United Methodist Church to Decide if LGBT Members Can Be Part of the Clergy

The United Methodist Church is set to make a “declaratory decision” as to whether or not an LGBT person can serve as an ordained minister.
Karen Oliveto is the first openly lesbian elected bishop of the United Methodist Church. Her election has caused ripples across the denomination. Facebook/Karen Oliveto

The United Methodist Church is set to make a "declaratory decision" as to whether or not an LGBT person can serve as an ordained minister.

The church's Judicial Council will hold an oral hearing on April 25 "regarding the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as bishop of a person who claims to be a 'self-avowed practicing homosexual' or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage or civil union," the UMC announced on its website.

The hearing will be held in response to a request for a declaratory decision from the South Central Jurisdiction regarding the issue.

In July 2016, lay delegate Dixie Brewster from the Great Plains filed a motion to request the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision, and 109 members voted to push through with it.  

The request was made shortly after Karen Oliveto, an openly lesbian bishop, was consecrated. Oliveto has been married to long-term lesbian partner Robin Ridenour for two years. They had been in a relationship for more than 17 years.

Brewster said she didn't want UMC churches to leave the denomination because of the issue.

"I believe the United Methodist Church is so much bigger than this issue," she said. "I would love for us to focus on mission and ministry and all of those great things we have in the connection."

However, the consecration of Oliveto was, for her, a "blatant approach to misrepresent us as a denomination, as the Book of Discipline has been totally ignored in this case."

The UMC's Book of Discipline states that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

In a letter addressed to the church, Council of Bishops president Bruce Ough urged everyone to uphold the church's unity and mission as it addresses the concern. He also clarified that whatever the Judicial Council's decision, it will not change the Book of Discipline.

He asked the church to "pray unceasingly, intentionally and earnestly" and to "pray that God will empty you of all your pre-conceived solutions and preferences so that the Holy Spirit can rush in and fill you with new possibilities, new hope, new lifewith new possibilities, new hope, new life."

The consecration of Oliveto has caused "stress" to some congregations of the UMC. An announcement made by the Western Jurisdiction earlier this year said that it resulted in loss of members and lack of funds as some members withdrew their financial support.

"With the election, consecration, and appointment of Bishop Karen Oliveto this summer, the Western Jurisdiction crossed a new threshold in our search to live into being the church we believe God is calling us to be - a church embracing all of God's children and empowering every follower to fully live into their God-given vocation," the announcement said. 

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