Post submitted by Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, former Director of Faith Outreach and Training
HRC calls on the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) to support the appointment of openly lesbian Rev. Karen Oliveto as Bishop, the highest office for an ordained elder. Oliveto’s appointment was challenged earlier this year by the South Central Jurisdiction of the Church.
At the May 2016 General Conference, the gathering of UMC’s top policy-making body, the Council of Bishops established the Commission on a Way Forward. The purpose of the Commission is to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph regarding human sexuality in the Book of Discipline, the formal collection of United Methodist doctrine, beliefs and policies that outline the roles and responsibilities of local churches. The Council of Bishops charged the Commission with addressing LGBTQ issues and exploring options to maintain and strengthen the Church as a whole. According to its mission, the Commission’s work is intended to “inform deliberation across the whole church and to help the Council of Bishops in their service to the next General Conference,” which will take place during a special session in early 2018.
In the interim, the South Central Jurisdiction of the Church asked the church’s high court to review Oliveto’s elevation. It alleges Oliveto’s election violates the Book of Discipline. This review is one of seven similar cases scheduled to go before the church court from April 25-28, in direct conflict with church’s previous position that such LGBTQ-related deliberations would be held in abeyance until the 2018 special session.
In a statement issued by President Bishop Ough at its last General Conference, the United Methodist Church celebrated unity as a gift from God: “We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord.” For the Judicial Council to consider this complaint and for it to move forward reneges on the promise of unity.
“I know there are many who are lamenting my election. Our task is to love deeply, which means standing before those who are angry, anxious, or fearful and be a witness to all they are feeling, and to remain in relationship through the power of Christ’s love,” Oliveto wrote in an open letter addressing the concerns of the South Central Jurisdiction. “The best of our United Methodist tradition is when we can hold the tension of our differences for the sake of our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God has called us for such a time as this. Can we do it? ‘Lord, we are able!’”
On Easter, more than 170 LGBTQ clergy members also issued an open letter to the Church “in support of every clergy person threatened by unjust actions, and our sibling, Bishop Karen Oliveto, as her standing is being challenged before the Judicial Council.”
LGBTQ religious leaders deserve the recognition of their peers, and the opportunity to lead the faithful in the same way non-LGBTQ leaders do. The Western Jurisdiction of the Church saw fit to recognize, elevate and celebrate Bishop Oliveto. The UMC would be best served by honoring their congregants’ decision.
People look to their faith as a source of guidance and inspiration -- and LGBTQ people are no different. HRC Foundation’s Religion and Faith Program is working to create a world where nobody is forced to choose between who they are, whom they love and what they believe. Learn more at www.hrc.org/explore/topic/religion-faith.