The bishops of the United Methodist Church’s theologically radicalized, numerically tiny Western Jurisdiction recently submitted a formal petition to our denomination’s supreme court, the Judicial Council. These bishops are requesting that the Council reconsider and reverse its recent April decision against the Western Jurisdiction’s attempt to elect openly partnered lesbian activist Dr. Karen Oliveto (who otherwise would not have been remotely qualified for the office) to be a United Methodist bishop.
That highly watched ruling found that someone found to be openly homosexually partnered, as Oliveto publicly admits to being, does not meet the minimum standards for being bishop, due to the UMC’s official affirmation of biblical teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that this is the only appropriate context for sexual relations. In the narrow situation of Oliveto, the Judicial Council’s Decision #1341 basically removed any legal legs she would have had to stand on to indefinitely continue as a United Methodist bishop, pending only the completion of a review process to determine if the way Oliveto publicly describes herself is true. I wrote some analysis here about the much broader implications of this case, for how it applied the plain meaning of the words in the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline to close alleged loopholes a few bishops (particularly in the Western Jurisdiction) have dishonestly used to avoid enforcing our rules against “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy.
It is these broader implications for more effectively forbidding “self-avowed practicing homosexual” clergy that the Western Jurisdiction bishops have targeted in their request, dated today. These bishops’ request adamantly protests the legal core of the Judicial Council’s ruling, claiming that it “cannot be allowed to stand.”
The request, dated today, was submitted by Richard A. Marsh and Llewelyn G. Pritchard, Chancellors for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific-Northwest Annual Conferences. It was endorsed by Dr. Oliveto as well as every active bishop in the Western Jurisdiction (Bishops Minerva Carcaño of San Francisco, Grant Hagiya of Los Angeles, Robert Hoshibata of Phoenix, and Elaine Stanovsky of Seattle), and apparently every living retired bishop affiliated with the region (Bishops Warner Brown, Wilbur Choy, Elias Galvan, Calvin McConnell, Roy Sano, Beverly Shamana, Mary Ann Swenson, and Melvin Talbert).
UMAction has been heavily involved in this particular case, from bringing the specific church-law questions at issue to the Judicial Council in the first place to submitting many of the key legal arguments.
While the ruling was really a rather modest, common-sense application of the plain meaning of the UMC Discipline, the fact that all active and retired Western Jurisdiction bishops are going out of their way to try to overturn it speaks volumes at what a major victory this was for restoring biblical Christian accountability in the UMC. The Western Jurisdiction bishops are effectively begging the Judicial Council to roll back the clock and restore to them broad powers several liberal bishops had used and abused for years to protect homosexually active clergy from any accountability.
And of course, making this request could also provide a convenient excuse for the leadership Western Jurisdiction extending the deadline for their months of needlessly stalling on the formal complaints against Dr. Oliveto.
According to Rule IX of the Judicial Council’s Rules of Practice and Procedure, any “interested party” in a Judicial Council case may request a new ruling within 45 days of the original decision. The record shows that such requests for reconsideration, while not uncommon, are routinely denied by the Judicial Council. However, we will not know for sure what will be done with this particular request for reconsideration until the Council’s next meeting in late October 2017.