On July 16, 2016, Karen Oliveto was elected to become the Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of the United Methodist Church (UMC). She was the first openly LGBTQ Methodist Bishop. But on April 28, the highest court in the Methodist organization rejected her consecration.
The nine-member Judicial Council was split 6-3 against her consecration. Their decision held that both she and those who consecrated her were in violation of the “commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality.”
However, Bishop Oliveto “remains in good standing” until the administrative or judicial process is completed.
The South Central Jurisdiction (which covers Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas) were the ones to question the legality of Oliveto’s election. The South Central Jurisdiction included four questions, however the Judicial Council only chose to hear the question about consecrating an openly gay bishop. The Council rejected the questions on nomination, election and assignment, calling them “improper.”
Oliveto’s council, Richard Marsh, argued on April 25 that her 2014 marriage to Robin Ridenour wasn’t a public statement about her sexuality. The Book of Discipline, which contains the laws of the church, states that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Marsh argued that though Oliveto and Ridenour were married, it was not proof that they were having sex.
He also said that the South Central Jurisdiction had no standing to challenge the election.
Unfortunately, the Judicial Council did not agree. They ruled “a same-sex marriage license issued by competent civil authorities together with the clergy person’s status in a same-sex relationship is a public declaration that the person is a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
The UMC is the third-largest religion in the United States. While other Protestant denominations like the Episcopal Church and the American Presbyterian Church allow both same-sex marriage and only gay ministers, the UMC is more conservative. Methodism is gaining traction in Africa and Asia, where Christian denominations are often more conservative.
Her original election was a landslide — she received 88 votes with none opposed and 12 members abstaining. However, the more conservative jurisdictions saw her election as a slap in the face. Director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, John S.A. Lomperis told the New York Times “The Western Jurisdiction was basically giving the middle finger to the rest of the church.”
Homosexuality has long been a sore issue among the UMC. While the organization is more conservative, many Methodist ministers and smaller churches are not. More than 150 ministers have publicly come out as gay, and many Methodist ministers have officiated over same-sex marriages. There are even rumors that a schism may occur over the issue.
Featured image by Mike DuBose/United Methodist News.