Indiana Conference Bishop Mike Coyner. A UMNS photo by Erma Metzler, Indiana Conference.

A UMNS Report by Heather Hahn*

Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner on Oct. 15 published his criticisms of the Western Jurisdiction’s stand against The United Methodist Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Delegates to the Western Jurisdiction’s meeting July 18-21 adopted a “Statement of Gospel Obedience” that says the denomination is in error in its stance that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The jurisdiction’s statement also urged United Methodists to operate as if that stance inParagraph 161F of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, “does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.”

In his Oct. 15 E-pistle to the Indiana Annual (regional) Conference, Coyner faulted the Western Jurisdiction’s actions in three ways.

He said the statement:

  • Comes across as a kind of “neo-colonialism,” distrusting the actions of the global church’s General Conference, which increasingly includes delegates from outside the United States, particularly Africa
  • Is a “very poor substitute for the honorable practice of civil disobedience as expressed clearly by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
  • Does not “offer the church any way forward on this difficult issue”

“What if the Western Jurisdiction, which has a proud history of diversity, tolerance, and openness to new models of ministry, had offered some suggestions for our United Methodist Church to move forward on this issue?” Coyner wrote. “Instead, the actions and statements of the Western Jurisdiction seem to conclude that ‘we are right and everyone else is wrong.’”

Responses from Western Jurisdiction bishops

Los Angeles Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who leads the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, and Pheonix Area Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata, who leads the Desert Southwest Conference, took issue with Coyner’s appraisal of the jurisdiction’s statement.

“There is a rather large jump from the statement agreed upon at the WJ Conference and neo-colonialism,” Carcaño said. “Neo-colonialism is a complex socio-economic, political and historical reality that in my opinion is not appropriately used in this  situation.  It does, however, add gravitas to Bishop Coyner’s statement and elevates a church situation to a level it does not deserve. It does, though, add to the barriers that we continue to erect among ourselves that do not allow us to have the conversation we need to have about not only this issue, but a number of other issues pertaining to the social, moral and ethical fiber of our church and our witness to the world, or lack thereof.”

She added that delegates from the Western Jurisdiction were seeking change to the denomination’s stance on homosexuality long before the increase in African delegates that was apparent at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

“What I read in the jurisdiction’s statement is not that we know better than everybody else but that we know differently,” Hoshibata said. “What we taught centuries ago and called it the Gospel of Jesus Christ has changed with the world and with culture.”

The bishops also said the Western Jurisdiction stands in the tradition of King’s practice of civil disobedience during the U.S. civil rights movement.

“Whenever there is any injustice — an injustice against one person, one group or one community — I think those are opportunities to speak out and share our thoughts and our concerns,” Hoshibata said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to demonstrate what we feel Christ has called us to do when he calls us to justice. This is precisely the Christ-like response I think Martin Luther King would have been supportive of.”

United Methodists in the jurisdiction have been in prayerful reflection on the matter of inclusivity for a long time, Carcaño said.

“It is our collective conclusion that God leads us in a different direction and that we can longer remain silent,” she said. “We are aware of the disciplinary consequences and believe that faithfulness to God is more important than staying in the ranks and file of the church and continuing to do what we United Methodists have done for too long. We have spoken and lived in contradictory ways; we have said that persons of homosexual orientation are of sacred worth but not worthy of fully being a part of the church.”

The Western Jurisdiction encompasses Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam and other U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean.

A personal response

At the beginning of his response to the Western Jurisdiction, Coyner stressed that he was writing only his personal opinion as a bishop. He noted that his comments do not reflect the official position of the Indiana Conference, the North Central Jurisdiction or the Council of Bishops.

“Lots of people here in Indiana have been asking me for my personal response, and so rather than having thousands of conversations, it seemed easier to send out one statement for anyone to read who is interested,” he told the United Methodist News Service.

He added that he hoped his response would “encourage further conversation” among United Methodists.

Coyner described himself as a member of the “great middle” of The United Methodist Church where he believes many church members find themselves.

“Right now, it feels like people are ‘talking past one another’ rather than having conversations with one another,” he said.

