Law vs. Spirit: United Methodist Court Rules Against Lesbian Bishop

04/29/2017 02:31 am ET Updated May 01, 2017

This evening, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church announced it’s ruling on Decision 1341, declaring that the consecration of the openly LGBT+ Bishop Karen Oliveto was against church law as set forth in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

This decision comes as a shock to many both within and outside the United Methodist Church. Many have watched Karen Oliveto’s trajectory as a spirited minister at Glide Memorial Church, one of the UMC’s largest congregations, through the process of being elected and taking the office of Bishop in the Mountain Sky Area. She has served faithfully, skillfully, and honorably, a truly exemplary image of what it looks like to be a Bishop.

But tonight, in one swift ruling from the Judicial Council, Bishop Oliveto’s job is being placed on line as she is brought up on review, and ultimately will be removed and replaced. Not because she is unqualified, not because she has been unfaithful, but because she is openly LGBT+ and married to a woman.

In virtually any other sector of society, such a ruling would be seen as unethical at the least, if not illegal. Discriminating against an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity is a fundamental assault on their dignity as a human being. Today, the United Methodist Church has solidified it’s place in history, siding with forces of discrimination and oppression against the LGBT+ community, an action that I am certain will be deeply mourned and regretted in the not too distant future.

The Judicial Council’s ruling is much bigger than one Bishop of one conference of one denomination. It sends a message to LGBT+ people around the world that one of the largest (and historically, most socially progressive) Christian denominations believes that we are less than because of who God created us to be. It sends a message that we are not equal in the eyes of God or the church, and that we are not fit to be leaders if we are open and honest about our sexuality (“self-avowed”) and if we ever fall in love with a partner of the same gender. (“practicing”)

While many traditionalists United Methodists are likely rejoicing at this show of “faithfulness” of the Judicial Council tonight, I ask them to consider one thing. Our Lord Jesus Christ spent most of his life and ministry preaching against and intentionally breaking “traditions” and “laws” set forth by religious authorities in his day that oppressed and threatened the dignity of the marginalized. By arguing that the church must uphold the arbitrary laws of the Book of Discipline (which is the entire case that has been brought against Bishop Oliveto), and demanding that those who love differently than you be excluded from leadership in the church, you are siding not with Jesus, but with the Pharisee’s and the teachers of the law, the ancient force of religious oppression.

It is my hope that the Western Jurisdiction takes the position of Jesus, and decides that the arbitrary laws of man cannot trump the call of the Holy Spirit. It is my hope that somehow, Bishop Karen Oliveto will remain the faithful, skilled, qualified, and called Bishop that she is. It is my prayer that the Mountain Sky Are and the Western Jurisdiction will be bold and brave in the coming days, not allowing this decision to dictate their practice of equality and inclusion of all of God’s Children.

The entirety of Christian teaching points us towards a trajectory of greater inclusion, greater equality, and greater welcome. Today’s decision has postured the United Methodist Church in the opposite trajectory, moving further and further from Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God. While no one is sure what the future holds and what actions will be taken by the Western Jurisdiction in response to the Judicial Council’s decision, of one thing we can be sure. This is only a setback. Today, the law won, but the Spirit will have the final word.

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the law but of the Spirit; for the law kills, but the Spirit gives life.

- 2 Corinthians 3:5-6

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