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.