Lesbian Bishop Election Exacerbates Tensions in United Methodist Church

“Unlike the Episcopal Church, United Methodists have not changed church teaching on marriage and the entire denomination has not ratified this election of a non-celibate gay bishop.” – UMAction Director John Lomperis

Washington, DC—United Methodists in the denomination’s liberal Western Jurisdiction have elected the first openly partnered gay bishop in the 13 million-member global church’s history. Pastor Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, who is married to another woman, will be consecrated a bishop during a Saturday afternoon service at the regional conference being held outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

Oliveto has courted controversy by criticizing the ministry of St. Paul and promoting America’s largest abortion provider. In campaign literature, Oliveto highlighted previously pastoring a church thatchose to serve as an illegal medical marijuana dispensary. Her current congregation claims a growing membership but has a much smaller worship attendance that has shrunk.

The Western Jurisdiction comprises only 2 percent of the denomination’s members and has led the decline in U.S. Methodist membership. In contrast, the global church has experienced rapid growth in Africa, where more than a third of church members reside and generally hold traditional views on sexuality and marriage.

The United Methodist Church effectively shelved all legislation on sexuality at its recent General Conference. In doing so, the church retained language declaring homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” in its governing Book of Discipline. The church does not ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” but some bishops have overlooked this restriction on a technicality that some non-celibate lesbian and gay candidates for ordination have not “self-avowed” their sexual practices.

Very importantly, the denomination’s South Central Jurisdiction, which has more than five times as many members, almost immediately voted to petition the Judicial Council, the “supreme court” of the denomination, to review the legality of such actions by the Western Jurisdiction.

IRD’s United Methodist Action Director John Lomperis commented:

“Unlike the Episcopal Church, United Methodists have not changed church teaching on marriage and the entire denomination has not ratified this election of a non-celibate gay bishop.

“The Western Jurisdiction has a history of prominent disobedience to church rules, resulting in long-term diminishment and decline, despite population growth in its surrounding communities. Despite geographically encompassing one-third of the United States, the Western Jurisdiction is now home to fewer United Methodists than the northern half of Georgia.

“This is a fundamentally schismatic action of the Western Jurisdiction declaring it no longer wants to live in unity with the rest of our denomination. Now some United Methodists in the rest of the country will likely want to stop paying the denominational apportionments which heavily subsidize the six-figure salaries of Oliveto and other bishops in the Western Jurisdiction – the only U.S. Jurisdiction rewarded with more bishops than they pay for themselves.

“We urge faithful United Methodists upset by this news to stay and work for accountability, remember that this election is being challenged, share their concerns with their pastors, and remember that such radical actions only represent a minority, who we should not let abuse and take over our great denomination.

“We urge United Methodist pastors to assure their congregations of how they are supporting the work of UM Action, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and others seeking accountability. We urge orthodox bishops to offer public leadership.

“Oliveto chose to seek ordination in our denomination and vowed to uphold our standards. If she is no longer Methodist in belief, she would have more integrity to find another faith community, rather than breaking the promises she chose to make to us.”

Reprinted from Juicy Ecumenism

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