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Methodist Top Court Rules Against Lesbian Bishop

United Methodist Top Court Declines to Immediately Remove Lesbian Activist Bishop, but Makes Clear: "Openly Homosexual and Partnered" People Cannot be Clergy, Bishops
Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion & Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell, jwalton@TheIRD.org

WASHINGTON, April 28, 2017 /Christian Newswire/ -- Today the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church issued a complex, highly anticipated decision provoked by openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto of San Francisco. Last year, the rapidly declining Western Jurisdiction, home to less than three percent of United Methodists, acting unilaterally to elect her as bishop. Since being elected, Oliveto has used her prominence to demonize congregations holding to traditional United Methodist doctrine as "bad churches."

This binding ruling clarifies several matters in United Methodist church law: Because of church standards only recognizing monogamous, heterosexual marriage and disapproving of sexual relations outside of it (Paragraphs 161B, 161F, 310.2d, and 2702.1b of the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline), which UMC clergy must vow to uphold, any "partnered homosexual … does not meet the minimum standards" for ordination, and a minister found to be "openly homosexual and partnered" cannot be made bishop. To be disciplined for violating separate provisions prohibiting the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" (Paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1b), it can be enough to prove that a minister is in a same-sex civil marriage. This replaces an earlier church-law standard under which partnered gay clergy, in several cases, could only be removed if they answered awkward questions about their "genital sexual activity." Some liberal UMC officials treated this as a loophole for avoiding disciplining such clergy as long as they refused to answer such questions.

However, they declined to immediately cancel Oliveto's election, saying that normal review processes must be followed to determine if she violates these standards.

In separate decisions, the Council invalidated a resolution from the Northeastern Jurisdiction promoting disobedience to the church's sexuality standards and ruled that the even liberal-leaning regional conferences like New York and Northern Illinois must make "full examination" of ordination candidates to screen out those unwilling to abstain from homosexual practice, adultery, or pre-marital sex.

UMAction Director and 2016 General Conference delegate John Lomperis responded:

    "The Judicial Council had a difficult task of ruling on the narrow basis of church law that has been carefully developed over the years to protect the rights of clergy accused of wrongdoing—sometimes well beyond the bounds of reasonable doubt and to the point of sidelining concern for victims.

    "I celebrate that these landmark rulings should now make it significantly easier to bring accountability for pastors who choose to violate biblical standards for sexual self-control. We are slowly but increasingly strengthening biblical accountability in our church.

    "I am disappointed that the Judicial Council did not go further by acting directly to immediately remove Dr. Oliveto from office, in light of her dishonest and illegal election, as I requested in the legal brief I submitted. But these decisions move us closer, if not as quickly as I wish, to preventing those who so blatantly violate our biblical standards, lie to the church, and mistreat its members from serving as bishop.

    "It is important for my fellow United Methodists to understand that we are in a transitionary period between now and the 2019 special General Conference, and that there is still much that we all can and must do in the next two years to address the heart-breaking problems that continue in our beloved, troubled denomination.

    "UM Action will have more to say in the days ahead. In the meantime, we urge our fellow church members to work together to take action at our upcoming annual conference sessions, to continue the momentum for biblical accountability in 2019, and to encourage each other in prayer, biblical faithfulness, and fruitful ministry."