The western district of the United Methodist church (UMC) elected an openly gay bishop on Friday, despite its ban on same-sex relationships. The Rev Karen Oliveto was elected late in the evening at a meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, of the church’s western jurisdiction.
In remarks published on the UMC website, Oliveto said: “Today we took a step closer to embody beloved community and while we may be moving there, we are not there yet. We are moving on to perfection.”
The president of the UMC’s council of bishops said the election raised “significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity”. The leader of an evangelical group within the church said the result could lead “to the brink of schism”.
Oliveto, 58, one of three gay clerics nominated to become bishops in US elections this week, is pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist church in San Francisco, which describes itself as “a radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization”.
She is the first openly gay bishop in the UMC, which has 12.7 million members worldwide and remains deeply divided over LGBTI rights. Though same-sex marriages have been legal across the US since a supreme court decision in June 2015, Methodist rules say “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.
Several regional districts, however, have appointed gay clergy and allowed same-sex weddings. Some such cases have led to trials under the church legal system.
In June, Matt Berryman, executive director of the Methodist LGBTI advocacy group Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), told the website ThinkProgress: “Three [openly gay] candidates being nominated is yet another indication that there is a groundswell of grassroots movement within the church to remedy inequality.”
In a blogpost published on Saturday, RMN greeted the election of Oliveto “with great joy” as “an historic moment” that “breaks through anti-LGBTQ law in the UMC and carries queer people to the highest levels of church leadership”.
In a statement issued on Friday, however, Bruce R Ough, president of the UMC council of bishops, said: “Reverend Oliveto has been described as ‘an openly lesbian clergyperson’. This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.
“Our Book of Discipline has clearly delineated processes in place for resolving issues even as complex and unprecedented as this election.”
The Rev Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, an evangelical organization which seeks to uphold the UMC’s stance on homosexuality, said: “If the western jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so.”
The other gay clerics nominated for election were the Rev Frank Wulf and the Rev David Meredith.
Wulf, pastor of United University Church in Los Angeles, withdrew from the ballot by which Oliveto was elected.
Meredith, from Cincinnati and at the center of church controversy over his own same-sex marriage, was not successful in elections in the north central jurisdiction. SOURCE