I have a great concern about unity in the United Methodist Church, believing strongly that Jesus came so people would have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) So when things occur that threaten unity, I bristle and pray. Sometimes I may even try to avoid talking about the matters because I know some people will be hurt. I have never believed that this is Jesus’ intention.
I bring this up because during the month of April, 2017, the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled on an appeal to the action by the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church electing an openly gay bishop. The appeal was based on the premise that such an election violated church law. Indeed, the United Methodist Church’s highest court has ruled that the consecration of its first openly gay bishop violated church law. The church’s Judicial Council found that a married lesbian bishop and those who consecrated her were in violation of their “commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality.” Still, the court ruled that the bishop, Karen P. Oliveto of Denver, “remains in good standing” pending further proceedings. But it also raised the prospect of a suspension or forced retirement.
Such a ruling has made some in the church believe that the battle ground is set for a church split. Others, like myself, are not so sure what this will mean. Oh, there are certain channels in place to handle procedure in this one case, but what it means for the future is very much something that is up in the air.
To complicate matters, two factions of United Methodism have arisen to help clarify various positions and to help people know that there are others in the United Methodist Church who feel like they do. One such group has been around for awhile and is called Reconciling Ministries. A second has arisen over the past year called the Wesleyan Covenant Association.
Interestingly, when I was away on vacation on May 7th, I went to a friend’s church for worship. His church had decided they were going to align themselves with the Wesleyan Covenant Association. This was announced and preached on in that service. At the end of the service, one of the leaders of the church had come over to talk with me, and she asked upon learning I was a United Methodist pastor, if my church was going to align with the Wesleyan Covenant Association? I politely told her that at this time, my church was not taking any action in that regard. I believe if we picked to align either with the Reconciling Ministries Group or the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a choice for either would anger 20% of the congregation. (And 60% of us would be angry that we were forced to make a choice that hurt 20% of our congregation.)
So where does this put our church as I conclude my Reese’s Pieces for June? Well, I hope it is praying for the church and for the unity of the church. I personally hope we do not split. I also would share that there is a task force appointed by the Council of Bishops to lead us through the complicated issue. And in 2019, there will be a special General Conference convened to address this matter.
I still believe in the power of God and the Holy Spirit to work in such a way that abundant life will still continue as we strive to live for Jesus. And when it is all said and done, it is my hope that my life is lived with Jesus at its center, and all else is influenced by Him.