(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). In the United Methodist Church’s structure, the Judicial Council serves as the equivalent of our denomination’s supreme court. Its next semi-annual meeting will be held April 25-28 in Newark, New Jersey.
Some high-profile cases are directly related to United Methodism’s controversies over sexual morality.
Official UMC policies teach that marriage is only between one man and one woman, say that sex is only for within this covenant, call all homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and forbid clergy from performing same-sex union ceremonies or personally being sexually active in any way outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. However, a relatively tiny but very disruptive minority of UMC clergy have been openly defying these policies.
Given the widespread interest in these cases within and beyond my denomination, as well as widespread misunderstanding of how this process actually works, I offer this overview of all of the cases on which the Judicial Council will rule next week. Five of these seven cases are directly related to our controversies over sexual morality.
Last July, delegates in the Western Jurisdiction (one of the five large jurisdictions into which American United Methodism is geographically divided) eventually voted to elect the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto of San Francisco, an openly partnered lesbian, to be bishop, despite the aforementioned policies in the UMC’s governing Book of Discipline.
Oliveto was public about her lesbian partnership since at least 2014, and so the expectation of our church law is that she would have faced accountability for violating the Discipline’s explicit ban on ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” But under California-Nevada Bishop Warner Brown, who retired last year, this did not happen. Oliveto told the media that Bishop Brown “has been very supportive of me and my wife.”
It is proper and important for church leaders and all involved in our denominational discussions to raise such questions as what this election may mean for the Way Forward Commission, why those defending and filing briefs on Oliveto’s behalf were so committed to spending so much time to make sure someone with her bizarre anti-Jesus, pro-demon theology is made a prominent church leader, and why no liberal United Methodist that I’ve seen appears willing to criticize the dictator-like ways in which Oliveto has used the bishop’s office to seek out and attack what she calls “the bad churches” (her actual words!) who hold to official UMC doctrine.
But strictly speaking, the Judicial Council’s rulings next week will not be on such big-picture matters, but rather on much narrower questions of church law. It is even a bit misleading to refer to this case as “the Oliveto case,” as many are doing, since that suggests that this is a sort of trial for Karen Oliveto and that this case is exclusively about her, neither of which is the case.