The United Methodist Church highest court has ruled against the consecration of the denomination’s first gay bishop on the ground that it violates the church law.
In its verdict, the Judicial Council reportedly decided the bishop “remains in good standing,” until an administrative or judicial process is completed.
Rev. Karen Oliveto became the first openly lesbian bishop to be elected in the United Methodist Church. She was the senior pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco before her elected as bishop on the night of July 15, 2016 at the Western Jurisdictional conference. She is also married to Robin Ridenour, who is a deaconess in The United Methodist Church.
According to Denver Post, Rev. Oliveto could face suspension or a trial to decide her fate. Statement from the church decision declared thus:
“Under the long-standing principle of legality, no individual member or entity may violate, ignore or negate 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.”
The Methodist church has been debating the issue of gay clergy for at least 45 years. In 1972, some delegates from the denomination adopted language saying homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and barred “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination. The language has meant that gay ministers can serve only if they are celibate.
Later, delegates further clarified that churches could not hold same-sex weddings and that Methodist pastors could not conduct them. In Oliverto case, she and her wife, Robin Ridenour, married in 2014 and still together. Within hours, her unanimous election as bishop was contested by the South Central Jurisdiction, which includes Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and five other states. South Central leadership said Oliveto’s election is not valid because Methodist law bars leaders who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
The decision said the church law requires all clergy persons to dedicate themselves to “the highest ideals of Christian life,” the decision said, including “their commitment to abide by and uphold the church’s definition of marriage and stance on homosexuality. An openly homosexual and partnered bishop is in violation of those minimum standards.”
The decision further found that an openly homosexual and partnered bishop may be charged with disobedience to church law, along with other bishops and clergy persons who actively participate in the consecration of a bishop who has been found to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual through a judicial or administrative process.
Gay members of the church expressed their support to Oliveto, and said they “welcome her role as their episcopal leader.”
Several opinion predicts the church could divide if the issue is not resolves amicably. Methodists in the Southern jurisdictions are said be predominantly conservative, and those in the Western areas are more progressive. Controversial events such as this has been known to split churches around the world.
The Methodist church had divided in 1844 over the issue of slavery but later merged in 1939, although institutionalized racial division within the denomination was not resolved until the 1980s.