Judicial Council Spring 2017 Explainer

Last week’s Judicial Council decisions were confusing to many of us. In order to better understand the ramifications of the Council’s actions, we are sharing this brief explanation, breaking down both the rulings and what they suggest as we move forward. Written and shared via permission of longtime MIND friend Kevin Nelson.

Methodist Judicial Council rulings explainer:

In Bishop Karen Oliveto‘s case, the JC has ruled a few things.

  1. Bishop Karen is still a bishop. (We have constitutionally protected fair process rights, so think of an “innocent until proven guilty” sort of thing. Bishop Karen’s membership was in good standing at the time of her election.)
  2. “Practicing,” in the term “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” got more complicated. As a legal principle, it was sort of expanded to include married to a same-sex partner. The “sort of” is that the primary legal threshold is still about “sexual genital contact,” but the JC has determined that it will go with the working assumption (or “rebuttable presumption” as they put it) that married people are having sex (basically, you can think of it as, “guilty until proven innocent”).
    [Note: Another way of thinking about this is that the JC has dared many of our queer, partnered clergy to lie about their sex lives, and bet that they won’t do it. Take a moment to let it sink in how sick that is. And all the ways in which it is sick.]
  3. Marriage licenses now qualify for self-avowal (doesn’t that make “self-avowal” kind of an oxymoron now?).
  4. Bishop Karen’s continuation as a bishop is under review, with the above matters to be taken into account and the intention that she be removed from office at a later date either as part of a just resolution or via penalty from a church trial.

In case it wasn’t already clear, this is what ugliness masked in piety looks like. This is what discrimination and oppression look like.

Bottom line: did the Western Jurisdiction mean it when they responded to the Holy Spirit’s movement and elected Karen a bishop? The JC has issued them a challenge. Will they accept it?


  1. A “just resolution” can be offered to Bishop Karen that strives to offer healing to all the pertinent parties that have been wronged throughout this process. Such a resolution would retain Bishop Karen in the episcopal office.
  2. If a resolution isn’t achieved, a trial court can decline to find Bishop Karen guilty. Perhaps they won’t find the “presumption” of sexual activity sufficient for “beyond a reasonable doubt” (not an actual UM legal principle but still worth learning from). Perhaps they won’t be quite so convinced that the Holy Spirit’s actions through this election were immoral and an unacceptable violation of UM teachings.
  3. Perhaps no matter what happens, the WJ College of Bishops, the WJ episcopacy committee and the Sky Mountain Episcopal Area will continue to recognize Bishop Karen’s election and receive her as an episcopal leader.

Will the relevant WJ bodies say, “Challenge accepted!”?

In the NY case (and I understand N IL is the same, though I don’t have the text yet), the BOOM was told they have to consider all relevant aspects of church law when evaluating candidates for ordained ministry, including provisions barring the certification and ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Nothing new here. For BOOMs and members of BOOMs that believe such church laws are unjust, immoral and destructively harmful, the JC has issued you a challenge. Will you continue to embrace the moral imperative to resist and not be complicit in propping up such laws? Will you embrace this manifestation of “resist[ing] evil and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves”?

Will you say, “Challenge accepted?”

Resistance is never easy, but especially for those of us who aren’t queer, we’ll probably never know what it is truly like to experience such church-sanctioned discrimination and oppression, cloaked in words of piety. We will probably never know how hard that experience really is. The resistance called of us is easy in comparison. To put this another way, this is an instance of a call to love our neighbors.

Do we say, “Challenge accepted”?