United Methodist Church Delegates Defy Church Rules to Elect First Openly Gay Bishop

Karen Oliveto, Robin Ridenour
Newly elected bishop of the United Methodist Church's Western Division, Karen Oliveto (R) and her wife Robin Ridenour (L), a deaconess in California-Nevada Conference of the UMC. |

A rift has emerged in the United Methodist Church after delegates in the Western Jurisdictional Conference defied the Church's prohibition of homosexuality on Friday to elect the Rev. Karen Oliveto as its first openly gay bishop.

"I think at this moment I have a glimpse of the realm of God. I want to thank the candidates who I have journeyed with these past few days, for the grace with which we walked with each other. And know I stand before you because of the work and prayers of so many, especially those saints who yearned to live for this day, who blazed a trail where there was none, who are no longer with us, and yet whose shoulders I stand on," Oliveto, 58, said after her election, according to a report from the United Methodist Church.

The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States: the Alaska Conference, the California-Nevada Conference, the California-Pacific Conference, the Desert Southwest Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference.

Oliveto, who is senior pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, is married to Robin Ridenour, who is a deaconess in the Church's California-Nevada Conference.

Karen Oliveto, Robin Ridenour
Newly elected bishop of the United Methodist Church's Western Division, Karen Oliveto (R) hugs her wife Robin Ridenour (L), a deaconess in California-Nevada Conference of the UMC in this undated photo. |

She was elected at the jurisdiction's quadrennial meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, on the 17th ballot with 88 votes after the Rev. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and the Rev. Walter "Skip" Strickland withdrew from the election, according to the UMC report. The Rev. Frank Wulf, another openly gay candidate, had withdrawn earlier that day as well.

She thanked the delegates of the Western Jurisdiction "who dared to live into this Kairos moment. Today we took a step closer to embody beloved community and while we may be moving there, we are not there yet. We are moving on to perfection."

She also argued that as long as people "walk by our churches and wonder" if they belong, because of race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, social class or immigration status, then "we have work to do."

"Are we able? Yes. Amen," she added.

Reacting to the news Friday, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said in a statement that the election "raises significant concerns."

"The Western Jurisdiction has elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco to serve as a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Oliveto has been described as 'an openly lesbian clergyperson.' This election raises significant concerns and questions of Church polity and unity," he said.

Karen Oliveto, Robin Ridenour
Newly elected bishop of the United Methodist Church's Western Division, Karen Oliveto. |

"Being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church, if indeed this is the case," he continued.

"There are those in the Church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. Others will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been. Still, others will likely see this election as disrupting or even rendering moot the purpose and work of the Commission currently being formed by the Council," he added.

The Christian Post reported in January that the Anglican Communion voted to suspend the Episcopal Church for supporting of gay marriage. Similarly, the Presbyterian Church USA has seen a rapid decline in membership after a majority of PCUSA presbyteries voted to change the Book of Order's definiton of marriage to include same-sex couples.

The Associated Press reported earlier this year, that In May, the United Methodist Church's top policy making body also "narrowly approved a full review of all church law on sexuality." That process, as alluded to by Ough, is underway and is expected to take at least two years.

While some of the Church's more progressive members praised the decision of the delegates to defy Church rules to elect Oliveto, the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, an unofficial evangelical United Methodist organization that upholds the Church's stance on homosexuality issues slammed it.

Oliveto's election as well as other actions by the annual conference of the UMC this summer ignored the Council of Bishops' proposal for a commission to examine all Church law dealing with human sexuality, said Renfroe.

The Council of Bishops' proposal, he said, called for a "pause for prayer to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God's will for the future."

"Instead, these conferences have moved ahead with legislative enactments pledging non-conformity with the Book of Discipline, culminating in the election of a practicing homosexual as bishop," Renfroe said. "If the Western Jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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