Bishops Cite Obligation to LGBTQ Community to Seek Reconsideration

DENVER – The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops contends the denomination’s top court had exceeded its authority in April when it expanded church law barring LGBTQ persons from seeking ordination as clergy in the church.

In a brief filed with the Judicial Council on Monday, June 12, the jurisdiction asked the Judicial Council to reconsider portions of its April 28 decision in which the council found the consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto to be lawful.

The council’s decision left intact Bishop Oliveto’s status as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of the church, an area encompassing 400 churches in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana and a small slice of Idaho. However, the decision created new law that affects LGBTQ United Methodists around the world.

“The Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops believes it has an obligation to the wider LGBTQ community within the church and beyond to point out the fundamental errors contained in this decision,” said Richard Marsh, counsel to the jurisdiction.

Marsh, in the formal brief filed with the Judicial Council wrote that “the matters for which reconsideration are sought are not central to the decision’s basic holding that the consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto by the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops was lawful, and indeed mandated by the (Book of) Discipline, Nonetheless, the matters for which reconsideration are sought cannot be allowed to stand in the light of their fundamental violation of the Discipline.”

In the 12-page brief filed with the Judicial Council, the bishops contended the Judicial Council:

  • Unlawfully changed the definition of “self-avowal” in church law by allowing a marriage license between a same-sex couple to be used as evidence against LGBTQ persons that are in ministry or seeking to become candidates for ministry. This action, the bishops contend, runs counter to earlier Judicial Council decisions that only the General Conference, the church’s top legislative body, could change that definition.

Click here to read and download the WJ College of Bishops’ Motion to reconsider Decision No. 1341 

“The decision unlawfully legislates when it changes the disciplinary definition of ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual’ to include self-avowal of sexual practice by inference or public record,” wrote Richard Marsh, the jurisdiction’s counsel, in the brief.

Prior to April, according to the Book of Discipline, self-avowal is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.

  • Unlawfully violated the historic presumptions of innocence in church law by creating a presumption of self-avowal based on the existence of a marriage license and an inference of sexual practice. This new standard assumes guilt and removes the church’s burden to prove that church law had been broken.

“In the context of this decision, a clergy person does not bear the burden to prove the absence of sexual practice. Instead, the church bears the burden of proving sexual practice … The Judicial Council cannot judicially legislate a factual presumption of sexual practice,” the filing states.

  • By allowing the use of a same-sex marriage license as a presumption of self-avowal, the Judicial Council unlawfully created a new chargeable offense. The Decision thereby equates the fact of a same gender marriage with a chargeable offense. “The Judicial Council is without authority to expand the list of chargeable offenses. Only the General Conference can declare that same gender marriage is a chargeable offense, and it has not done so despite opportunity,” the brief states.
  • Unlawfully treated the United Methodist Social Principles as church law by stating in its decision that the Social Principles “have the effect of church law” when they are treated as “ideals” but are not church law by disciplinary definition.

Stephen Drachler

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