United Methodist groups divided after election of first LGBT bishop

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The head of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops said the election of its first openly lesbian bishop last week “raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.”

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, said the executive committee of the bishops’ council “is monitoring this situation very closely.” The bishops are gathering Tuesday and Wednesday (July 19-20) in Chicago as part of the commission on sexuality called for by the General Conference.

On Friday (July 15), the Rev. Karen Oliveto, senior pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, was elected bishop by the Western Jurisdictional Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., and consecrated the following day.

The election comes despite the denomination’s ban on the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

At its quadrennial General Conference in May, the United Methodist Church had decided not to take up contentious issues regarding the full inclusion of its LGBT members. At the Council of Bishops’ recommendation, the denomination agreed instead to create a commission to discuss the conflict over sexuality that could lead to a special session of the global conference in 2018 or 2019.

Ough maintained that still is “the best path.”

Her election was met warmly by delegates at the conference, according to UMNS, but reaction from United Methodist groups around the country has been sharply divided.

The Reconciling Ministries Network released a statement from its executive director Matt Berryman celebrating it as “an historic moment in the movement of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) persons for spiritual and civil equality both in the church and the public square.” The new bishop has served several terms as a Reconciling Ministries board member.

Meantime, the Rev. Rob Renfroe — president of Good News, which describes itself as an “orthodox” and “evangelical” movement within the denomination — was quoted in an article on Good News’ website calling the move in spite of decisions made at this spring’s global General Conference “deplorable.”

“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,” Renfroe said.

Ough released a statement after Oliveto’s election that read in part:

“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.”

The 56 regional annual conferences that make up those jurisdictions also have passed a mix of resolutions regarding the full inclusion of the denomination’s LGBT members.

Oliveto, 58, has been a delegate to the General Conference twice and to the Jurisdictional Conference five times, and she is a board member of the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration.

— by Emily McFarlan Miller | RNS

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