From the Desk of Bishop Mark J. Webb: Judicial Council decision
May 5, 2017 / By Bishop Mark J. Webb
Editor’s Note: On May 5 Bishop Mark J. Webb sent the following letter about the recent Judicial Council ruling that it is not lawful to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual as bishop to the Upper New York Conference.
Dear Sisters and Brothers of Upper New York,
Grace and peace to you in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ!
Last weekend, the Judicial Council released its decision regarding whether a Bishop may be a self-avowed homosexual. There have been many responses, reactions and interpretations of this ruling shared through social media and other forms of communication. I am returning from the Council of Bishops gathering in Dallas, TX and after reviewing this decision and listening carefully to the chancellor for the Council of Bishops as he offered interpretation, I wanted to share this letter. I apologize in advance for its length.
The Judicial Council ruled that it is not lawful to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual as bishop. In their ruling they noted that self-avowal does not nullify the consecration of a Bishop or remove the Bishop from office, but is sufficient to subject the Bishop's ministerial office to review.
Their ruling stated:
"Although a self-avowed practicing homosexual cannot be legally consecrated a Bishop, self-avowal does not nullify the consecration and cause removal from office but amounts to a sufficient declaration to subject such person's membership in his or her ministerial office to review under [Paragraph 413] of The Discipline."
The Judicial Council further ruled that a clergy person who has declared to be in a same gender relationship is a declaration that the individual is a self-avowed practicing homosexual and therefore their ministerial office must be reviewed.
In essence the Judicial Council based its decisions on The Book of Discipline's prohibition of self-avowed practicing gay and lesbian persons serving as clergy, including in the role of bishop. However, Bishop Karen Oliveto is protected by the fair process provisions of the constitution of the church and is in good standing until a review process determines otherwise. Currently Bishop Oliveto's ministerial office is under review in the complaint process.
Our beloved United Methodist Church continues to travel through anxious and uncertain times. I know the decision of the Judicial Council has been received in various ways. For some in Upper New York it brings the order they seek while for others it brings added hurt and pain. May we care for one another with grace and integrity. I ask you to continue to pray for the whole church, one another and for Bishop Oliveto and the people she shares ministry with.
Let me again share words I offered just last week:
While the work of the Judicial Council is significant and has impact upon our common life, I urge us to see this week as simply one part of the whole work that is before us as a denomination. The Commission on a Way Forward, commissioned by the Council of Bishops and authorized by the General Conference, is working diligently to help us find God's way forward for The United Methodist Church, specifically in our fractures around homosexuality.
While you may be tempted to allow the decisions made this week to guide your sense of the future, I beg you not to do so. Whatever the Judicial Council decides, it is the work of the Commission on a Way Forward, acted upon by a special session of the General Conference, which will be the most important decision point for these critical matters.
Let us continue to seek the heart of Christ; seek to love and understand one another as we experience and then offer to the world, the amazing grace of God. Our future is in God. May we remain open, willing, and able to be led into that future through the power of the Holy Spirit!
You continue in my prayers!
Mark J. Webb