Methodists defy ban and elect first openly lesbian bishop


The Rev. Karen Oliveto, right, is the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Karen Oliveto, right, is the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church.

The Western district of the United Methodist Church elected its first openly gay bishop Friday night, bucking the denomination’s ban on same-sex relationships.

The Rev. Karen Oliveto, who is a pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, was elected at a meeting of the church’s West Jurisdiction in Scottsdale, Arizona. The inclusion on LGBT members in church life has been a contentious issue in the 12.7 million-member denomination, with districts divided over what the church’s policies should be.

Eliel Cruz-Lopez, executive director of Faith in America, told LGBTQ Nation that Oliveto’s election is “historic” and has implications beyond the United Methodist Church:

The United Methodist Church is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Last night, they became the largest Protestant denomination with an openly gay Bishop. In electing Rev. Karen Oliveto, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church performed civil disobedience against the world church. This is historic. It’s also an act of spiritual protest against a homophobic policy that denies openly LGBT clergy from ministry. This election shows the UMC is changing and that the Holy Spirit is moving the church towards justice.

The Reconciling Ministries Network echoed that sentiment, calling Oliveto’s election a “historic moment” in the movements for LGBTQ spiritual and civil equality:

The election of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA breaks through anti-LGBTQ law in The UMC and carries queer people to the highest levels of church leadership. Officially barred from so many churches and positions of spiritual leadership, queer persons may now see themselves as leaders of the body of Christ in the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States.

Officially, the church explicitly forbids gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from being church leaders. It’s laws say:

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.

In fact, being “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” and officiating a gay wedding are both chargeable offenses, listed among such disturbing acts as child and sexual abuse.

But some church districts are rejecting that law, allowing both LGBT clergy and same-sex church weddings. The Reconciling Ministries Network says Oliveto’s election is a sign that times are changing:

A 40 year movement to end codified discrimination against LGBTQ persons is reaching a tipping point that hardly any rational-minded observer can deny. Since LGBTQ people have long been denied access to public spaces, homes, and churches, today’s news represents the breaking down of a long-standing barrier that has prevented queer people access to the fullness of Christian vocation on the grounds that they are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It seems that unjust policy is finally subject to the winds of the Spirit.

Due to the church’s clear policies, it’s likely Oliveto’s election could face challenge or reprimand.

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