are instead determined to act based on their own opinions rather than on behalf of the whole church. When they do so, trust is destroyed. How can members of the half-dozen annual conferences now ever trust that their boards of ordained ministry will carry out the mandates of the Discipline, given that they have previously declared their intent to disregard it? (The BoOM carries out its duties in closed sessions guarded by confidentiality.) Rebuilding that trust will be extremely difficult in our current conflict-ridden church environment. This loss of trust points out once again how important it is for the Commission on a Way Forward to come up with a plan that ensures accountability and rebuilds trust within the church.

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


  1. Brothers and Sisters I give you the following scriptures to contemplate, we are at a point within the United Methodist Church when these very scriptures are going to be fulfilled and our leadership can’t read the writing on the wall because of their arrogance.
    GALATIANS 6:7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
    LUKE 11:17 “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall.
    MARK 3:25 “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
    MATTHEW 12:25 “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.

  2. Hanging on every word, reading between the lines, constantly looking for signs of deception, being suspicious, even becoming cynical — this is the unfortunate place many UMC members find themselves. One has to almost go it alone in finding ways to worship and serve, even if that means bypassing and/or ignoring certain church “leaders”. Of course there are many, many faithful leaders. However, sometimes it takes detective work to find them. Far too many faithful, orthodox Methodist leaders remain silent. And yes — TRUST has been virtually destroyed in our once great denomination. Of all places on earth where trust needs to be front and center, it is church. This situation is, indeed, tragic.

  3. Per the four categories described below and elsewhere, everybody please pause and read Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9. WHERE DOES JESUS STAND ON MARRIAGE? Seems each person will ultimately have to decide if he/she is a follower of Jesus or not. Seems the UMC will ultimately have to decide if it is still an uncompromising follower of Jesus or not. That is the real issue.

  4. Twenty years from now when our children and grandchildren look at the vitriol and bigotry that was espoused in the name of Good News and when the United Methodist Church is no longer UNITED, will they be proud of the narrow way the Bible was interpreted and the mean-spirited way in which the United Methodist Book of Discipline was weaponized.
    I expect many will recall the words of William James who wrote, “Wisdom comes in knowing what to overlook” and they will suggest that those who strove to dismantle Methodism didn’t seem very wise.

  5. So what about my gay UMC clergy friends who are celibate? Will they be witch hunted out of the UMC? Why can’t the Goodnews caucus see the humanity of the the LGBTQ community? I’m dumbfounded. Why is there so much condemnation from UMC persons on the LGBTQ UMC constituency? I dont understand. Why cant we see the humanity, the God given gift of our brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ? I seriously do not understand. PLease don’t tell me the Bible says, those are abusive statements. Instead, consider what Jesus says, “Love God, love neighbor.” I’ll stick with Jesus and Wesley’s foundation in his theology. May God grant us forgiveness in our differences and openness to see the beauty of God’s creation regardless of race, sexual orientation, sexual identity, ability, economic status, or religious understanding.

  6. Good New absolutely see the humanity in the LGBTQ community and if they are choosing to live celibately (as a single minister would) they would absolutely be qualified.

  7. How can progressive Methodists claim the salvation grace of Jesus Christ while denying a need for it with relation to the multiple sexual immorality sins of our age? Yes, any and every interpretation of the Bible unequivocally concludes, if honestly interpreted , that any practice of sexual relations outside that of a man and a woman in marriage is sinful. We are staring at an age of sexual immorality that is virtually unparalleled in human history. Are we no longer able to proclaim the saving and transforming power of Jesus Christ as the answer to this? The UMC mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, not the transformation of Jesus to the world.

  8. Progressive United Methodists certainly do care about the multiple sexual immorality sins of our age – sexual predation, sexual abuse, rape culture, objectification of women, homophobia, harassment of sexual minorities, and other sexual sins that harm children of God are all of crucial importance. I wish I heard more from my conservative and evangelical friends condemning these sins. These, after all, are things Jesus would actually care about, I believe.

  9. That decision did not last long. Already two conferences have stated that their ministry boards will not be complying.

  10. The Rocky Mountain Conference reported that Bishop Karen Oliveto ordained her first full elder on June 9 during the Yellowstone Annual (regional) Conference’s meeting. I thought her credentials were limited. Does anyone know if she or the conference has any interest in A Way Forward suggestions and plans? I guess the answer is no because they don’t follow rules, they do what pleased them, and no one can stop them. I have been trying to stay in the United Methodist Church with encouragement from the Wesleyan Covenant Association but that’s not enough now. I am leaving the church for a more united denomination, secure in its belief in the authority of Holy Scripture.

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