Bishop Karen Oliveto faces increased scrutiny as the United Methodist Church has sent the legitimacy of her election to its highest court. Immediately after her election last summer, a Midwestern laywoman claimed it violated church law, as the United Methodist Church forbids the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Oliveto, before being elected as bishop of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences, served as the senior pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, CA. Her wife, Robin Ridenour, is a deaconess in the United Methodist Church’s California-Nevada Conference.
The Judicial Council announced on Friday that the consecration of an openly gay bishop is against church law, however, the court also ruled that Oliveto remains a bishop “in good standing.” The court stated they did not have jurisdiction over the appointment of a bishop and agreed to only rule on the question of consecration. Rev. Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, stated: “we acknowledge that the decision does not help ease the disagreements, impatience and anxiety that permeates the United Methodist Church over the matter of human sexuality, and particularly this case. Our compassion and prayers of intercession extend to all those who are hurt, relieved, confused or fearful.”
“They’ve made it even tougher for LGBTQI people to serve the church they love — to follow God’s call to serve in this church. And it gives anyone the opportunity to file a complaint, to do a witch hunt, to do searches online of marriage certificates. It raises a veil of suspicion on people’s humanity, and that’s not the gospel,” Oliveto said. During her hearing, she acknowledged the LGBTQ+ Methodist clergy “who have been serving in the silence of closets, in order to be faithful to God’s call.”
“I am not the first gay bishop,” she said, “and I won’t be the last.”
The topic of homosexuality within the Methodist church has become increasingly controversial, with a special conference scheduled for February 2019 dedicated exclusively to the discussion of LGBTQ+ related issues. “We are not in one mind when it comes to the role of LGBTQI people in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church,” Oliveto said. The Judicial Council’s decision on Oliveto’s election has likely set a precedent of confusion and controversy for the upcoming conference.
According to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This is used as justification as to why “homosexuals” are prohibited from being ordained or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church, despite the fact that the bible also condemns things that would never prevent a heterosexual individual from serving in the church, such as braiding hair and wearing gold (1 Timothy 2:9), tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) and remarrying after divorce (Mark 10:11-12).
The United Methodist Church is severely divided, with many conferences refusing to adhere to the denomination’s policies regarding LGBTQ+ clergy and same-sex marriage. Many believe a schism isn’t far off unless the United Methodist Church is able to come to a consensus.