Photo courtesy of the Rev. Stan Cosby

May 12, 2017

Pastor Stan Cosby: My Take on the Oliveto Judicial Council Decision

Stan Cosby is the senior pastor of Saint Stephen United Methodist Church in Amarillo, Texas.  He heads the Northwest Texas delegation to General Conference.  Here he offers his evaluation of the United Methodist Judicial Council’s recent ruling in response to a challenge to the Western Jurisdiction’s attempts to elect of openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto to be a bishop. 

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The evaluations have been incredibly varied.  All the way from “Strong,” and “Clear” to “Confusing” and “Disappointing” to “all of the above.”  I want to suggest, it was “brilliantly decisive.”

First of all, the case was strictly stipulated, described as a “narrow ledge.” The petition from the South Central Jurisdiction had sought a ruling on “the nomination, election, assignment, and consecration of a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.”  The Judicial Council rightly addressed only the issue of consecration as consecrating Bishops act “in behalf of the whole church.”

In their decision, there was little confusion about where the Judicial Council stood.  Church law requires all clergy persons to dedicate themselves to “the highest ideals of Christian life, including their commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality.  An openly homosexual and partnered bishop is in violation of those minimum standards.”

The decision further found that an openly homosexual and partnered bishop may be charged with disobedience to church law, along with other bishops and clergypersons who actively participate in the consecration of a bishop who has been found to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual through judicial or administrative process (emphasis mine).

The Judicial Council further insisted on this Administrative Process by the Western Jurisdiction which begins with the filing of a complaint against the bishop.  If this action is not initiated by the jurisdictional conference, the president or secretary of the body’s college of bishops must take action.

In other words, the Judicial Council said unequivocally to the Western Jurisdiction “fix this.”

So Reverend Karen Oliveto remains Bishop Oliveto until the Western Jurisdiction declares otherwise.  The onus is now on the Western Jurisdiction.  The Judicial Council ruling was not simply the ONLY ruling it could make, it was absolutely the BEST ruling it could make.  The Western Jurisdiction is now clearly on the horns of a dilemma.  Either “fix this” and comply, or stand in complete and obvious defiance of the law of the Church.  Either “correct” or “reject.”  There is no middle or hidden ground; the deed done in secret will now be proclaimed from the rooftops.

A red line has been drawn, and it cannot be ignored by the Commission on a Way Forward and it cannot be dismissed by the called session of General Conference 2019.  Archimedes has just been given his fulcrum.


23 Responses to Pastor Stan Cosby: My Take on the Oliveto Judicial Council Decision

  1. Clinton Grant says:

    I joined The Methodist Church at age 10 1/2 in 1945. After 47 years, some spent as SS Superintendent, some taking care of the money, then just a member, I decided the top Church hierarchy would never enforce the Church Discipline. That’s when I started giving my money elsewhere and wrote a resignation letter.

  2. Joan Watson says:

    Excellent and accurate take on the decision. It was absolutely appropriate to roll this back on the Western Jurisdiction to fix because due process belongs with the Jurisdiction not the Judicial Council. It will be interesting to see what happens next if the Western Jurisdiction continues to only focus on the part of the ruling that leaves Bishop Oliveto as Bishop while minimizing the rest.

  3. Derek Ramsey says:

    The Western Jurisdiction had been getting by on a technicality of the law. Yes, many wanted the Judicial Council to directly invalidate the election of Rev. Oliveto. Yet, had the Council ruled that way, it would have turned her into a martyr to some. Now there can be no martyrdom.

    The Judicial Council closed the loophole. With no legal excuses remaining, the Western Jurisdiction must either comply or defy. We will now see if the oaths of ordination will be upheld.

  4. Emil Winkelspecht says:

    So how long do they have to comply? Can they stonewall this indefinitely?

  5. Lloyd E. Fleming says:

    This action of the JC is not unexpected. However, it has no bearing on the Way Forward Commission’s deliberations. Those will proceed. If the end result is a change in the Discipline that enables some level of jurisdictional, conference or even local church autonomy, then the rules will change. The Book of Discipline is not God. Meanwhile, the Western Jurisdiction should, and I expect will, drag its feet for a couple of years.

    • Marco Bell says:

      I agree, the Book of Discipline will also evolve. Just as EVERYTHING on this planet evolves…Thank God!

  6. theenemyhatesclarity says:

    Ms. Oliveto is now irrelevant. But the decision will be important to the Commission on a Way Forward. They are not operating in a vacuum. They have seen that of the 9 Judicial Council members, not one said her elevation to bishop was biblically correct. It was another nail in the coffin for the local option. It is now clear that those pushing same sex marriage and ordination in our church are loud but lack any power to change the discipline.

