By now you may have seen that the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church published a ruling on Friday related to the election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto by the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC. I would like to share the response by Bishop William McAlilly, who oversees the Tennessee Annual Conference of which we are a part, regarding this decision.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace and Peace to you from Jesus Christ our Lord. In this Easter season, I come to you with the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ who reminds us that life is stronger than death, love is greater than hate, that light overcomes darkness, and hope outdistances despair.
This week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church convened (as it does regularly throughout the year) to consider various matters of church law. Of particular interest to many throughout our church was a question about the validity of the election and consecration by the Western Jurisdiction of a married lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto. Yesterday the Judicial Council released its ruling which stated that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law, but that Bishop Oliveto “remains in good standing” until an administrative or judicial process is completed.
As we consider yesterday’s ruling, it is important to remember that there are several authorized bodies in our church that guide us in our life together. The General Conference speaks for the church. The Council of Bishops exercises oversight and support of the church’s mission. The Judicial Council determines the constitutionality and legality of actions taken by individuals or constituted entities of the church, and in this instance, the action taken by a jurisdictional conference. At times these bodies collaborate, and at other times this work is done independently, but the goal is to discern God’s will for our church and ensure that our order is maintained as we work together to make disciples.
While the judicial process has been an important part of our communal life for many years, 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. The grace-filled life understands that this is a time for compassion and prayer as we seek a means out of our brokenness toward restoration.
In the days to come, we will continue to grapple with the realities of this moment in our life together. Twenty-five years from now we certainly will look back on this time differently than we do now. For the moment, we only can see through a glass darkly. May God grant us the grace to find light in the midst of our darkness.
Please remember that the Judicial Council’s actions are specific to this situation and this decision does not change the United Methodist Book of Discipline, nor will it change the mission, vision, and scope of work of the Commission on the Way Forward. The commission’s work is ongoing and will continue toward a time in which a proposal will be presented in a Special Session of the General Conference to be held in St. Louis, MO on February 23-26, 2019. Only the General Conference has the power to make changes to the Book of Discipline.
And yet our calling to make disciples for the transformation of the world continues. I ask you to avoid a hasty reaction to this decision and instead spend time in prayer about God’s work for the people called United Methodists. Our mission has not changed, and we are called to be the body of Christ to a world in need.
It is also my hope that we give the Commission on a Way Forward the space and grace to carry out their work of discernment. The Council of Bishops is confident that the Holy Spirit is operating through the commission’s work and leadership, and we believe as a council that the Way Forward Commission is our best opportunity for determining God’s will for our church.
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. This engagement must always be rooted in love, which is the core of our faith in Jesus Christ. Be assured that the Council of Bishops is committed to the unity of the body of Christ, and we pray with Christ the prayer from John 17 that the church may be one:
“I’m not praying only for them but also for those who believe in me because of their word. I pray they will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. I pray that they also will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. I’ve given them the glory that you gave me so that they can be one just as we are one. I’m in them and you are in me so that they will be made perfectly one. Then the world will know that you sent me and that you have loved them just as you loved me.”
-John 17:20-23 (Common English Bible)
Brothers and Sisters, I believe that the God who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6). Christ’s command to love God and love neighbor still holds true. The work of offering Christ’s love to a hurting world has not ended.
May the Master of the Universe and the Provider of us all send a special measure of grace that in the midst of our darkness we will see light, in the midst of our despair we will find comfort, and always that in the midst of death we will experience resurrection.
With the love of Christ,
Bishop William McAlilly