Los Angeles Times

Legal setback for gay Methodist bishop


NEW YORK — The first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church can stay on the job for now, but she is subject to a disciplina­ry review that could lead to her removal, the top church court ruled.

Bishop Karen Oliveto’s civil marriage violates church law that bars clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexual­s,” the Judicial Council said. A decision over whether she can remain in the position must come from a separate disciplina­ry process, the court ruled.

Oliveto was elected last year to lead a Denver-area church region that is part of the Methodist Western Jurisdicti­on, which has rejected the denominati­on’s position that “the practice of homosexual­ity is incompatib­le with Christian teaching.” Within minutes of her election, a challenge was filed by the Oklahoma-based South Central Jurisdicti­on, leading to Friday’s ruling.

The case is the latest chapter in an intensifyi­ng fight over lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgende­r recognitio­n that is fracturing the 12.8-million-member denominati­on — the thirdlarge­st in the U.S. Days earlier, bishops announced a special 2019 meeting of its top legislativ­e body, or General Conference, to address church law on sexuality and find ways the denominati­on can avoid schism.

LGBT advocates in the church have stepped up pressure to lift prohibitio­ns on gay clergy. Bishops have conducted same-sex weddings in defiance of church policy, and dozens of LGBT clergy have come out, risking being defrocked.

Evangelica­l Methodists, who have gained strength in the denominati­on in part through growth of Methodist churches overseas, have responded by pushing to enforce church policies. The court said Friday that bishops who consecrate an openly gay bishop were considered in violation of Methodist law and also subject to church discipline.

The Methodist policymaki­ng body has upheld the church’s stand on same-sex relationsh­ips since 1972, even as other mainline Protestant groups have approved same-sex marriage.

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