UM LGBT Oliveto

United Methodist Church members divided over the issue of LGBT clergy, but Judicial Council votes against lesbian bishop.

“I’m in deep prayer, reminding myself of what God has called me to do,” asserted Karen Oliveto, an openly gay United Methodist Church bishop.

A Judicial Council was held last Tuesday in Newark, New Jersey, to determine whether her election to the post in 2016 was valid.

On Friday, a 6-3 vote was published that ruled Oliveto’s election to bishop as a violation of church law. A statement in The New York Times backs the decision as UMC’s “commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality.” The decision leaves Oliveto currently in good standing, but in the coming weeks she may be suspended or forced to retire.

In a separate decision, the Judicial Council ruled Illinois and New York must question bishop candidates about their sexuality and those who are gay or otherwise challenge the church’s views on marriage should not be considered for clergy positions.

Oliveto, who is married to another woman, is the United Methodist Church's first gay bishop who did not hide her sexuality. Minutes after she was elected, a formal complaint was made and filed challenging the election. The complainant said that the clergy has banned homosexuals who openly flout their sexuality. This incident is one of the many flashpoints regarding LGBT rights inside the church. United Methodist Church members have split over homosexuality and the Bible.

Oliveto, who is 55 years old, spoke at a press conference post-hearing. Accompanying her was Mary Oliveto, her mother, who is herself a church deacon and the pastor who influenced her during her childhood.

Oliveto said that it seems as if the universe has planned to bring her to this point. She said that no one has questioned the qualities she possesses for being elected to the ordained ministry, more particularly for episcopal ministry. During her press conference by the Reconciling Ministries Network, no one challenged her work capabilities after examining what she has done until now. She quoted from the scriptures to buttress her points.

The United Methodist Church itself is divided over the issue. Reverend Rob Renfroe of Good News, a group of evangelical Methodists that has lobbied hard to uphold modern teaching, said the incident highlights that two different churches exist within the same fold. He continued to say that the difference is whether the members will live by the words of covenant they have agreed to.

The United Methodist Church has around 12.8 million members. The church is the third biggest in the United States and was already in a turmoil concerning same-sex relationships at the time of Oliveto's election. The approved language by the Methodists conveyed that same-sex relationships are not compatible with Christian teaching. The language was last approved in 1972. The General Conference or the policy making church body has upheld such a policy from that time. This happened even as other church denominations like the Presbyterian Church and Episcopal Church gave their seal of approval to same-sex marriage.

In 2019, a special conference will be held to discuss matters of LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church. 

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