Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky, UMNS

By Walter Fenton-

“The ruling is long and complicated,” wrote Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky in a statement on behalf of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops.

Stanovsky was of course commenting on the Judicial Council’s recent decision regarding the Western Jurisdictional Conference’s election and assignment of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a United Methodist bishop. When she was elected and assigned, it was widely known she was married to another woman.

We certainly join Stanovsky and her colleagues in their assessment that the decision was “long and complicated,” but their statement goes on to make some claims that are misleading.

First, they claim the Council’s decision “reinforce[s] the reality that the church is not of one mind about the inclusion of LGBTQI people and sexual practices outside heterosexual marriage.” No, it does not.

It is not the role of the Judicial Council to read the “mind” of the church. Anyone who reads the decision plainly sees it studiously avoids doing so. Never once, in its 19 page decision, does it say something to the effect of, “the church is not of one mind so we decided to issue a long and complicated ruling to acknowledge that reality.”

On the contrary, in its decision the Council repeatedly reinforces the reality that the church “prohibits the consecration as bishop of a self-avowed practicing homosexual;” that “[a]n openly homosexual and partnered bishop is in violation of [the Book of Discipline],” and “[a]n openly homosexual and partnered bishop may be charged with being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

The Council’s decision firmly upholds church law regarding its ministerial standards, sexual ethics, and teachings on marriage. And while the Council maintains it cannot declare Oliveto’s election and assignment null and void, it does instruct the Western Jurisdiction’s Committee on Episcopacy to handle complaints filed against her, and to do so according to the standards it repeatedly cites in its decision.

So contra Stanovsky and her episcopal colleagues, no one should read the Council’s decision as if it is meant to be an indicator of the church’s conflicted nature on the matter.

Stanovsky goes on to write, “We thank the Judicial Council for allowing the Commission on A Way Forward to do its work.” Again, a statement like this gives the impression the Council considered a factor it never references in its entire decision.

Llewelyn Pritchard and Richard Marsh, legal representatives for the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, UMNS.

Richard Marsh, the attorney who represented the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops at the public hearing in Newark, New Jersey, gamely made the case that the Council should defer to the commission. But it was fairly obvious this line of reasoning persuaded none of the Council members. And if it wasn’t obvious then, the 19 page decision made it abundantly clear. Neither the Commission on a Way Forward nor its work is referenced anywhere in the decision, and properly so.

The Judicial Council fulfilled its responsibility to render a decision in the case irrespective of any hypothetical plans the commission will share with the Council of Bishops, and that in turn will be presented to the called General Conference scheduled for February 2019.

Finally, conspicuous by its absence in Stanovsky and her colleagues’ statement, is perhaps the most important decision the Council reached. The Council clearly stated, “It is not lawful for the college of bishops of any jurisdictional… conference to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

This was the very reason the Council determined it had jurisdiction in the case. And it went on to instruct the Western Jurisdictional Conference, its committee on episcopacy, and its college of bishops to review and act on complaints filed against Oliveto.

In Stanovsky and her colleagues’ defense, they said they would have more to say on the ruling. We trust they will help people in the Western Jurisdiction understand the Council’s decision had nothing to do with “reinforcing the reality that the church is not of one mind about the inclusion of LGBTQI people,” or about deferring the matter to the Commission on a Way Forward.

The decision was about Stanovsky and her colleagues. It was about their willingness to consecrate as a bishop a person who, if the instructions of the Judicial Council are sincerely followed, must vacate that office.

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



  1. After reading the official response out of the Western Jurisdiction, I was not comfortable with the same statements you have problems with but I had not stopped to analyze what it was that did not add up. Your critique of the statement is good. All that I can add is that I am somewhat encouraged that over all it is a very muted statement indicating that they are not sure how to respond to the recent ruling; being unsure can be a good place to be.

    Problem is, the Western Jurisdiction is operating from a completely different mindset. I recently read “The Rise of Theological Liberalism and The Decline of American Methodism” in which the author of the book cited how an Episcopalian priest viewed the theological chasm that existed in the American branch of that denomination prior to their divide: divine acceptance vs divine redemption. After 4 long disheartening years of cruising the internet listening to every UMC voice I could find, I truly believe that the UMC is dealing with the same theological chasm. The problem with the church is not structural it is spiritual. Drew Mcintyre sums up the problem very well in a recent post that appeared on Ministry Matters; here is an excerpt:

    “…the small quantity of discussion once more exhibits the United Methodist trait of avoiding explicit doctrinal discussion. Theologians, both professional and pastoral, prefer doing theology without the constraints of official church teaching. Others prefer action to reflection and thus do not pay attention to either theology or doctrinal development.
    “This sets up a rather scary scenario: The desire to claim historically and hold onto, at present, a theological pluralism that is never examined. This “theological indifferentism,” as Wainwright calls it, is in part classic Methodist pragmatism, part cowardice and part laziness.
    ….To simply affirm theological diversity, when it is widely known that we do not, for a variety of reasons, undertake the hard work of doctrinal examination, is an invitation to madness. There is nothing open-minded about an indifference to truth. Instead, it is the very substance of the “speculative latitudinarianism” that Wesley’s condemned in his oft-quoted/oft-misappropriated sermon “Catholic Spirit.”
    “Claiming theological diversity as a virtue while we have largely sidestepped doctrinal discernment for generations is the theological equivalent of cheap grace. The emperor has no clothes, and it is becoming increasingly apparent. Any way forward that seeks a perpetually widening tent while avoiding theological argument will simply be courting disaster.”

  2. In corporate America you have to adhere to a job description and the standards outlined by policy and procedure; if you choose to violate the agreement you signed, Presto, you are terminated without benefits you think you may have “earned”. You are not even eligible for unemployment, because a violation of existing policies in force has occurred.

    As just a plain old blond member of the congregation, I simply cannot comprehend the problem. They have knowingly and willingly violated the written decrees of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to undermine the doctrine and discipline of His Church and the validity of His Word as set forth by Wesley. Therefore, why are they still in these ill-gained positions and receiving payment from donations touted as “tax deductible” on one of their sites.

    Through the work of Satan every established church is being placed under SIN, one community at a time. And we’re just standing, watching the action…………..

    Thank you for your in-depth teaching and reporting and LOVE.

  3. And so the continued schismatic acts of the Western Jurisdiction continues with Bishop’s claiming that the truth of what they did wrong is complicated. God help us!

  4. Some excellent thoughts and content.

  5. Sherry,
    You are closer to the truth than the ordained elders and Bishop’s who would re-write the message of the Gospel and the truth about sin.

  6. It’s just so frightening in my church to hear the vultures screeching and see them circling, and not a single voice can be heard. Do they not understand the goals and missions of these lgbt?…… organizations? They’ve already composed their own bibles with their changes to the word of God. I see so few readers with responses to the work and reports by the Good News. You would think they are totally unaware and disinterested in outcomes. Blessings.

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