[The editor of Columnist with a View wishes to thank the Reverend St Clair for this article which came in “over the transom.” St Clair submitted his article on our HOME page. Thanks!]
Last month, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church ruled that the consecration of a gay bishop violates church law. The bishop is Karen Oliveto who was married to woman when she was nominated, elected and consecrated by the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC as a leader of the denomination.
UMC members in another region of the country objected. The decision caused some to raise their voices in protest, while others quietly whispered, “Amen”. There has been a fair amount of hand-wringing across the denomination about the effect the decision will have on the unity of the UMC. As a member of the UMC clergy, I offer humbly my observations.
We can probably agree the Gospels do not recount Jesus mentioning anything about homosexuality. I would add that Jesus did not ask his followers to construct church buildings, to appoint bishops, to make rule books and to set up health and pension plans for clergy. The Great Commission does not ask us to build institutions.
To me, those dissatisfied (disgusted) or satisfied (smug) with the decision are both struggling for one thing - control of the institution. Again, to me, this discussion and struggle is not about Jesus, does not involve the Gospel and diverts attention from the coming reign of God. Instead, the argument about same-sex relations leads inextricably to one side winning and the other side losing.
Jesus offers guidance in such matters, instructing against such “win-lose” discussions. Jesus told his disciples that when they run into people who oppose them, then they are not to argue and fuss, but instead knock the dust off their sandals and move on.
With that message in mind, the Methodist rule book, as interpreted by the Judicial Council, states that a bishop cannot be in a married same-sex relationship. So, should Bishop Oliveto consider knocking the dust from her sandals and move on? Such a move would require her to give up her $150,000 yearly salary, her house, her car, her travel, her expense account and other benefits, and look for another place to serve.
I anticipate the LGBTQIAPK community exclaim it is unjust that Oliveto and others sharing her situation are being run out of the church because of their orientation. The call is to stay and struggle against such injustice and systems of oppression. And the LGBTQIAPK community asks politely that we ignore that they who stay and struggle maintain their $150,000 yearly salaries, their houses, their cars, their travels, their expense accounts and other benefits while fighting against injustice.
With this stated, the question then is whether Oliveto and others sharing her situation will stay or go? I can imagine Jesus looking at that question and shaking his head, seeing it akin to children arguing over who gets to make the rules for the clubhouse in the back yard. But the children don’t see it as a clubhouse, but rather consider the institution as monumental and substantial, like the Titanic. UMC professionals are bailing frantically to right the institutional ship that is seemingly taking on water. They bail because their pots are filled with meat and they eat all the bread they want while aboard the institutional ship. Sinking means losing the safety and security of the boat and getting out on the water where they could take their eyes off Jesus and flounder.
Hopefully the UMC can regain some perspective, away from win-lose propositions, and ask different questions - more important questions - like:
Is the UMC serving the Gospel, or is the institution using the Gospel to serve itself?
If the UMC is serving the Gospel, then is it time to assess the continued usefulness of the institution?
Is the institution helping the project of making disciples, or is it getting in the way?
Jesus addressed another religious institution years ago that was getting in the way of bringing people into right relationship with God, telling his disciples that ‘not one stone will be left standing’. As stated in the movie Jaws, “I think we are going to need a bigger boat.”