Sisters and Brothers, grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Saturday evening the rulings of the Judicial Council regarding if a bishop may be a self-avowed practicing homosexual were released. Referenced in this case is Bishop Karen Oliveto. I have fully reviewed the 19 page decision and dissenting opinions of the Judicial Council which may be found here.
The Judicial Council ruled that no individual or church entity may violate, ignore or negate church law and it is not lawful to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual as bishop. It further ruled that self-avowed does not nullify the consecration of a bishop or remove the bishop from office, but is sufficient to subject the bishop’s ministerial office for review. The Judicial Council further ruled that a clergy person who has declared to be in a same gender relationship is a declaration that the individual is a self-avowed practicing homosexual and therefore their ministerial office must be reviewed.
In essence the Judicial Council upheld The Book of Discipline’s prohibition of gay and lesbian clergy and consecrating as bishop a self-avowed practicing homosexual, however, Bishop Karen Oliveto is protected by the constitution of the church and is in good standing (innocent) until proven guilty. Currently Bishop Oliveto’s ministerial office is under review in the complaint process.
These are difficult times for the church and we in GNJ feel frustrated, pain and even anger regardless of our view about LGBTQ people. I ask you to continue to pray for the church, Bishop Oliveto and the people of Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah where the bishop serves.
The church largely is of two minds about homosexuality, and we in GNJ hold equally differing opinions.
One group says the Bible is clear about homosexuality and we should not ordain gays and lesbians or perform same gender weddings. They say:
“Disobedience to the scriptures is disobedience to God and is hurting the witness of the church and creating division within the church. Homosexuality is a sin. We love the people but hate the sin. We as The United Methodist Church debated homosexuality for 44 years and General Conference continues to come to the same conclusion that we should not be ordaining gays and lesbians. Further conversation should stop, The Book of Discipline should not be changed on this matter and we should focus on and move forward with the mission.”
The other group says the words of the Bible are the God-breathed scriptures for our salvation and living. They say:
“The Bible is to be read through a lens of the developing understandings of God and humanity, and that this is the continual work of the church. Today there are new understandings which have led us not to follow biblical commands about dietary laws, divorce, women in church leadership, slavery, head coverings, what clothing is to be made of, pierced earrings, and tattoos. Homosexuality should be looked at through the same lens that we have looked at these other biblical commands and that LGBTQ people are children of God who are called by God. We should change The Book of Discipline to Include the ordination of gays and lesbians and move forward with the mission.”
There are variations of these two understandings as well. Each variation agrees that we should move forward with the mission.
During these times, I will continue to be the bishop of the whole church and create space for all of us to be the church of Jesus Christ. The United Methodist Church is greater than any one disagreement and we are stronger together. Our mission of proclaiming Jesus Christ, ending malaria, rebuilding homes after Superstorm Sandy, calling and equipping spiritual leaders, making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world is more powerful and effective being done together.
I will continue to trust our pastors and congregations to live the Gospel in their context. I will not make appointments to try to change a congregation’s values and beliefs. I believe the scriptures value diversity and difference in the church.
It is important for all of us to remain prayerful and non-anxious as we work through our difference. Many are watching the church and our witness is important. Will we keep moving forward in the midst of difference? Will we remain focused on the mission as we face our challenges? Will we love each other and be graceful in our relationship and work with each other? Essentially, will we be like Christ? I witness the people of GNJ to be a people of hope. We have and continue to treat one another with respect and as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been focused on the mission. We have talked about our challenges in ways God is praised. Thank you for being the church of Jesus Christ. You give me hope for the future.
Let us pray and remain faithful to our calling to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world. As in the first century church, let us care about those we disagree with and see each other as sisters and brothers in Christ.
Thank you for your ministry and mission through The United Methodist Church. I look forward to our continued service together.
Keep the faith!
John Schol, Bishop
The United Methodist Church
of Greater New Jersey