By Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto
Attending the Western Jurisdictional Conference after General Conference is a soothing balm, a family reunion, and a pep rally all wrapped up together as we seek to understand what it means to do and be church in the unique social location of the western United States.
As it has in previous jurisdictional conferences, the WJ continued its unwavering commitment to full inclusion in The United Methodist Church. Reaffirming the 2004 We Shall Not Be Silent resolution, the WJ once again committed itself to radical and extravagant hospitality, particularly to the poor, those with physical, emotional, and developmental disabilities, those of different races and ethnicities, and those who are lgbtqia.
Several resolutions were passed that reaffirmed and strengthened previous positions including:
- A call to biblical obedience: Understanding that God’s grace and love are available to all persons, the WJ is on record as believing that the UMC is in error in its position that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. As a result, the WJ calls on bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings the challenge to operate as if the statement in Paragraph 161F does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.
- An apology: As a result of the spiritual violence towards glbtqia persons caused by the actions of General Conference, the WJ passed a resolution calling for letters to the editor of the major papers within the jurisdiction, apologizing for the actions of GC, acknowledging that GC’s actions continue to dehumanize and demonize our lgbtqia sisters and brothers.
- Concrete plans: The delegates urged the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops to develop a concrete plan of action for the WJ, so that it may uphold full inclusion in every aspect of our ministry.
- Recommended penalty: The delegates recommended that if any bishop in the WJ is charged, tried, and convicted of ordaining or appointing a ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual”, an appropriate penalty for the trial court to assign would be a suspension from the exercise of the episcopal office for a period of 24 consecutive hours.
The Jurisdiction as a whole is seeking more fluid conference boundaries as we work to strengthen our ministries and witness in the West. A time of Appreciative Inquiry provided an opportunity to explore ways we can do this, through 10 action groups. One group worked on Biblical Obedience. All ten groups were not only encouraged but empowered by the WJ and the Western Jurisdictional Leadership Team to continue to develop and implement their plans.
For many years, the WJ delegates have passed lgbtqia-affirming positions. However, this was the first year that there was greater solidarity between the delegates and the bishops. Bishop after bishop spoke of his or her disappointment with GC actions regarding lgbtqia persons. Then, when the WJ College of Bishops announced their assignments, retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was assigned the “Strategic Plan for Biblical Obedience”. It should be noted, however, that there was no explanation about what this position or plan might be, although one can assume it is related to Bishop Talbert’s call for justice at GC, when he declared that the Book of Discipline is wrong on issues related to homosexuality and that we are called to bold biblical obedience as we provide ministry with/for/to/by all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
While in previous years the WJ has made positive declarations related to full inclusion, this was the first time that it seemed as if we are going to do more than just talk. Across the UMC connection, people look to the WJ to provide prophetic and faithful leadership in this matter. So many United Methodists are suffocating in closets in other conferences. The actions of the WJ literally become a matter of life or death.
Dr. Karen Oliveto is the Senior Pastor at Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco, CA and a Western Jurisdictional delegate from the California-Nevada Annual Conference.