Breathe Deep, Jesus is Still Lord! ©

2016-South-Central-Jurisdiction-Conference-logoI returned home from the recently concluded South Central Jurisdictional Conference last night (Sunday, July 17). During the conference, we elected three fine new bishops – Bishops Ruben Saenz, Jr., Jimmy Nunn, and Bob Farr. I am blessed and honored to be reassigned to the Central Texas Conference of the Fort Worth Episcopal Area for a third quadrennium. Along with the whole of the UMC, we also received news of the election of Karen Oliveto as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction.

Bishop Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson” who “has been legally married to Robin Ridenour for more than two years.” Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, noted in his statement on her election that “this election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.”

People from across the United Methodist Church have responded to her election with a wide spectrum of reactions. For some, this is cause for great rejoicing. For others, it is a signal that the United Methodist Church is breaking apart in its refusal to honor The Discipline (church doctrine and law) of the United Methodist Church. 

Wherever you find yourself in the vast spectrum from celebration to despair, I urge you to breathe deep.  Jesus is still Lord! 

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. (Ephesians 1:22)  Colossians 1:18 tells us that “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” Christ still reigns and rules. Gabriel is neither heralding the establishment of the Kingdom of God from the rooftop of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco (the church where Bishop Oliveto was Sr. Pastor prior to her election) nor playing Taps over the disintegration of the denomination. 

It is important to not overreact. Good honorable faithful Christians will disagree on how we are to respond. Catch your breath, pause, pray. The Holy Scriptures commend us to “be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone” (Titus 3:2).

The Bishops of the Church remain committed to the process of the Commission on Human Sexuality as established by General Conference. The validity of Bishop’s Oliveto’s election will be appropriately addressed via the normal judicial process in the United Methodist Church. Bishops do not have the authority nor power to rule on the validity of Bishop Oliveto’s election.  That authority is reserved for the Jurisdictional (U.S.) and Central (outside U.S.) Conferences and subject to review by the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council has indicated that it may hear the petition of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference seeking a declaratory judgment on the validity of Bishop Oliveto’s election at its October meeting. The current doctrine and Discipline of the United Methodist Church remains the same.

I will be flying out early tomorrow morning (July 19) to a previously scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops. A primary item on the agenda of the Executive Committee is the establishment of the Commission on Human Sexuality. As a group we are mindful of the issues at stake and working together to seek God’s will and purpose.

Bishop OlivetoOn a personal note, Jolynn and I had the privilege of getting to know Bishop Oliveto at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church, Oxford, England in 2013. I found her to be a thoughtful, gracious Christ-follower committed to being faithful as best she understands the Christian faith. Later back in the United States, I had the opportunity for a follow-up conversation with her on a subject near and dear to my heart and life witness – evangelism. Once again, I experienced her to be gracious, thoughtful and committed to Christ.  While Bishop Oliveto and I sharply disagree on matters of human sexuality, we are colleagues in Christ. I ask all of us to resist attempts to demonize others.

There is hurt, pain, and grief that runs the gamut on these vexing and contentious issues. Respect each other, especially those you honestly and sincerely disagree with. Let the counsel of Philippians 4 guide you: “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:6-9).

Breathe deep. Jesus is still Lord! I commend to the reader Bishop Bruce Ough’s response on behalf of the Council of Bishops. I fully intend to allow the process to take place and abide by whatever decision is reached. Until then, I continue to keep Bishop Oliveto, the Western and South Central Jurisdictions and all United Methodists firmly in my prayers. My own stance in upholding the current language in The Discipline has not changed. The Lord God is with us all!

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