Electing Lesbian Bishop Violates Church Law, United Methodist High Court Rules

Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church commenting in a video posted April 4, 2017, on an upcoming United Methodist Judicial Council case that will determine whether she can remain a bishop. | (Photo: Screengrab/Vimeo/ Rocky Mountain Conference UMC)

The United Methodist Church's highest court has ruled that a regional body violated the denomination's rules when they elected an openly lesbian clergywoman as bishop and she can be removed from her position.

In a 6–3 decision released Friday, the United Methodist Judicial Council decided that the Western Jurisdiction's election of Karen Oliveto to the position of bishop violated church law. 

"It is not lawful for the college of bishops of any jurisdictional or central conference to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual bishop," read the decision, as reported by the United Methodist News Service.

"Under the long-standing principle of legality, no individual member or entity may violate, ignore or negate church law."

UMNS noted that the Judicial Coucil's decision did not immediately remove Oliveto from her position, but it did call for the process to take place. 

"However, the bishop 'remains in good standing,' the Judicial Council said in Decision 1341, until an administrative or judicial process is completed," reported UMNS. 

"Pending the supervisory response process to review episcopal membership and office, the college of bishops, in consultation with the committee on episcopacy, 'may suspend the bishop from all episcopal responsibilities for a period not to exceed 60 days.'"

Last July, the UMC Western Jurisdiction unanimously elected Oliveto to be bishop of the UMC Mountain Sky Area, a regional body that includes congregations located in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and one church in Idaho.

Delegates pray before a plenary session at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. | (Photo: Facebook/United Methodist General Conference)

Oliveto's election is historic in that she is the first openly gay bishop of the UMC. Oliveto faced several complaints over her election violating the Book of Discipline, which states that noncelibate homosexuals cannot be ordained.

Charmaine Robledo, communications director for the Mountain Sky Area, told The Christian Post last August that "it was expected that someone would ask the Judicial Council to consider her election."

"As a clergy person in good standing, she was unanimously elected bishop by the delegates of the Western Jurisdiction, who believed she was being called by God to be an episcopal leader of our denomination," said Robledo.

"She will vigorously and faithfully lead our Church forward as we seek to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world."

In a 2016 column published by Good News Magazine, Pastor Jeff Greenway of Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church of Ohio wrote that he was "surprised by my tears" over the election of Oliveto.

"I wept for what I see as a blatant disregard for the authority of Scripture and the law of the church. I wept for the pain this act will cause. I wept for the spiritual harm that is being done," wrote Greenway last July.

"I wept for the persons with sexual brokenness in our congregation who might be further delayed in finding wholeness in Jesus because of the confusion this might cause. I wept."

The Judicial Council heard arguments on whether Oliveto could remain bishop on Tuesday, April 25 at the beginning of their spring meeting in Newark, New Jersey.

The complaint over Oliveto's election was part of the mainline Protestant denomination's overall debate over the Church's stance on homosexuality, which it labels "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Recently, the UMC announced that there will be a special session of General Conference held in St. Louis, Missouri in February 2019 on whether the Church will amend its official position.

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