Divisions evident at General Conference

The Western Jurisdiction’s actions followed the defeat at General Conference, the denomination’s top-lawmaking body, of a proposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality.

During General Conference, bishops take turns presiding during the plenary sessions, and Coyner was presiding at the morning session May 3 when delegates rejected proposals to change the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.

After those petitions failed, dozens of protesters gathered on the plenary floor after the break, singing ‘What Does the Lord Require of You?’ Coyner asked the demonstrators to stop, and when they did not, he recessed the session for an early lunch. “I think you’re actually hurting your point,” he told the group.

The protesters stayed on the plenary floor through the lunch break, and representatives from the Council of Bishops negotiated with leaders of the demonstration and found a solution to the impasse. Germany’s Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, then the new president of the Council of Bishops, opened the session with a statement crafted by the bishops. The Rev. Frank Wulf, a California-Pacific Conference delegate, prayed. And the demonstrators left the floor peacefully.

“That particular protest moved toward being unhelpful when they disrupted times of worship and when their protest came without any advance discussion of their goals,” Coyner told the United Methodist News Service on Oct. 15. “Having the General Conference go into recess allowed various leaders of the groups and General Conference leaders to work out a resolution — which I believe was appropriate and fair.”

A way forward?

In his E-pistle, Coyner suggested that General Conference might one day modify its various statements on human sexuality “first to affirm Christians of good will are in disagreement on these issues, and second to adopt a more moderate and holistic approach to these issues.”

However, he said, such changes should come with “prayer, theological reflection, humility, listening to God and listening to one another.”

The Western Jurisdiction, he said, was not providing a helpful way forward.

Carcaño disputed Coyner’s assertion that the jurisdiction’s statement does not provide a way for the denomination to move into the furure.

“The statement says that in the West we will live with integrity what we have said as United Methodists — that we are all of sacred worth and all welcomed,” she said. ”We recognize that the WJ statement puts the WJ in tension with other parts of the church.  Perhaps this tension will be just what we need to lead the entire denomination to a better place.  I am hoping that it will help us create the kind of Christian conferencing we need to be having on all matters important to God; a holy and disciplined conversation that does not wait for General Conference, but that is a daily exercise in our efforts to be faithful to God.  For the opportunity to reflect on this matter, I am grateful to Bishop Coyner.”

Coyner also took issue with those who see the Western Jurisdiction’s actions as a prelude to a schism in The United Methodist Church.

“Perhaps, I have been overly optimistic or hopeful,” he said. “But I do not believe our United Methodist Church will split. To me, it would be a sad commentary about our inability to ‘conference together’ if we allow an issue like sexuality to split us.”

Hoshibata and Carcaño also both expressed confidence in the church’s continued unity.

“I don’t believe the will of most United Methodists I’ve spoken to is to split on this matter,” Hoshibata said. “I believe it is the will of most United Methodists to say this is a place where we do not agree, that we would like to do more conversations and prayer to find common ground in this matter. But in order to move ahead as a denomination, we need to focus on the mission of making disciples, and that takes places in a variety of ways.”

Wenner, the Council of Bishops president, said Coyner’s statement “indicates that we need to engage in holy conversation on the question of human sexuality – not only at General Conference, but throughout the quadrennium.”

She said the Council of Bishops takes a lead on this.

“We meet as colleagues from all regions of the church, and we hopefully will model that we are united in Christ and in responding to the call to make disciples even in our diversity.”

The Council of Bishops will meet Nov. 4-9 for the first time with its new members.


*Hahn is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470


  1. It seem obvious that there is only one way forward and that is for those who have been to seminary and have the basic understanding of how we got the Scriptures and the Church for that matter to admit that it is a human construct and there is no such thing as “Thus saith the Lord!” We obviously didn’t send our best people to Africa or to the mid-West and South for that matter. Ignorance is forgivable, intentional-ignorance is not.

  2. For years people have demanded that the bishops, including Bishop Coyner, do something about one of their own who was looting the East Africa Annual Conference, but they have kept the code of silence, Yet Bishop Conyer now feels it necessary to criticize publicly his colleagues who demand that we take seriously the inclusive nature of God’s grace. That’s messed up.

