Lesbian UMC Bishop Says She Would 'Hate to See Schism' Over Homosexuality

(Photo: Charmaine Robledo)Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop in the history of the United Methodist Church, at her consecration service July 16, 2016, at Paradise Valley United Methodist Church in Scottsdale, Arizona.

An openly lesbian United Methodist bishop whose election was recently declared a violation of church law says that she does not want to see a schism in her denomination over its debate on homosexuality.

For the past several years, the United Methodist Church has experienced intense internal issues over the debate on whether the Mainline Protestant church should change its stance against homosexuality.

Bishop Karen Oliveto told National Public Radio in an interview on Sunday that she would not like to see the denomination split apart over the debate.

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

"I would hate to see schism. And here's why: I believe that there are essentials, and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said there's essentials that we must agree on. And they are things like our understanding of the Holy Trinity, the role of sacraments," said Oliveto.

"And then there are opinions, which we can disagree on and still live together with. And I think we've raised the opinion — our opinion on human sexuality and homosexuality — to an essential."

Oliveto went on to state that she wanted the UMC to remain a single denomination, as an example for the rest of the country to follow.

"I'm looking around, especially U.S. culture right now, and we are being invited to other one another — to make some of us in and some of us out, to talk about us versus them. This is a very dangerous time in our country," continued Oliveto.

"I believe if we in The United Methodist Church can show what it's like to live together, even with our differences, that we have a witness to make to the rest of the world."

Last July, Oliveto became the first openly gay bishop of the UMC. 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.

Oliveto faced several complaints over her election violating the Book of Discipline, which states that noncelibate homosexuals cannot be ordained.

Late last month, the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled 6-3 that the election of Oliveto 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."

While the decision did not immediately remove Oliveto from her office, it did call for the process of removal to begin.

Oliveto's comments to NPR come not long after the United Methodist Council of Bishops announced a special session of General Conference to address the denomination's position on homosexuality.

In a letter to its annual conferences last month, the bishops announced that the special session will take place Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

At the center of the special session will be a response to the report by the Commission on a Way Forward, an entity created to examine the denomination's official position on LGBT issues.

"The purpose of this special session of the General Conference shall be limited to receiving and acting upon a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward," explained the council.

"The Council of Bishops encourages the entire church to continue in deep, unceasing prayer for Holy Spirit breakthroughs for the Commission on a Way Forward and the special session of General Conference."

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook