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Decision No. 1341

April 29, 2017

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

Dear Friends,

As you may know, last night Decision 1341 of the United Methodist Judicial Council was announced. Essentially the court’s decision indicated that the consecration of a bishop who is a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” is against church law. Bishop Oliveto is to remain in good standing until an administrative or judicial process can be undertaken in response to this decision. To be clear, the final consequences of the decision are not yet fully determined and I do remain somewhat hopeful that the will of the Western Jurisdiction may yet find a way to prevail. For more information about the decision, and further links to the actual document click here.

This morning, I am writing to you without knowing exactly what can and will yet transpire, but write I must. Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is one of the official 13 UMC seminaries listed in our Book of Discipline. We benefit from the financial support of the denomination and this is a great blessing to us. Some mainline denominations do not financially support their seminaries at all and this contributes to the struggle of many of these denominationally affiliated schools.

I am proud of the emphasis on education that has been part of our “movement” since John and Charles Wesley studied at Oxford. And, I am very proud of our 119 UMC affiliated schools and colleges in the US, including our seminaries, a number of HBCU’s, and Meharry Medical school whose President, Dr. James Hildreth, will speak at our commencement service on Friday, May 12. In addition, we have hundreds of schools around the world, including Africa University in Zimbabwe. We are a denomination that has valued providing excellent education all around the world. Our strength in this is in part due to our connectional polity.

We are under the authority of the Book of Discipline as one of the 13 schools officially charged with theological education for the denomination. And, we shall remain obedient to the Book of Discipline in this regard.

Even so, I am compelled to write to you from my heart and not as a president trying to fairly counterbalance many competing perspectives. To put it mildly, I am profoundly disappointed in the Judicial Council’s decision. Other arguments and interpretations were offered that could have resulted in a different decision, but did not prevail. And while, Bishop Oliveto was not named in the petition that went to the Judicial Council, the decision directly affects her ministry, right now.

Perhaps what upsets me the most is that the unusual “gifts and grace” of the ministerial leadership she has provided during all of her years of ordained ministry go unrecognized in this moment – as well as the effectiveness of these gifts most powerfully manifested in the recent 8 years she served as lead pastor of Glide Memorial (our fifth largest congregation in the US, serving so many, many people in need each week). Appropriately so, the Judicial Council’s task was not to recognize any one person’s gifts for ministry, but was solely focused on making a legal decision.

Nonetheless, it makes me sick, and angry, that we are still spending so much time and energy on this matter which is so far removed from the spirit of the “Sermon on the Mount,” or the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ unto all the ends of the earth, or the call to care for the poor, the naked, the hungry, the widow, the orphan, the imprisoned. I don't wear the bracelet, but really . . . “What would Jesus do?”  Why can we not celebrate these calls to ordained ministry and give thanks to God for all the gifted persons willing to dedicate their lives to the ministry of Jesus Christ?

I speak as a layperson, fully aware of and responsive to the call upon all baptized Christians to be in ministry. We know that ministry is not only for the ordained. However, the ordained are charged with a certain division of labor and certain kinds of responsibility that are necessarily unique and privileged, providing authoritative platform and opportunity for the expression of leadership desperately needed by the church and the world. Why do we persist in eliminating this particular expression of call for some people who demonstrate the “gifts and grace,” thus robbing the church and the world of the full impact of their service?

There is no escaping the intense disagreement among Christian brothers and sisters with convictions running so deep that our denomination is on the verge of splitting apart. Many of our students, staff and faculty are upset, disappointed, and angry. Some are relieved. And, some shake their heads in bewilderment that as a denomination we still remain in such a quagmire. This is the complexity of the Garrett-Evangelical family and one that I continue to honor.

Dean Rivera, Dean Reynolds, and I are working together to plan a time of gathering for our community to discuss the decision and to pray. I have invited Rev. Dean Francis, lead pastor at First UMC in Evanston, to join us. Dr. Barry Bryant, one of our resident experts on UM polity, will also be present to help us understand formal processes the church will undertake as next steps. And, I note that our Queer Seminarians group is just announcing a worship experience this Tuesday, May 2nd, at 1:30 p.m. in the seminary’s lobby.

In the meantime, wherever you stand on this matter and in the midst of our disagreement, may I encourage all of us to engage each other with the charity of Christian hearts and minds as we tend to our communal life at Garrett-Evangelical. My door remains open!

Lallene Rector