Grace and peace of the risen Christ be with you.
As you may have already heard, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church heard arguments this week concerning the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto by the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. They will release a decision when they conclude their business, likely later this week. As we await the decision, I would like to share the following thoughts.
- It is important to understand the limited reach of the Judicial Council's decision in this case. The Judicial Council is the church’s highest court, but it does not make church law. The Book of Discipline will not change because of the Judicial Council’s decision. Only the General Conference can change The Book of Discipline.
- The 2016 General Conference asked for the formation of the Commission on A Way Forward to work on a way by which those who disagree on issues of human sexuality can coexist in the same church. The Commission seeks to maximize the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible. We seek to allow for as much contextual differentiation as possible, balancing different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for unity. I am a member of this commission and its work is well underway. The Council of Bishops called a special session of General Conference in 2019 for the sole purpose of hearing the report of the commission.
- We must remember Jesus' commandment to love one another. Unity is a gift offered in the reconciling work of Christ and is essential for the mission of Jesus Christ, and yet our unity does not depend upon whether we all agree. I invite you to pray with me for all of our pastors, laypersons, congregations, and ministries; even when we disagree with one another about significant social and theological issues.
Here is a summary of what the Judicial Council is considering: Bishop Karen Oliveto was elected, consecrated and assigned as bishop by her jurisdictional conference in July of last year. She is serving as the bishop of the Mountain Sky Area, which includes the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences, encompassing all of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, and a small portion of Idaho.
Bishop Oliveto is married to a spouse of the same gender. The United Methodist Book of Discipline prohibits openly gay individuals from serving as clergy in the church. The South Central Jurisdictional Conference petitioned the Judicial Council to determine whether or not Oliveto's election was valid. The Judicial Council may rule that the election was valid, or that it was invalid, or that the petition was out of order for reasons having to do with our rules and procedures.
All of the people we reach with our ministries this week will be in need next week, regardless of the decision of the Judicial Council. Our work with children, our efforts to relieve suffering and seek justice, our outreach to the poor, our hospitality to strangers, our food pantries and Volunteers in Mission programs, our worship services and Bible studies and youth ministries that change lives—all of these ministries rely on us to remain faithful to our callings to follow Christ. Our unity in Christ and common commitment to the mission of Christ are far stronger than any disunity we may experience.
As your bishop, I am committed to the work of Christ’s church, the annual conference, and the denomination as a whole. I strongly believe in the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and I believe we will, indeed, find a way forward together. These are challenging times. However, I celebrate every day the work that God is doing in this annual conference and in our local churches. The Rio Texas Annual Conference is strong, and I pray for the continued fruitfulness in Christ of our ministries that includes the dedicated work of thousands of laypersons and clergy who are faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Please continue to pray for me and for our church as I continue to pray for you.