In a momentous step toward LGBTQ equality the United Methodist Church (UMC), America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, has elected its first openly gay bishop.
The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC (a regional collection of churches) voted unanimously to elect the Rev. Dr. Karen Olive as a bishop. Oliveto currently is the pastor of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco, California. She came out to her congregation (and the denomination) as a lesbian in a same-sex relationship this past year, signing her name to a public list of LGBT Methodist clergy according to Jack Jenkins in a THINK PROGRESS article.
He went on to report that until the vote, the UMC (whose Book of Discipline still officially prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”) has not had an openly gay bishop.
This heralds a breakdown of a main obstacle that has inhibited the LBGTQ community from access to the ‘fullness of Christian vocation’ because their lifestyle is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’
“A 40-year movement to end codified discrimination against LGBTQ persons is reaching a tipping point that hardly any rational-minded observer can deny,” read a statement from Matthew Berryman, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, a pro-LGBT advocacy organization for Methodists.
Oliveto said after her election, “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.”
Carly Hoilman reported in THE BLAZE that the United Methodist Church remains deeply divided over LGBTQ rights. At the same time several regional districts are openly defying the prohibition by appointing gay clergy and allowing same-sex weddings in their churches. Some instances have led to trials under the church legal system.
In a statement released following Oliveto’s election, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, said, “This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.”
According to Hoilman the Council of Bishops does not have constitutional authority to intervene in the election, but “is monitoring this situation very closely.”
Ough went on to acknowledge that while some UMC members will see Oliveto’s election as a violation of church law that divides congregants, others will consider it a mark of inclusivity.
“Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable,” Ough said. “We are confident God is with us, especially in uncharted times and places.”
(Editorial note: In further reports these players will all be approached regarding the United Methodist Church and that denomination’s role in a future Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the United States.)
“What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”
― John Wesley