Methodists elect first openly gay bishop despite ongoing ban

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A lesbian priest has been elected as the United Methodist Church’s first openly gay bishop – despite a church-wide ban.

The US Methodist denomination currently bans LGBT ministers from serving openly, and also bans same-sex weddings.

The UMC has deep divisions on LGBT rights – but earlier this year a group of 111 United Methodist Church clergy came out in a letter to senior church officials in defiance of the rules.

Though the church has opted against any immediate move to relax its anti-LGBT rules, progress came about in a different way this week – with the election of one of the 111 as a bishop.

San Francisco Rev. Karen Oliveto, of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, was elected on Friday night at a meeting of the UMC Western Jurisdiction.

Oliveto co-authored the book ‘Talking about Homosexuality: A Congregational Resource’.

According to a bio, she is a “lifelong United Methodist” who has led congregations in the San Francisco Bay area including Glide Memorial Church. She also taught students at the Pacific School of Religion and served several terms as a board member of pro-LGBT Reconciling Ministries Network.

Her election confirmed her as the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church – even though rules continue to ban openly LGBT people from serving.

But Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, warned: “Being a self-avowed, practising homosexual is a chargeable offence for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church, if indeed this is the case.

“The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely. Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable.

“We are confident God is with us, especially in uncharted times and places. There is a future with hope.”

Reconciling Ministries Network celebrated the news.

A statement said: “Reconciling Ministries Network celebrates with great joy the election of the first openly lesbian bishop in The United Methodist Church. This is an historic moment in the movement of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer persons for spiritual and civil equality both in the church and the public square.

“The election of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, CA breaks through anti-LGBTQ law in The UMC and carries queer people to the highest levels of church leadership.

“Officially barred from so many churches and positions of spiritual leadership, queer persons may now see themselves as leaders of the body of Christ in the largest mainline protestant denomination in the United States.”

The group added: “Today is cause for great celebration and joy in the lives of LGBTQ people and United Methodists everywhere.

“Not only has God seen fit to raise excellence in leadership to the level of a bishop in Rev. Dr. Oliveto, but we are all privileged to be living witnesses to the work of the Spirit who is animating resurrection in the body of Christ—a sign of great joy and great hope.

“It’s Time.”