Pastoral Response to the Recent Decision of the United Methodist Judicial Council

By the College of Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church

The members of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops of The United Methodist Church today presented a pastoral message to the church during the meeting of the denomination’s Council of Bishops in Dallas, Texas.

The message (below) is the bishops’ response to United Methodist Judicial Council Decision 1341. The decision regarded the South Central Jurisdictional Conference’s questioning of the process surrounding the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop. That decision was released on April 28 in Newark, N.J.

Below the message is a short Q&A on Judicial Council Decision 1341.

May 4, 2017

As the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, we offer our thoughts related to the recent Judicial Council decision that affects our colleague, Bishop Karen Oliveto, and our entire United Methodist Connection.

We celebrate the good news that Bishop Oliveto is continuing to lead the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church. While Judicial Council Decision 1341 left her election in place, there is additional work that must be done.

These issues will be properly handled within the Western Jurisdiction according to the processes defined by the Book of Discipline.

We, the Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction, speak from the reality of our social location.

Our area is a place of great diversity of races, cultures, languages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and gender identities.  God inspires our hearts to create a home for all God’s people, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation.

We dream of a United Methodist Church that is multicultural and inclusive, engaged in the life of its communities, with confident, effective lay and clergy leadership who, in diverse ministry settings, form disciples who live out the Good News of Jesus as global citizens.

For many years, the Western part of the United States has been a refuge for LGBTQ persons from across the US and around the world. Our region is a place where they can live fully into who God has created them to be, free from discrimination, violence, and closets.

We hear their stories, of their own witness.

Despite being hurt and excluded by the institutional church many have returned to faith in Jesus Christ in United Methodist churches in the West. In many cases, the families who love them and the friends who walk with them have also come to be part of United Methodist congregations.

This reminds us of Paul’s words as he spoke to the church at Ephesus:

“So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the
saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation
of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
Ephesians 2:19-20

We the people called United Methodist in the Western Jurisdiction witness daily the gifts and reflections of God’s grace in LGBTQ persons who faithfully serve among us as lay leaders, pastors, district superintendents, and now, as a bishop.

Our experience informs how we do ministry together, how Boards of Ordained Ministry approach their work, and how we carry out our episcopal duties.

Our life together in Jesus Christ has been enriched by the fullness of their presence and participation. We recognize that we in the church have differing views of what full inclusion means. Even in the West we are not of one mind. Nevertheless, we believe Christ calls us to live and serve together as one even in our differences.

Our Christian experience teaches us that God’s love is wide enough for all of us.

It is not always easy for us to hold relationship with those whose understandings differ from us, but John Wesley encourages us to remember: “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.”

There is much work to be done before we the church are able to love as Jesus has loved us.

We in the Western Jurisdiction will continue to be a home for all God’s beloved as we strive to be faithful disciples of Jesus the Christ.

We shall continue to pray for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, as they lead us into a new vision for our life together as The United Methodist Church. Our church.

Active Bishops

Grant J. Hagiya, President
Elaine J.W. Stanovsky
Robert T. Hoshibata
Minerva G. Carcaño
Karen Oliveto

Retired Bishops

Roy Sano
Melvin Talbert
Elias Galvan
Mary Ann Swenson
Beverly Shamana
Warner Brown


