Photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications
Judicial Council 2016-2020
Members of the 2016-2020 Judicial Council. (From left) Front: Ruben T. Reyes, N. Oswald Tweh Sr., the Rev. Luan-Vu Tran. Back row: Deanell Reece Tacha, Lídia Romão Gulele, the Rev.Øyvind Helliesen, the Rev. Dennis Blackwell, and the Rev. J. Kabamba Kiboko. (Not pictured, Beth Capen)
Groups and individuals who either support or reject The United Methodist Church's stance on homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching" are gearing up for the April 25-28 session of the denomination's "high court," the Judicial Council.
Three of the seven items on the Judicial Council's spring docket deal directly with church rules that ban "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from serving as ordained clergy. The most high-profile complaint pits one U.S. jurisdiction against another over the election of an openly lesbian clergywoman as a bishop.
The South Central Jurisdiction brought a complaint last summer against the Western Jurisdiction's election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, who has been consecrated a bishop and currently serves in the Denver-based Mountain Sky Area, encompassing the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone annual conferences. The South Central Jurisdiction complaint is the first item on the council's Spring 2017 docket.
While the South Central complaint doesn't involve Bishop Oliveto directly, the Judicial Council's ruling will affect her continued service as a resident episcopal leader. The denomination's "high court" has deemed the issue significant enough to hold a rare open hearing on the matter.
According to a press release from the Council, an oral hearing will begin at 9 a.m. (EDT) on April 25 at the Newark Penn Station Hilton Hotel, 1048 Raymond Boulevard, Newark, N.J. Otherwise, the Council's deliberations are closed. "The Council has secured the largest available room in order to offer hospitality to the greatest extent possible for those who wish to observe," the press release said.
Representatives of Dixie Brewster, the South Central Jurisdiction delegate who brought the complaint, will have 60 minutes to present arguments, followed by 15 minutes of questions from the Judicial Council. Then representatives of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, which accepted, consecrated and assigned Bishop Oliveto, will have 60 minutes for a arguments, followed by another 15-minute question session with Council members.
Outside the hearing, several advocacy groups that favor inclusion of LGBTQ people in United Methodist membership and leadership are expected to demonstrate their support for changing the church's stance.
As of April 20, no conservative groups had announced plans to demonstrate at the Judicial Council hearing. The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, executive director of the Good News evangelical caucus, was on vacation and unavailable to answer an email inquiry from United Methodist Insight. Good News Magazine, the voice of the unofficial caucus, published a wrap-up in its March 2017 issue supporting Ms. Brewster's complaint.
The Rev Jeff Greenaway, a spokesman for the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a newly organized conservative organization, responded to Insight's inquiry.
"No, the Wesleyan Covenant Association will not be advocating for or participating in any demonstrations at the Judicial Council," Rev. Greenaway wrote. "That would not be our style.
"We will not be issuing any statements prior to the Judicial Council meeting or their decision, but will likely issue a statement on the decision when it is announced."
LGBTQ advocacy groups that have announced their intentions to demonstrate are Reconciling Ministries Network, Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), a New York-based group Methodists in New Directions (MIND) and a group formed in the past year, United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus.
Reconciling Ministries has announced plans to livestream the demonstrations outside the Judicial Council meeting. Judicial Council rules forbid any video or audio recording or social media distribution from its open hearings.
No Such Law
Reconciling Ministries has called for its network communities to join in worship around a theme, #NoSuchLaw, on Sunday, April 23. The observance is based on Galatians 5:22-23, contending that there's "no such law" against the fruits of the Spirit typically demonstrated by LGBTQ Christians. A toolkit for the observance is available online.
Cynthia B. Astle serves as Editor and Founder of United Methodist Insight.