Bishop Bruce R. Ough issued the following statement today in response to recent publicity about a complaint filed with his office:
Grace and peace to you during this season of Epiphany. The Light has come into the world! “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
I am writing in response to the recent Star Tribune article, “Minnesota Methodist leaders support new plan ending LGBT sanctions,” and the letter from Minnesota Methodists issued in advance of the Star Tribune article.
I deeply regret that an article highlighting the newest separation proposal for our denomination so prominently featured a confidential complaint filed by two laypersons from Park Avenue United Methodist Church. Public comment on human resource matters tends to inflict additional harm on individuals and congregations. I acknowledge and apologize for my contribution to the harm to Rev. Jia Starr Brown and Park Avenue UMC that likely resulted from my deliberate, but protracted, process of trying to reach a just resolution to the complaint.
In this case, the complaint has been resolved through dismissal. Since the parties to the complaint had not yet been notified, I was not able to state such prior to the release of the Minnesota Methodists’ letter or Star Tribune article.
Since the 2019 Special General Conference in St. Louis, I have urged Minnesota United Methodists—clergy and laity—to not file complaints against one another. I do not have the power to stop complaints being filed. The only effective moratorium is one legislated by General Conference.
I have previously shared my commitments to not initiate complaints against LGBTQ clergy or clergy who officiate at same-gender weddings, and to not pursue a church trial against such clergy. Those commitments have not changed. However, I am obligated to handle complaints filed according to the process delineated in our 2016 Book of Discipline; that process begins with a supervisory review that has, as its primary and preferred purpose, a just resolution.
I have always sought to handle complaints with integrity, compassion, confidentiality, and guided by our Methodist rule to “do no harm” while demonstrating sensitivity and care for the individual(s) and congregation(s) involved, and upholding our values as the Minnesota Annual Conference. My goal has always been to seek justice and, whenever possible, a just resolution. I have always believed church trials are an anathema to the gospel and Jesus’ teaching on handling disputes. There are situations when justice can only be achieved by dismissing a complaint.
The recently mediated Protocol for Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation calls The United Methodist Church to voluntarily hold in abeyance all charges related to LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings. This is an effort to create space for the Protocol proposal to be considered by the 2020 General Conference in Minneapolis. I support the proposed Protocol (see my reflections about it here), and I will honor this recommendation. I urge all Minnesota United Methodists to join me by voluntarily ceasing the filing of complaints.
The Minnesota Conference has set a visionary course toward becoming a community of believers “rooted in Jesus, grounded in Wesleyan theology, inclusive of all persons, and engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation.” To be grounded in Wesleyan theology means grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life. It means we exercise an evangelical faith which manifests itself in embracing the evangelistic task. It means we evidence our desire for living the full Christian life by “doing no harm…doing good of every possible sort…and attending upon the ordinances of God.” It means we love and seek justice. It means we seek to heal a broken world. It means all are welcome and included. It means we accept Jesus’ commission to go into all the world and make disciples.
I am committed to the Minnesota Conference’s vision. I pray we will stay strong and work together to live into this vision. And it begins by doing no harm to one another and staying focused on Jesus and his commandment to “love each other, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
Bishop Bruce R. Ough
Resident Bishop, Dakotas-Minnesota Area
The United Methodist Church
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church