During its October 19-23 quadrennial meeting, the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference voted decisively to send some important messages to fellow United Methodists in light of the global denomination’s sexuality controversies.
Conference delegates affirmed the process of the Council of Bishops appointing a commission on human sexuality. They specifically highlighted language from the relevant General Conference petition committing to uphold the United Methodist Book of Discipline. They expressed sadness at some divisive actions in the most liberal regions of U.S. United Methodism.
And these European delegates made clear that there is no significant support among them for the Western Jurisdiction’s provocative action of electing lesbian activist Karen Oliveto of San Francisco (who is otherwise clearly completely unqualified for the position) to be bishop.
This is one of the three “central conferences” into which our denomination is geographically organized in Europe. The other two European Central Conferences do not have their respective once-in-four-year meetings until March 2017.
In June, the Estonia Annual Conference, one of the constituent annual conferences of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, adopted a resolution strongly affirming a traditionalist, biblical view of marriage and sexual morality, and urging our denomination to uphold these values.
Later, a Norwegian layman named Ole-Einar Andersen submitted to the entire central conference a resolution to affirm the U.S. Western Jurisdiction voting to elect openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto last summer. Compared to what we tend to see in the more liberal regions of the USA, that resolution’s language was rather mild-mannered. It would have declared that the central conference “fully respects and affirms the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto,” “warmly welcome[d] her as a bishop of The United Methodist Church,” and vaguely warned against the efforts currently underway to challenge her election.
(Given the fundamentally illegitimate nature of that vote in the Western Jurisdiction, do not expect to ever, ever see me refer to Oliveto as “Bishop Oliveto.”)
Last week, this resolution got ZERO votes in the central conference meeting.
Let that sink in.
Not a single one of the representatively elected delegates from each of the ten annual conferences in the Northern Europe and Eurasia Conference was willing to express their support for Karen Oliveto being a legitimate bishop.
On the other hand, most of the General Conference delegates from the Northern Europe and Baltic Episcopal Area (which encompasses Scandinavia plus the Baltic states) jointly submitted their own resolution in direct, intentional response to the Western Jurisdiction’s attempt to elect Oliveto, and similarly divisive actions by the most militantly liberal faction in the USA. They publicly announced their submission of this resolution back in July, less than one week after Oliveto’s tentative election.
This resolution expressed support for the process of creating a special commission to discern “a way forward” for our denomination’s theological conflicts most prominently expressed in disagreements over sexual morality. The General Conference motion to refer all related matters to this commission was widely described by others as “hitting the pause button” on sexuality conflicts – a sort of cease-fire that American liberal-caucus activists almost immediately made clear they had no intention of honoring.
For their part, the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference particularly affirmed the language from that General Conference motion of hoping that we can find ways to “live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.” Obviously, the simplest way to avoid further complaints, trials, and harm would be for theologically revisionist activists to cease any violations of the Discipline. And the language of upholding the Discipline is meaningless without a commitment to using its mechanisms, including church trials when all else fails, to uphold the integrity of our denominational covenant. Of course, in passing this resolution that expressed their commitment to “uphold the Discipline,” this central conference has declared its commitment to upholding the Discipline’s relevant provisions prohibiting same-sex union ceremonies and the ordination of anyone openly sexually active outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
Interestingly, the delegates submitting this petition came from the episcopal area that is home to relatively more theologically revisionist sentiment on such issues than the other episcopal area in this particular central conference. In that context, even folk who would prefer to liberalize church teaching on homosexuality are upset by such anarchic antics as trying to elect Karen Oliveto in blatant defiance of church law.
The original wording of the resolution declared that “In the aftermath of General Conference, we are saddened see that our church still is divided in questions regarding to human sexuality, and that steps that further the divisions in our church have been taken at several Jurisdictional Conferences in the United States.” This was an obvious allusion to the Oliveto election as well as resolutions in both the Western and Northeastern Jurisdiction declaring the intent of acting in “nonconformity” to the moral standards on marriage and sex by which they are bound in church law.
This original language was unanimously approved in the relevant committee of the central conference.
The full plenary session of the central conference substituted for the last part of this section: “that steps that further the divisions in our church have been taken at several levels of our church.”
This effectively expands the scope of the saddening “steps that further the divisions in our church” to now also include the several radicalized U.S. annual conferences that have taken similar “nonconformity” actions “in the aftermath of General Conference” of attempting to divide their moral standards on ordination and marriage from those of the rest of the church.
After this amendment, the resolution was adopted overwhelmingly.
The full text of the aforementioned Estonian resolution is as follows:
As the United Methodist Church in Estonia, we believe God`s Word clearly teaches that expressions of human sexuality belong only within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman.
We believe that living by the principles God has given in his Word and accepting God`s created order gives the best opportunity for harmony in the family and society. According to the social principles of the United Methodist Church ¶ 161F (BOD 2012) we do not condone the practice of homosexuality. Nor do we accept same-sex marriages or blessings of same sex unions. We do not accept other related sexual practices which are contrary to God`s created order. We call for our Church to retain its current stance on these issues.
We affirm that God offers freedom from sin and healing to all people through grace and repentance and as a Church we are gladly open for ministry to all people in accordance with the Holy Scriptures.
The United Methodist Church in Estonia is also signatory of the common statement of the Estonian Council of Churches re-affirming the traditional Christian view of human sexuality. (Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in Estonia 19 June 2016)
And the full text of the final resolution overwhelmingly adopted by the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference last week is as follows:
Resolution to the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, meeting in Fredrikstad, Norway, October 19-23, 2016
Whereas at General Conference in Portland 2016, the Council of Bishops were asked to lead our church through discussions of how our church shall continue together, united as one church, even though we are of different minds when it comes to questions regarding human sexuality and the Book of Discipline.
Whereas The Council of Bishops presented “An Offering for a Way Forward”, which was accepted by the General Conference, where it was said that they will form a new commission, who will work on the single issue of human sexuality for the next couple of years.
Whereas The General Conference urged supported the statement from The Council of Bishops that included the wish to ”live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.”
Therefore, be it resolved that the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference sends the following greeting to the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church:
We, the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference, greet you in the name of the risen Lord.
We would like to extend our thanks and gratitude for your leadership for us both at the General Conference in Portland, in the daily lives of our church, and Especially for “A way forward”. This is a powerful statement, and we stand behind you in the difficult times ahead for our church.
In the aftermath of General Conference, we are saddened see that our church still is divided in questions regarding to human sexuality, and that steps that further the divisions in our church have been taken at several levels of our church. We will hold you, the Council of Bishops and the new commission, in our prayers.
Nonetheless, it is with hope, eagerness and expectation we look forward to see the results this new “Commission on Human Sexuality” will present for the next General Conference. We believe that anything is possible through Christian Conferencing and works of the Holy Spirit.
In addition, we would like to encourage all United Methodists in our denomination to show respect for the process you, The Council of Bishops, has laid before us, and whom the majority of the General Conference has approved on our behalf.