United Methodist Church's High Court to Decide If Openly Gay Married Bishop Can Serve

Karen Oliveto
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. |

The United Methodist Church's highest court will be deciding whether or not the denomination's first openly gay bishop will be allowed to serve.

In July, delegates of the UMC Western Jurisdiction unanimously elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto to be bishop of the UMC Mountain Sky Area, even though Church rules state that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot be ordained.

Next spring, the United Methodist Judicial Council will consider a petition centered on whether or not Oliveto can serve given that she is a married lesbian.

Charmaine Robledo, communications director for the Mountain Sky Area, told The Christian Post 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.

UMC General Conference
Delegates pray before a plenary session at the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon. |

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

Robledo also told CP that she did not believe the Church's prohibition on "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from ordination made Oliveto ineligible to become a bishop.

"Bishop Oliveto was unanimously elected by the delegates to the Western Jurisdictional Conference. She was, like every other clergy member in good standing across the jurisdiction, eligible to be elected," continued Robledo.

"The delegates acted out of the belief that God is calling the Church to fully live its commitment to inclusion of all. Their vote was an act of love and obedience to a God who calls all disciples of Christ to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. That includes LGBT persons in every aspect of church life."

According to the UMC Book of Discipline, however, homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" cannot become ordained.

Over the past several years, the UMC has experienced intense internal debate over the denomination's opposition to homosexuality, with many in the Church demanding that the Book of Discipline's language be changed.

Despite the furor at the quadrennial UMC General Conference, pro-LGBT activists have been unable to accrue enough votes to pass legislation to change the Book of Discipline.

Mark Tooley, president of the theologically conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CP that the increased opposition from the theologically liberal wing of the denomination has been "brewing for decades."

"These revolts result from liberalism's failure to gain a legislative majority at the Church's governing General Conference. The Orthodox majority should not overreact but remain winsomely faithful in its witness to the Gospel," said Tooley.

"If anyone ultimately leaves the Church, it should be those factions who reject the Church's teachings. Dying liberal USA Mainline Protestantism is captive to the past and does not have a promising demographic future. The long-term future is bright for Orthodox global United Methodism."

Regarding the Judicial Council's consideration of the petition next spring, Tooley told CP that the case is an unprecedented one for the denomination's highest court.

"There is almost no precedent for this kind of judicial issue that could have impact on United Methodism's global future," continued Tooley.

"The Judicial Council obviously realizes this issue is very serious, maybe the most serious ever confronting the Church's top court, and understandably wants time for preparation and consideration."

Although the petition will not be heard until early 2017, as with other assigned and recently elected bishops, Oliveto will begin her term effective Sept. 1 of this year.

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