The United Methodist Council of Bishops will meet July 19-20 in Chicago and will discuss “A Way Forward,” a proposal adopted by the General Conference 2016 calling for the council to appoint a commission to review all portions of the church’s lawbook dealing with human sexuality.
Council of Bishops President Bruce Ough said he believes there’s a strong commitment on the part of the council and the denomination as a whole to “move in a direction that does not reflect some of the intense divisiveness that we’ve seen in fellow mainline denominations.”
Asked if that meant an exit strategy for churches that wish to leave with their property, Ough said “not necessarily.”
“I just think we have to be very, very open to innovation,” he said. “It’s difficult for any organization to be truly open to the spirit and to the imagination of God when we’re in the midst of such great anxiety and fear.”
Ough said he did not foresee newly elected Bishop Karen Oliveto getting ill treatment within the Council of Bishops, based on some members’ opposition to her election.
What will happen with any challenge to the election, such as the South Central Jurisdiction appeal to the Judicial Council for a declaratory judgment, is unclear.
“There are no precise precedents for the drama of this kind of thing where church law specifically says a person in this situation shall not be ordained or appointed and, suddenly, exactly the person described in church law is elected bishop,” said the Rev. William Lawrence, a Perkins School of Theology professor of church history and former president of the denomination’s Judicial Council.
“The bishops, it seems to me, will have to find a way to model a kind of unity in these circumstances if the church has any hope of finding a way to develop a flexible pattern for unity.”