    In Christ,

    The enemy hates clarity

  7. Skipper says:

    Thanks for these excellent remarks. Paul spoke of people who had believed a delusion and were now taking pleasure in unrighteousness. We need to keep an eye on the Bishop’s Commission. Hopefully they won’t try any compromise with peoples very souls at stake. “We must stand firm in the Lord” Philippians 4:1

  8. Jackie. Gregory says:

    The clarity of the laws of the church makes the Judicial Council’s decision the only decision possible. Comply or defy is up to the Western Jurisdiction. That decision with be the determination of the future of the United Methodist Church as we now know it.

  9. David Mercer says:

    So what happens if the Western jurisdiction refuses to comply?

  10. Dave Smith says:

    I agree with Jackie. We all know the Western Jurisdiction will never comply. The denomination will self-destruct long before the Way Forward makes its report in 2019 (which is kicking the can about as far down the road as they could). The ineptitude of the Council of Bishops is one reason we are in this mess. All of this should have been put to bed at GC2016. It’s not like we couldn’t see it coming and have enough time to prepare for it.

  11. William B. says:

    I eagerly look forward to 2030, when the advertisements for the existing United Methodist Church proclaim: “We are the CORRECT Methodists. We believe that our Book of Discipline stands superior to those aged verses like “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Follow us!

    • Chris G. says:

      I don’t know if your comment was thinly veiled sarcasm or just a woeful misunderstanding of the scripture, but to put that statement out there about Jesus and not also understand his teaching on marriage is just wrong. Yes, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor but he also made it very clear that marriage it was between a man and a woman, as God created them in the beginning. You can never get around that statement. Broad is the path, but narrow the gate….

  12. James says:

    From South Sudan
    in Nairobi Kenya
    Shool Support
    James Malual Dut

  13. Hank Holcomb says:

    I find the lack of a time table for the Western Jurisdiction to take action a watering down of the Book of Discipline. Having been a Presbyterian and witnessed the disintegration of the PC(USA) we moved to the UMC with the assurance that the UMC would never go the way of the PC(USA). Failure of the Bishops to remove Karen Olivetto as an ordained minister shows how weak and indecisive the Bishop’s Council is. If something decisive doesn’t happen by December I predict my family will not be Methodists come January 2018.

  14. Kathy Fitzgerald says:

    I am a member of the Methodist Church and have been for many years. Being in the Western Jurisdiction involves me and I am a person who believes in the scriptures and follow the Book of Discipline as it stands. Therefore my pledges to the church will remain with my local church, in which the vast majority of members believe the same way I do…none going to the Conference. I feel that people trying to change my Christian beliefs is like me telling someone they cannot marry unless it is a same sex marriage, which I am fully against. Someone needs to realize that always Satan is looking for a way to bring people his way and this sin of homosexuality is a sin just as much as the sin of murder or any other thing we see as a sin against our LORD.

  15. Dave says:

    I have no faith that the Western Jurisdiction will comply to the JC decision. They like the role nonconformity and rebellious protest against the UMC. My sense is they will do everything in their ability to keep KO right where she is. That will take years right up to Bishops Commission. However, in the mean time, KO continues to be entrenches and works as a Bishop.

    What will the global denomination do if WJ refuses to abide by the JC decision? Enforcement is the missing piece of our system because we base our connectional system on covenant, trust and fidelity in keeping promises. Don’t see much potential of WJ in these areas with the entire global UMC.

    • T. Ingravallo says:

      I am in the western jurisdiction and you are absolutely right in saying that they will drag their feet and be non-compliant with the reques made of them. It’s their M.O. and nothing will change the stance they have chosen toward blatant disobedience to who ever disagrees with their position. It insert remedy difficult to be in a conference that is so bent on creating a huge chasm within our denomination and they will not stop until it is accomplished.

  16. John Smith says:

    And if the Western Conference does nothing?

  17. Kenneth W. Tidmore says:

    Too many of us are like Elisha’s servant, we don’t see that “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (II Kings 6:16). This remains God’s battle, and He alone will determine the outcome. Don’t be afraid, but trust in Him.

  18. Kenneth W. Tidmore says:

    Too many of us are like Elisha’s servant, we don’t see that “Those who are with us are more than those who are against us” (II Kings 6:16). Remember that the battle is God’s, and the victory also is His. Don’t be afraid; trust in Him alone.

  19. Pastor Lois says:

    So I hear a lot of you talking as if the Western Jurisdiction is of one mind on this. Everytime a faithful person leaves the denomination and everytime a faithful church leave the denomination, those of us God called to serve in the midst of the Western Jurisdiction are weakened and our voice is heard less.

    I am a pastor in the UMC because this is where God called me to serve, but I have been in the minority for my entire tenure. I was not brought up Methodist, so I have no personal reason for being here, only call. The vows I took require me to be faithful in the Western Jurisdiction, but please remember those who serve here that do not agree with the obvious majority in the Western Jurisdiction and keep us in your thoughts and prayers as you look for the “Way Forward” for us all.

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