Answering your Questions about Judicial Council Decision 1341

  1. What is the Judicial Council? The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or court of The United Methodist Church. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference. The current members are from the U.S. Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. They follow procedures, in some ways reflecting U.S. judicial processes, that are set out in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. They act on certain appeals, bishop’s questions of law, requests for declaratory decisions from other Church bodies, and whether acts by official bodies of the church conform with the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council meets twice annually. It met on April 25 in Newark, N.J., to consider the case involving the Western Jurisdiction election and consecration of Bishop Oliveto. It released its decision on Friday, April 28.
  2. What is the case involving Bishop Oliveto? Just after she was elected by the delegates of the Western Jurisdictional Conference, delegates in the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in Wichita, Kansas, voted to request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council as to whether “the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage [is] lawful under The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.” Neither Bishop Oliveto, nor the Western Jurisdiction were named in the question of law. It was, however, brought forward in response to the Western Jurisdiction election of Bishop Oliveto, and the question was intended to challenge her nomination, election, consecration and assignment. The questions were specifically directed at the Western Jurisdiction and its process to elect, consecrate and assign a bishop in July 2016. This is an important distinction.
  3. How Does Judicial Council Decision 1431 Affect Bishop Karen Oliveto?Bishop Karen continues as bishop of The Mountain Sky Area, and as a member of the Council of Bishops, with the responsibilities and rights associated with the office. The Judicial Council’s ruling did not affect Bishop Karen’s nomination, election, or assignment. The Judicial Council said it did not have authority, under The United Methodist Church’s Constitution, to consider those issues.

    The Judicial Council discussed whether Bishop Karen’s consecration by the other bishops present at the Jurisdictional Conference was legal. It ruled that Bishop Oliveto’s consecration was not unlawful, but that a future consecration of a clergyperson who was found through church process to be a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” would be unlawful.

  4. What Happens Next With the Decision and Bishop Oliveto? Bishop Oliveto will continue to be bishop of the Mountain Sky Area for the foreseeable future. In its 19- page opinion, the Judicial Council told the Western Jurisdiction to process any pending or future complaints filed against Bishop Oliveto. The Western Jurisdiction would have done this anyway. That means that any complaints against her would go through the detailed process outlined by the Book of Discipline. This is the regular procedure used by the church to handle complaints.

    The process includes the initial stage of handling a complaint through what the church terms a “supervisory response.” That is a serious effort to engage the parties to try to resolve the matter. If it cannot be resolved, then the president or secretary of the College of Bishops may dismiss the complaint or refer the matter as an administrative or judicial complaint as outlined in Para 413.3d of the Book of Discipline. If referred as a judicial complaint, the matter proceeds to the Jurisdiction’s Committee on Investigation and, if continued, to a church trial. The primary goal throughout the process remains to reach a just resolution between the parties.

  5. Was the Judicial Council Proceeding a Trial of Bishop Oliveto? No. It was in response to the request for declaratory decision asked by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Simply put, the South Central Jurisdiction asked the Judicial Council if the nomination, election, consecration and assignment of an LGBTQI person as bishop was legal in The United Methodist Church. While the question did not directly refer to Bishop Karen, it was intended to ask the Judicial Council to rule on the validity of her nomination, election, consecration and assignment.
  6. Why Was There So Much Confusion When the Decision Was Released? Some initial news reports on the case reported, incorrectly, that Bishop Oliveto’s consecration by the bishops attending the Western Jurisdictional Conference violated church law. The decision did not say that. The decision contains a discussion about the hypothetical election and consecration of an LGBTQ bishop in the future, and outlined procedures that need to be followed well before that person could become a candidate for bishop.
  7. How Does This Decision Affect LGBTQI Pastors and Candidates for Ministry? In this decision, the Judicial Council created new law related to how The United Methodist Church defines the self-avowal and practice of homosexuality when it comes to the eligibility of persons seeking ordination. The Judicial Council declared Boards of Ordained Ministry may now consider the public marriage records related to a marriage between persons of the same gender as evidence of both self-avowal and the practice of homosexuality. Heretofore, self-avowal was a specific process involving statements the person would make to a bishop, Cabinet, or Board of Ordained ministry, and practice was an admission or other objective evidence of physical sex. The new law creates a rebuttable presumption of self-avowal and practice if the person is shown by public record to be in a same-gender marriage.

Update from Bishop Grant Hagiya

BishopGrantHagiya

Message on Judicial Council Decision No. 1431

Concerning the Election of Bishop Karen Oliveto

As you have probably already heard, the Judicial Council met this past week and released its ruling on the South Central Jurisdictional challenge to Bishop Karen Oliveto’s election as a Bishop in our Western Jurisdiction.

