The United Methodist Church’s highest court ruled on Friday that consecrating a practicing gay bishop is a violation of the denomination’s law.
In the 6-to-3 ruling, the UMC’s Judicial Council referred to the denomination’s bylaws, known as the Book of Discipline, saying that it “requires all clergy persons make a complete dedication to the highest ideals of the Christian life, including but not limited to, their commitment to abide by and uphold the Church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality.”
“An openly homosexual and partnered bishop is in violation of these minimum standards,” the ruling states.
However, the Judicial Council added that the bishop’s “constitutional right to fair and due process must be protected,” and that her position will be maintained until the full disciplinary process against her is completed.
Though the petition to the court did not name a specific bishop, it revolved mainly around Rev. Karen Oliveto, who was consecrated as bishop in July of 2016 by the Western Jurisdiction to oversee churches in the Mountain Sky Area of the UMC. This region includes churches in the states of Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and one church in Idaho.
The South Central Jurisdiction brought the petition to the Judicial Council, asking the Council to decide whether the consecration of an openly homosexual clergy is in violation of the Book of Discipline.
The issues surrounding human sexuality have been divisive in the denomination over the years. In the 2016 General Conference, the highest decision-making body in the UMC, the denomination was set to decide whether it will make homosexuality acceptable. However, it instead opted to form a commission that would deliberate on the issue. The General Conference, which usually meets once every four years, will have a special meeting in 2019 specifically regarding issues on sexuality.
Bishop Bruce Ough, the president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, encouraged members of the UMC to “honor the Judicial Council ruling.”
“Yet,” Ough added, “we acknowledge that the decision does not help to ease the disagreements, impatience and anxiety that permeates The United Methodist Church over the matter of human sexuality, and particularly this case. Our compassion and prayers of intercession extend to all those who are hurt, relieved, confused or fearful.”
“We urge you to join your bishops in daily prayers for all United Methodists and for the denomination as we tenderly hold the unity and mission of the church in our hearts and hands,” said Ough.