An Open Letter from the Chair of the New York Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry

An Open Letter from the Chair of the New York Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry

11/4/2016


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
 
Over the past few days, members of the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) of The United Methodist Church, especially members of its Board of Ordained Ministry, (BOOM) have awaited the Judicial Council’s decision regarding an appeal submitted by a member of the NYAC. Central to this case is a well-known phrase coming from the Book of Discipline (BOD), “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church” (¶304).
 
This case does not break new ground for the Judicial Council, the NYAC or for our entire United Methodist connection. Once again, the Judicial Council, fulfilling its role of hearing and determining any appeal from a bishop’s decision on a question of law made in the annual conference, has been called upon to deliberate on a question pertaining to whether LGBTQI members are fully included in the life of the church or not. In this particular case, the clergy session of the 2016 New York Annual Conference, upon recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry, approved candidates for commissioning and ordination. Following that action by the clergy session, the question posed to the presiding Bishop, Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, was whether the Board of Ordained Ministry and the district Committees on Ordained Ministry acted within the bounds of the Book of Discipline in following its publicly affirmed policy that LGBTQI candidates will be given equal consideration and protection in the candidacy process (Adopted Feb.20, 2016, BOOM Plenary). Bishop Middleton responded that the candidacy, commissioning and ordination processes are properly the purview of the Board of Ordained Ministry and the clergy session of the annual conference and that her role is not to render a decision of law regarding those specific processes. On October 30th, 2016, the Judicial Council issued its decision in this case, rejecting in part Bishop Middleton’s reasoning, stating that the presiding Bishop does have the authority to render a decision of law. The Judicial Council sent back the question of law to the bishop for a ruling.
 
This decision, though not surprising, is another painful moment for our candidates, The United Methodist Church and indeed for all the people of God. This is a time of mourning for the many diverse communities that The United Methodist Church serves, for those in the LGBTQI family and for everyone whose value, humanity and gifts for ministry are continually called into question.

Furthermore, this decision reveals a misguided understanding of the role of the Board of Ordained Ministry as an agency of the Annual Conference in The United Methodist Church. Though bound by specific responsibilities and guidelines, BOOM does not operate in a vacuum. We are amenable and accountable to the Clergy Session and to the Annual Conference. And we have heard loud and clear, time after time, from our Annual Conference of the need to recruit and ordain gifted, effective, Spirit-filled candidates for ministry, and to equip them to serve in the many diverse ministry contexts within the boundaries of the Annual Conference. To effectively respond to that mandate, the Board of Ordained Ministry of the NYAC will continue to discern and celebrate the Spirit-given gifts and graces for ministry in all candidates who come before us, giving equal consideration and protection to our LGBTQI brothers and sisters.  We celebrate with joy the value, dignity, and sacred worth of all LGBTQI people, affirm the God-given gifts that they bring to the church and support their call from God to use their gifts and graces to serve Christ, and all people’s especially those at the margins of our society.
 
The General Conference of The United Methodist Church, in its inability to affirm and celebrate the full inclusion of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters in the life and ministry of the church, has failed us all, depriving our churches and communities of their Spirit-given gifts and graces. This practice, scripturally untenable when we apply our experience, tradition, and reason to the interpretation of Scripture, diminishes our prophetic role as a denomination in the world, and contradicts our own denomination’s social principles. This avoidance of the GC to embrace and celebrate all God’s children is short-sighted, unfaithful and will inevitably undermine the leadership of our episcopal leaders, the integrity of the Board’s ministry, the wisdom of the clergy and consequently will sabotage each conference’s ability to be fruitful and faithful in ministry.
 
As an Annual Conference, we have a long history of commitment to advocating for all who are oppressed, excluded, and marginalized. Our commitment to social justice for all people, particularly the vulnerable ones, is consistent with the example Christ set for us and calls us to embody.  We are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. May we, the clergy and laity of the NYAC, continue to seek the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we walk the path of discipleship in Jesus Christ, fulfilling our calling and mission to make disciples of all people for the transformation of our world.
 
In Christ,
The Rev. Lydia E. Lebrón-Rivera
November 3, 2016

(rev. November 4, 2016)