  3. When the majority of delegates at GC would not even agree to disagree, people of faith were shut down and out. A statement of faith and justice on behalf United Methodists who were shut down needed to be made. The Western Jurisdiction made a statement that the GC was unwilling to make. The WJ took the position of prophet, never an easy road, calling God’s people into accountability. I am proud of our WJ and Bishops who were willing to stand for justice. Thank you for your prophetic witness on our behalf.

  4. Neocolonialism? What an inflammatory accusation! No wonder the WJ had to make the statement it did. Thank you bishops and delegates for your prophetic stance on behalf of radical hospitality.

  5. The bishop writes, “To me, it would be a sad commentary about our inability to ‘conference together’ if we allow an issue like sexuality to split us.” What he’s really saying is he can’t understand why some would have passion on this issue since it’s not an issue for him. Maybe he needs to actually listen to the voices of people affected. Then he might understand.

  6. I see these commercials, with the bishop and some teary-eyed individuals all talking about “compassion” and “companionship” and such. Jesus is the perfect example of compassion, BUT Jesus did not and does not support sinning. He didn’t tell the adulterous woman to go ahead and keep turning tricks, did He? “Go, and sin no more” is what Jesus said. Note the word “sin”.

    The Levitical proscriptions regarding homosexual sex don’t seem to be mentioned by the bishop or the Niobean “me toos”. Homosexual sin is still sin. Jesus does not condone it, and neither must we.

    “God meets us where we are” is a phrase often bandied about. I believe He does, but He doesn’t want us to REMAIN there, where we were lost and without hope. He’s lifted me up to a higher ground and I give Him all the glory.

    • Christians are not bound by Levitical law. There is no Levitical proscription of homosexual sex, only male temple prostitution. Sodom’s sin is arrogance and inhospitality, just ask Ezekiel and Isaiah. The Christian comitment is to love, just ask Jesus.

  7. As a follower of Jesus, I support every effort to follow His example of compassion, inclusiveness, and love. Thank you to the delegates of the Western Jurisdiction for adopting a “Statement of Gospel Obedience.”

  8. Ignoring the Book of Discipline will erode the church and lead to further division, leaving us with no identity as a denomination. We will return to a time when we do what is right in our own eyes – which the Old Testament tells us is error. We are throwing the baby out with the bath water over this issue.

  9. Forty years we have suggested ways forward and been rebuffed. We have been asked to dialogue by those who have then declined to join the discussion. We have asked the church to admit that we are not of one mind. The church has tried to render us invisible by saying the Discipline is our sole perspective. “Scriptural condemnations” of homosexuality fail all standards of translation. I am delighted that we are coming out of the closet as Christians and admiting that we ordain, appoint, love and celebrate Matrimony for those among us who are LGBT persons.

  10. Bishop Coyner says “What if the Western Jurisdiction, which has a proud history of diversity, tolerance, and openness to new models of ministry, had offered some suggestions for our United Methodist Church to move forward on this issue?” In doing so he ignores / denies decades of conferences and jurisdictions attempting to do just that, and being rebuffed. So we continue to offer a way forward and he characterizes it as something else. And the right continues to claim the ‘high ground’ of being moderate. Sometimes moderation is just a cop out.

  11. Ask Jesus about the Law? Matthew 5:17 “I have not come to abolish them [the Law and the Prophets] but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven…”.

    Thus saith the Lord.

  12. I am sorry that Pat Bailey doesn’t know that Chrysostom, an early church father, was decrying the fact that those scribes who were copying the scriptures were changing the wordings to fit their understanding of the “heresies” of the day. We do not possess the signiture texts of the New Testament only copies. In what copies and fragments we do have, there are some 400,000 discrepancies in the words used. Beside that, as Amos Wilder, biblical scholar who taught at Harvard Divinity said, “Jesus was reckless of posterity” since he never wrote anything. “Thus saith the Lord” indeed! Again, ignorance is forgiveable but intentional ignorance is not! Homer Todd

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