The decision came as a 19-page digest that is thick and technical in nature, with numerous points that are up for interpretation and without a clear and concise direction. I want to reiterate the fact that, contrary to the news headlines, the Judicial Council did not invalidate Bishop Oliveto’s nomination, election and assignment, none of which can be challenged by any other jurisdiction. Bishop Oliveto remains a Bishop in The United Methodist Church and is not required to step down. What the Judicial Council did rule was that Bishop Oliveto’s consecration is subject to examination.

I realize there will be many different responses to this ruling, and I can assure you that our Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops is working on a proactive strategy for the near future. Legal rulings usually create more questions than answers and this is how it seems to be in this case. What I want to emphasize to our California-Pacific Conference, and to the whole church, is that: “we must move forward.”

The ruling does maintain that Bishop Karen Oliveto remains a Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of the Western Jurisdiction and we must all work together to move our church forward.

As a member of the Commission on the Way Forward, I put great hope in the process to which the Church has agreed and I pray that nothing will derail the Commission’s work because the Holy Spirit must be allowed to work with the Commission in coming up with some creative alternatives for the life of our church on this issue.

We may agree or disagree on the Judicial Council ruling. The California-Pacific Conference is one of diversity in many ways, including on this particular issue, and I am open to dialogue with you in hearing your concerns. But, my plea for us is that we trust the process and that we work together in moving forward in love and care, not allowing a legal ruling to bog us down and away from our mission as the Church.

My commitment is to pray for each of our laity, churches and clergy on this issue and others that confront you. I ask that you join me in prayer for the Church as we make our way ahead.

Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop
The United Methodist Church

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Grant Hagiya

BishopGrantHagiya

Message on the Upcoming Judicial Council Meeting

Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Risen Savior, Jesus.

I write to keep you informed of an important matter involving the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. It is important to keep you apprised of developments in the questions raised over Bishop Karen Oliveto’s election last July.

Just after she was elected by the Western Jurisdiction Conference, the South Central Jurisdiction asked our denomination’s top court, the Judicial Council, to rule on the validity of her election. The Judicial Council will hear arguments in the matter when it meets in Newark, N.J. on April 25, 2017, with a ruling expected within days. This process is outlined in our Book of Discipline.

The bishops of the Western Jurisdiction believe that Bishop Oliveto’s election and assignment to the Mountain Sky Area is valid. It is our prayer that the Judicial Council will confirm this position. Nonetheless, we know there are several potential outcomes. We know the ruling will have implications for the entire denomination, but Bishop Oliveto and the Mountain Sky Area will be affected most.

Below this letter is information prepared by the Western Jurisdiction about this matter. We ask pastors and church leaders to make this letter and the accompanying information available to congregations as soon as possible. After the ruling, we will provide more information and guidance for our churches and leaders.

No matter what the decision is, we know some among us will not agree. Some will feel hurt. Some will feel distanced from the church. That is why we must be in prayer for one another and for our church. We ask you to pray for Bishop Oliveto, the Cabinet and conference leaders of the Mountain Sky Area, members of the Judicial Council, and all who will participate in the hearing on April 25, 2017.

We do not believe agreement, even on major issues like this, has ever been a requirement for loving each other and remaining one family in Christ Jesus who, in the week of his death and resurrection, prayed that we may be one. (John 17:21)

Although the Council’s decision could have significant implications on our life together, we have faith that the Resurrection of Jesus is what most determines our future. The United Methodist Church, and its predecessors, have faced many challenges and disagreements in the past and has lived to witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ through our distinctive Wesleyan voice we offer the world. We know God will see us through this time as well.

