By Walter Fenton-
The Boards of Ordained Ministry of both the New York and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences have announced they will not abide by recent rulings of The United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council, the denomination’s final arbiter of church law.
In 2016 both boards, along with five others, had voted to ignore portions of the Book of Discipline when it came to recommending openly gay candidates for ordained ministry. But this April, in two separate decisions (1343 and 1344), the Judicial Council ruled such evasions are unlawful.
In unprecedented moves, both boards said they would not abide by the Judicial Council’s decisions.
The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry reaffirmed its position that it “will continue to give all candidates [including LGBTQ candidates] equal consideration [in the ordination process].”
In a brief statement, the New York Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry responded: “We reaffirm our statement from March 1, 2016, in its entirety.” In part, that statement read, “Sexual orientation and gender identity are not and will not be considered in the evaluation of candidates by the Board of Ordained Ministry.”
Later that year, the New York Board recommended for commissioning and ordination clergy candidates who had come out as gay in an open letter to the UM Church just days before the 2016 General Conference. Bishop Jane Allen Middleton commissioned and ordained them at the 2016 New York Annual Conference.
The New York board’s action was immediately challenged, but Middleton ruled, “The Board of Ordained Ministry is not required to ‘ascertain’ whether a candidate meets the qualifications for candidacy and ordained ministry, including whether or not she or he is exhibiting ‘fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness’ or is a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual.'”
The Judicial Council, at its April 2017 meeting, countermanded Middleton’s decision. The Council wrote, “[church law] prevents a Board of Ordained Ministry from ignoring [a clergy candidate’s] statements of self-disclosure about any action that violates any portion of church law as is the case for… persons who [self avow] their homosexuality.”
To date, neither Bishop Thomas Bickerton nor Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, respectively the episcopal leaders in the New York and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences, have responded to their boards’ decisions to defy the will of the denomination’s General Conference, Discipline, and now it’s highest judicial body.
“By now,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, “it is obvious progressives in the church are trying to accomplish by fiat what they have failed to accomplish through the church’s time honored processes established by General Conferences. And even worse, it is a very sad day when bishops fail to publicly call upon clergy serving on our boards of ordained ministry to abide by the rulings of our judiciary.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.