Methodists to de­cide whether openly gay woman can serve as bishop

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY RACHEL ZOLL

NEW YORK | Karen Oliveto clutched a friend’s hand, closed her eyes and wept when she learned last year that she had been elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

Bishop Oliveto, who is mar­ried to an­other woman, had be­come the de­nom­i­na­tion’s first openly gay bishop.

Within min­utes, a for­mal com­plaint was filed chal­leng­ing her elec­tion as con­trary to the church ban on clergy who are “self-avowed prac­tic­ing ho­mo­sex­u­als” — a pe­ti­tion that the high­est Methodist ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties agreed to con­sider.

On Tues­day, the court will take up the closely watched case, the lat­est flash­point over LGBT rights in a de­nom­i­na­tion splin­ter­ing over the Bi­ble and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

“It high­lights very greatly that we are two dif­fer­ent churches and that the real dif­fer­ence is whether or not we’re go­ing to live by the covenant that we each have agreed to,” said the Rev. Rob Ren­froe, who leads Good News, a cau­cus of evan­gel­i­cal Methodists that has lob­bied to up­hold cur­rent teach­ing.

Said Bishop Oliveto: “I’m in deep prayer, re­mind­ing my­self of what God has called me to do.”

Bishop Oliveto, who is based in the Den­ver area, will at­tend the hear­ing in Newark, New Jer­sey, ac­com­pa­nied by fel­low bish­ops from the church’s Western Ju­ris­dic­tion, her wife, mother and child­hood pas­tor. LGBT clergy and their sup­port­ers plan to pray out­side and wear T-shirts list­ing the first names only of gay clergy who would risk los­ing their min­is­te­rial cre­den­tials by com­ing out.

The goal is to un­der­score the hu­man cost of church policy, said the Rev. Lea Matthews of the LGBT ad­vo­cacy group Methodists in New Di­rec­tions. Prayer vig­ils are planned in the Methodist Moun­tain Sky Area re­gion, which Bishop Oliveto leads, while oth­ers will join a prayer vigil online.

The court, or Ju­di­cial Coun­cil, is expected to is­sue a rul­ing a few days later.

The 12.8-mil­lion-mem­ber church, the third-largest in the U.S., was al­ready in tur­moil over same-sex re­la­tion­ships when Bishop Oliveto was elected. Methodists ap­proved lan­guage in 1972 call­ing same-sex re­la­tion­ships “in­com­pat­i­ble with Chris­tian teach­ing.” The top church policy-mak­ing body, or Gen­eral Con­fer­ence, has up­held that policy ever since, even as LGBT rights gained ac­cep­tance and other main­line Protes­tants, in­clud­ing the Epis­co­pal Church and the Pres­by­te­rian Church (U.S.A.), ap­proved same-sex mar­riage. In re­cent years, the Methodists have seen their great­est growth overseas, es­pe­cially in Africa, among more the­o­log­i­cally con­ser­va­tive peo­ple, who have been stand­ing with U.S. evan­gel­i­cal Methodists against rec­og­niz­ing samegen­der re­la­tion­ships.

Deeply frus­trated, Methodist LGBT ad­vo­cates have stepped up pres­sure for new poli­cies, hold­ing same-sex wed­dings in de­fi­ance of church pro­hi­bi­tions and com­ing out as gay and les­bian from the pul­pit. Con­ser­va­tives re­sponded by in­ten­si­fy­ing de­mands for church dis­ci­pline over such ac­tions.

Karen Oliveto

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