Bishop Grant J. Hagiya
Los Angeles Area Resident Bishop
The United Methodist Church

About the Challenge to Bishop Oliveto’s Election

  1. What is the case involving Bishop Karen Oliveto? Just after she was elected by the Western Jurisdictional Conference, and as they were preparing to adjourn after their own election of bishops, delegates in the South Central Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in Wichita, Kansas, voted to ask The United Methodist Judicial Council “is the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage lawful under The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.”
    It is important to understand that the questions of law raised to the Judicial Council aren’t complaints against Bishop Oliveto as an individual. They were directed to the Western Jurisdiction and its process to elect a bishop in July 2016. Bishop Oliveto was an elder in good standing as a candidate for the episcopacy, and was eligible for election. Her status as an open, married lesbian was known at the time. She was elected by an 88-0-12 vote on the 17th ballot and consecrated by the full College of Bishops.
  2. What is the Judicial Council? The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or court of The United Methodist Church. Its nine members are elected by the General Conference. They are from the U.S. Europe, Africa, and the Philippines. They follow rules of procedure, in some ways reflecting U.S. judicial processes, that are set out in the Book of Discipline. They act on appeals, questions of law, requests for declaratory decisions, and whether acts by official bodies of the church conform with the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council meets twice annually.
  3. What is the status of the case? Representatives of the South Central Jurisdiction and the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, and a number of other interested parties, have filed briefs in the matter. The Judicial Council will hear two hours of oral arguments on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 in Newark, N.J. at the beginning of its Spring 2017 meeting. It is expected to issue a decision in the matter at the end of its meeting in April 28 or shortly afterwards.
  4. What are the potential outcomes? It’s difficult to predict exactly what the Judicial Council will do, but there is a range of possible scenarios for its decision. The Judicial Council could:
    • Accept the argument of the Western Jurisdiction that it has no jurisdiction in this case because church law gives authority to determine the credentials and qualifications of pastors and bishops solely to annual (regional) conferences and jurisdictions.
    • Determine that the questions of law posed by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference questioning the legality of Bishop Oliveto’s election are moot and hypothetical. The South Central Jurisdiction covers eight states, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.
    • Decide in favor of the South Central Jurisdiction’s petition and nullify Bishop Oliveto’s election and her assignment as the bishop to the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area.
    • While not nullifying the election it instead requires the Western Jurisdiction to conduct some sort of review. That could include requiring the Western Jurisdiction to examine Bishop Oliveto’s ministerial credentials, to decide if she is eligible for election. It may or may not retain jurisdiction to oversee this process.
    • Decide to do nothing, and defer action until the completion of the Way Forward process being undertaken by the Council of Bishops.
  5. What is the Way Forward process? The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward emerged from the impasse over The United Methodist Church’s positions of human sexuality that dominated much of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland Ore. Proposed by the Council of Bishops, the commission is examining every paragraph in the Book of Discipline related to human sexuality. It is working to develop options for moving the church forward in ways that balance cultural contexts and theological understandings while retaining its unity as a denomination. Its results are expected to be presented to a specially called session of the General Conference in 2019.
  6. What happens if Bishop Oliveto’s election is nullified? Does that mean she will no longer be the bishop of the Mountain Sky Area and the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences? It is premature to speculate what could happen. There are many options that could come out of the Judicial Council’s decision. The Western Jurisdiction has offered a strong case to support Bishop Oliveto’s election and her service as the bishop of the Mountain Sky Area.
  7. How will churches in the Western Jurisdiction learn of the outcome of the Judicial Council’s deliberations? First, each annual conference will report on the April 24, 2017 Judicial Council hearing. Several bishops from the Jurisdiction will be present. News about the hearing will be posted on each Western Jurisdiction conference’s social media sites, and the Western Jurisdiction web site and social media sites. As soon as the Judicial Council releases its decision, the jurisdiction’s conferences will post the news on their social media sites, and the Western Jurisdiction will post the result on its web site and social media sites. Information will also be posted for congregations to use across the jurisdiction.