Greetings in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
I am writing to provide an update about human sexuality and The United Methodist Church.
The church’s Judicial Council, which mirrors the United States Supreme Court in its role, will meet April 25-28 to consider the status of Karen Oliveto, a married lesbian elected as a bishop last July. It will determine the constitutionality and legality of certain actions involving that election in light of The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church and prior Judicial Council rulings.
Some hope Bishop Oliveto’s election, consecration and assignment will be ruled unconstitutional because it violates clergy standards in The Book of Discipline. Others want her election upheld since she was in ‘good standing’ in the California-Nevada Annual Conference when elected. Many others are caught somewhere in the middle, struggling to make sense of a difficult issue.
The Judicial Council will address Bishop Oliveto’s situation only. It does not have the authority to change The Book of Discipline, oversee the ordination process our Board of Ordained ministry uses, determine how I appoint clergy or invalidate the complaint process outlined in The Book of Discipline.
While you may be tempted to think that the Judicial Council’s decision concerning Bishop Oliveto will be the definitive word regarding human sexuality, it is not. Only the called session of General Conference in early 2019 will be able to decide the future of The United Methodist Church in this matter. This is why it is critically important for all persons on all sides of the issue to hold steady, even if that is hard to do.
Some of you have asked why the Council of Bishops has not held annual conferences and bishops accountable when they intentionally disobey The Book of Discipline concerning same-gender weddings and ordination of gay and lesbian persons. The reason is simple: the Council currently does not have the authority to do so. However, if a proposed constitutional amendment is adopted in the coming months, it will give the Council of Bishops some increased authority to hold individual bishops accountable.
There will be ample opportunities for laity and clergy to talk about this at upcoming district conferences, the clergy gathering in early May and Annual Conference in June. In the meantime, please join me in doing three things. First, pray for The Commission on a Way Forward. Second, don’t expect too much too soon; have patience in the midst of an anxious time. And, third, keep creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.
God bless you.
Grace and peace,
Gary E. Mueller