The highest court within the United Methodist Church just released a ruling that is a blow to LGBTQ advocates. The Judicial Council for the worldwide, religious denomination ruled that Bishop Karen Oliveto’s civil marriage to another woman violates church law that bars clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Oliveto is the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church. The ruling means that she can stay on the job for now, but is subject to disciplinary review that could lead to her removal as bishop.
The Bishop was elected to lead a Denver-area region that is a part of the Western Jurisdiction in the UMC. They have officially rejected the denomination’s position that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Within minutes of Oliveto’s election, a challenge was filed by the Oklahoma-based South Central Jurisdiction which led to the Judicial Council’s recent ruling.
This case is just the latest chapter in a decades-long battle over LGBTQ recognition that has made the United Methodist Church anything but United. The 12.8 million-member denomination, the 3rd largest faith group in the U.S., has been fractured by this fight. Earlier this week, UMC Bishops announced a special 2019 meeting of its top legislative body (General Conference) where they will address church law on sexuality and find ways to avoid a denominational split.
LGBTQ advocates in the church have increased pressure to lift prohibitions on gay clergy. Some Bishops have conducted same-sex weddings in outright defiance of church policy, and dozens of LGBTQ clergy have come out and risked losing their credentials in the denomination. Those opposed to LGBTQ advocates, or Evangelical Methodists, have gained strength in the denomination in part because of Global Methodist leadership.
The General Conference of the UMC has upheld the church’s stand on same-sex relationships since it was first brought up for debate in 1972. But, opposition to that position has increased especially in the more liberal areas of the U.S. Other mainline Protestant groups, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), have changed their historic policies and approved same-sex marriage.
Bishop Oliveto replied to the ruling by saying that she felt “grateful” for the chance to remain as bishop while the church leaders study what the decision means for her future. Bruce Ough, President of the Methodist Council of Bishops, said that the decision would not ease “the disagreements, impatience and anxiety” within the church, but he appealed to all the UMC members to stay united.
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Credit: NBC News