The top court of the United Methodist Church has ruled that the consecration of an openly gay bishop violates church law but the bishop for now still has her job.
In a somewhat convoluted decision, the judicial council, convening in Newark, New Jersey, said that Karen Oliveto “remains in good standing” pending the completion of another administrative or judicial process, according to a UMC news story.
The decision, made public on Friday, said, “It is not lawful for the college of bishops of any jurisdictional or central conference to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual bishop.”
Oliveto was consecrated in July 2016 by officials in the Western Jurisdiction. She is the episcopal leader for an area covering Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and one church in Idaho. A church lay member from Kansas in the South Central Jurisdiction formally challenged Oliveto’s elevation to bishop.
The denomination’s high court rejected an argument from the Western Jurisdiction counsel made during an oral hearing last week that Oliveto’s same-sex marriage in 2014 to another woman was not a public statement about her sexual practices.
“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,” the court said.
Bill McAlilly, the bishop for the Nashville Episcopal Area, wrote a blog post about the ruling in which he asks for everyone to get along but doesn’t comment on what Christians should believe about homosexual relationships.
“I would urge us to resist viewing this ruling in the context of ‘winners’ or ‘losers.’ We, as has been true since the beginning of time, are a broken people who are all in need of God’s grace,” McAlilly said.
McAlilly continued, “The United Methodist Church is an extraordinarily diverse communion — both theologically and politically. This is one of our unique strengths and yet maintaining the tension between differing understandings requires a commitment to engaging with one another even when we disagree.”
The Confessing Movement within the UMC, which advocates for traditional beliefs, posted commentary on its Facebook page Tuesday from North Carolina pastor Drew McIntyre that was critical of theological diversity. “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,” McIntyre wrote.
The Wesleyan Covenant Association, another orthodox group within the UMC that formed last year, said in a statement that the Western Jurisdiction should “accept and implement the decision of the high court” and promptly process all complaints against Oliveto.
“We further call upon those who feel they cannot, in good conscience, abide by the doctrines and discipline of our church, to seek an honorable exit from our denomination,” the statement said.
The UMC is planning a special session of the General Conference to be held Feb. 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis to discuss conflicts over issues related to sexuality.
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