Bishop Bruce R. Ough, incoming president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement about Friday’s episcopal election at the UMC’s Western Jurisdictional Conference, meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz. The conference elected as a new bishop the Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor of Glide UMC in San Francisco, who has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson.”
“This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity,” writes Ough. He points out that while jurisdictions in the U.S. and central conferences elsewhere reserve the constitutional right to elect elders in good standing as their bishops, “being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church.”
“The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely,” Ough assures. But he adds that the council lacks authority to intervene in elections or supervisory processes at any regional level, and it is cautious to not jeopardize anyone’s due process by “ill-advised comments.”
“However, we clearly understand the Church appropriately expects the Council to provide spiritual leadership and for bishops to uphold our consecration vows,” he explains. He cites the statement the full council made in May, prior to General Conference, affirming its commitment “to keep the promises made at our consecrations.”
Those promises include: caring for all people in the church; leading the denomination in its mission and witness, as well as its administration; and promoting unity in Christ. The most recent example of its concern for unity was “An Offering for a Way Forward,” the council’s proposal to the 2016 General Conference to address through a study commission the ongoing, divisive conflict between church law and LGBTQ members’ rights and representation in ministry.
“There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church,” Ough writes. “Others will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been. Still, others will likely see this election as disrupting or even rendering moot the purpose and work of the commission currently being formed by the Council….”
“Though conflicted and fragile, The United Methodist Church remains a strong witness to the transforming love of God and the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ,” he continues. “We affirm that our unity is not defined by our uniformity, but by our compassionate and Spirit-led faithfulness to our covenant with God, Christ’s Church and one another.”
In his statement, Ough defends the study commission still being formed as “the best path” to healing the growing conflict. But, he adds, “An endless cycle of actions, reactions and counter-reactions is not a viable path and tears at the very fabric of our Connection.” He promises that the council will resume work on forming the commission at its July 19-20 scheduled meeting and will issue a progress report shortly afterward.
“Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable,” he concludes. “We are confident God is with us, especially in uncharted times and places. There is a future with hope.”
Read Bishop Ough’s full Council of Bishops statement.
Read all UMNS-published Jurisdictional Conference stories in the Episcopal Elections 2016: News Archives