Methodists: Lesbian bishop violated church law by being ‘openly homosexual’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Methodists could open disciplinary proceedings against a married lesbian bishop that could see her stripped of her role.

San Francisco pastor Karen Oliveto was elected unanimously to serve as a bishop by the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction last year, in spite of official rules which ban LGBT ministers from serving openly.

Bishop Oliveto is married to her partner of 17 years, angering conservatives within the church who strongly opposed equal marriage.

The bishop had already been consecrated to lead the 400 churches in her jurisdiction, but Methodists from Deep South states filed an objection, alleging she is ineligible for the role.

Karen Oliveto

After taking up the case last month, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church has now ruled against Oliveto by a vote of 6-3, finding that she “violated” church law.

Oliveto will not immediately be expelled, but the church will begin disciplinary proceedings that could see her removed from her post.

The ruling states: “[Church law] requires that all clergy persons make a complete dedication to the highest ideals of the Christian life, including but not limited to, 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 these minimum standards.

“Being a self-avowed practicing homosexual incorporates a chargeable offense. An openly homosexual and partnered bishop may be charged with being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

The body added: “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 ruling stressed that Oliveto “remains in good standing” until the conclusion of the ongoing processes, but it paves the way for potential action to remove her.

In a statement, Bishop Oliveto appeared unbowed.

She said: “The decision was confusing and I think it reflects the confusion we have in the church regarding human sexuality in general and the role that L.G.B.T.Q. people have in the life of the church.

“I know there are people that are very upset that I’m a bishop in the church, but I’m committed to being a bishop that cares for them and prays for them and loves them. Because one part of the body of Christ cannot tell another, we have no need of you.

“There’s a lot of people working very hard to make sure the church is big enough for everyone. And we’re not going anywhere… I think there’s a love revolution going on in this church.”

Matt Berryman, executive director of the pro-LGBT Reconciling Ministries Network, added: “The Court’s reassertion of the system-wide discrimination that targets LGBTQ people compounds the weight and force of our punitive language and policies.

“We must never lose sight of the tremendous scandal that lies at the heart of the church’s policies embedded in disgust, shame, and fear.

“There is not now, nor has there ever been, any excuse or justifiable reason to condone or sanction the mistreatment of LGBTQ persons. What there is now, however, is a clear and unadulterated vision of judgment that awaits all those who continue to uphold such evil, injustice, and oppression.

“The Judicial Council has simply reasserted our longstanding anti-LGBTQ policies and the next move belongs to all of us.”

A rift in the Church has been deepening for some time.

Last year a group of 111 United Methodist Church clergy came out as gay to senior church officials in defiance of the rules, after threats of punishment against a lesbian pastor in Kansas.

The church has opted against any immediate move to relax its anti-LGBT rules.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, warned previously: “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.”