An Appeal to the Methodist Council to Defer Action on Bishop Oliveto’s Case

By Rev. Frank Schaefer

On this day deliberations have begun by the highest United Methodist judicial body (Judicial Council) whether our first openly gay bishop, Karen Oliveto, can remain in office after being elected and consecrated less than a year ago.

My thoughts and prayers are especially with Bishop Oliveto, as I personally know what it’s like to face the possible loss of your career in front of the Judicial Council. I remember going before this body just two years ago knowing that not only my personal career was at stake, but the fate of so many LGBTQ members including my three gay children. When the ruling came out that I would not be defrocked again, I counted it a victory for the LGBTQ community as much as a personal victory. That was a good day. I was certainly not ready to face another defrocking—an experience I have described with intimate details in my book Defrocked published by Chalice Press.

Our beloved United Methodist Church has been stuck at an impasse over this for many years and show-downs like this are becoming more frequent and more intense. Representatives on both sides of the issue are aware of just how high the stakes are. The biggest fear, which appears to become more real with every show-down is that our denomination could split, splinter and become irrelevant.

I do realize that there there are two sides of course. No matter what the Judicial Council decides, there will be grief. I do realize that the church law, as currently written, forbids the ordination of openly gay persons in relationships (“self-avowed, practicing homosexuals”).

However, it should be clear to everybody after General Conference 2016 that our Conference Delegates have acknowledged that the United Methodist Church is divided over the human sexuality doctrine as currently written. General Conference 2016 voted to authorize the council of bishops to put into place a special commission to determine a way forward.

In my opinion, as long as there is official debate on this doctrinal issue, the Judicial Council should not make a drastic decision. While I personally long for the Council to affirm the election of Bishop Oliveto, I think the wisest outcome of this hearing–given the ongoing Way Forward process–would be to defer action.

I appeal to our Judicial Council to please consider deciding this way. And should a decision be made to defer action, I also appeal to the entire body of our denomination to embrace this ruling. May God be with us in these times of struggle!

For news of the Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri, see here.

Frank Schaefer is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. He is married to Brigitte and has four children. He was educated at Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2013, Frank Schaefer was tried by a United Methodist court for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage and was defrocked over his refusal to uphold the Book of Discipline, which meant virtually to denounce gay marriage rights. In June 2014, a regional appeals committee decided to reinstate him as a minister; in October 2014, the highest court of the United Methodist Church upheld that reinstatement. Now leading a United Methodist campus ministry in California, he is a speaker and human-rights activist.

Order your copy of Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the Methodist Church here.

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