The Future of The United Methodist Church?
Salem is a vibrant, fruitful, and growing congregation. Our denomination, The United Methodist Church, however, is struggling. Therefore, our Council of Bishops announced a special General Conference in February of 2019. This special meeting of our denomination’s top lawmaking assembly will be limited to acting on a report by the Council of Bishops, based on the proposals from the Commission on the Way Forward. The 32-member commission, appointed by the bishops after last year’s General Conference and has been tasked with finding ways for our denomination to stay together despite deep differences around homosexuality.
In the meantime, the Judicial Council met in New Jersey and made some pertinent decisions. The Judicial Council is The United Methodist Church’s top court. Denominationally, we are structured much like the United States government. We have an executive branch (the Council of Bishops), a legislative branch (General Conference), and a judicial branch (the Judicial Council).
Furthermore, in our country, our Annual Conferences are grouped together regionally in Jurisdictions. Salem is part of the Iowa Annual Conference which, in turn, is part of the North Central Jurisdiction.
One of the items on the Judicial Council docket is the consideration of the Western Jurisdiction’s election in July 2016 of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who is legally married to another woman. Our Book of Discipline bans same-sex weddings and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
So there was a request from the South Central Jurisdiction for a decision regarding her election since she claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and is a spouse in a same-sex marriage.
Some were hoping that the Judicial Council would rule her election unconstitutional because of our clergy standards. Others were hoping her election would be ruled valid because she was in good standing in her Annual Conference.
Our own episcopal leader, Bishop Laurie Haller, asked us to pray. “No matter what the decision is, we will not all agree with each other. Some United Methodists will celebrate, but other faithful United Methodists will feel deep hurt and disenfranchisement."
The Judicial Council ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop violated church law, however, Bishop Oliveto remains a bishop until another administrative or judicial is completed. In other words, our top court ruled it was wrong for her to be consecrated a bishop, but they don't have the authority to remove her. That's a different process.
Furthermore, a group of United Methodists has formed the Wesleyan Covenant Association, pastors, lay leaders, and congregations committed to the Wesleyan expression of orthodox Christianity. The WCA’s intention is not to become a new denomination, hoping instead that our denomination can remain united. They are asking, though, whether we are truly united or if we are two churches pretending to live as one. The WCA has urged the Commission on the Way Forward to either find a way for United Methodists to live together with integrity and accountability or reach the conclusion that our differences are so deep that unity is no longer possible and prepare the church to split.
I have not spoken much at Salem about what is happening in our denomination. But I think it’s important to let you know what’s going on in the wider church, and Bishop Laurie is encouraging us to pray for the work of the Commission on the Way Forward, and we are invited to pray this week with all Iowa United Methodists for this process (see http://umcprays.org).
There are many questions without answers, currently. Is it possible for The United Methodist Church to remain together, to be one Church, if we aren’t of one mind regarding the authority and interpretation of scripture around human sexuality? If we can’t remain together, how would we split apart? How would any of this affect Salem?
Please let me know if you would like more information or want to talk about this. And please pray for our Church.