The United Methodist Church is in the news again. Unfortunately, it’s not our efforts to lobby Congress to provide funding for programs for children and the poor, nor is it the assistance we’re giving to those still recovering from the typhoons in the Philippines last fall, that are grabbing the headlines. Instead, the news is about the Judicial Council review of the election, consecration, and assignment of one of our bishops.
At the Western Jurisdictional Conference last summer, the body that elects bishops for the Annual Conferences from the Rocky Mountains west, delegates from each of those Annual Conferences elected Rev. Karen Oliveto to the episcopacy. She was a clergyperson in good standing in the California-Nevada Annual Conference, and she was married to a woman. She was consecrated bishop at the Western Jurisdictional Conference, and she was assigned to the Mountain Sky Annual Conference (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado) beginning September 1.
At the time of Bishop Oliveto’s election, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference was meeting. Upon hearing of her election, that conference passed legislation asking the Judicial Council to review Bishop Oliveto’s nomination, election, consecration, and assignment, to determine if they violated the rules in our Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council is The United Methodist Church’s version of a Supreme Court. It rules whether or not actions and decisions made by General Conference and the General Church (i.e., the general boards and agencies of the church, and the College of Bishops), Jurisdictional Conferences, and Annual Conferences, that have been sent to them for review, violate or uphold the rules in the Discipline.
The Judicial Council met the last week of April, hearing a number of cases, and released its rulings on April 28. In the case of the Western Jurisdictional Conference action, the Judicial Council ruled that it could only address the consecration of Bishop Oliveto, and that the consecration of her as bishop did violate the rules in our Discipline. The Discipline there-fore requires a review of Bishop Oliveto’s ministerial office by the Western Jurisdiction, a process defined by the Discipline and already in progress, due to complaints filed within the Jurisdiction. In the meantime, Bishop Oliveto remains a bishop in good standing.
I know this is a lot to take in. Please feel free to ask me questions, or share comments about this, anytime. I also want to share these two thoughts with you. One is that we are defined as United Methodists by our history, our theology, and our polity (the rules in the Book of Discipline), whether we like them or not. These three things state to each of us, and to the world, who we are. As our history shows though, our theology and polity also change over time. Who we are today is different than who we were 100 years ago, and who we will be 100 years from now. Secondly, we are defined as Christians by our beliefs about Christ, and not by our beliefs about homosexuality, or anything else for that matter. Christians on both sides of an issue will look to theology and scripture to support their position, as they should. But faith in Christ, not our position on an issue, remains the defining attribute of brothers and sisters in Christ.