09:16, April 29 456 0 theguardian.com

2017-04-29 09:16:03
First openly gay United Methodist bishop stays, subject to church review

The first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church can stay on the job but is subject to a disciplinary review that could lead to her removal, the church’s top court ruled on Friday.

Bishop Karen Oliveto’s civil marriage to another woman violates church law that bars clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”, the Judicial Council said. However, 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”.

Two other gay clerics, based in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, were nominated in the same election. One withdrew and one was not successful.

Within minutes of Oliveto’s election, a challenge was filed by the Oklahoma-based south central Jurisdiction. That lead to Friday’s ruling, in which the court said bishops who consecrate an openly gay bishop are considered in violation of Methodist law and subject to church discipline.

The ruling was made on a 6-3 vote. Oliveto said she felt “grateful” for the chance to remain as bishop as she and other church leaders study what the decision means for her future.

Bruce Ough, president of the Methodist Council of Bishops, said the decision would not ease “the disagreements, impatience and anxiety” in the church, but appealed to church members to stay unified.

The case is the latest chapter in an intensifying fight over LGBT recognition that is fracturing the 12.8 million-member denomination – the third-largest faith group in the US.

Earlier this week, bishops announced a special 2019 meeting of its top legislative body, 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.

In response to Oliveto’s election last year, the Rev Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, an evangelical organization, said: “If the western jurisdiction wanted to push the church to the brink of schism, they could not have found a more certain way of doing so.”

The Methodist policy making body has upheld the church’s stand on same-sex relationships since 1972, even as other mainline protestant groups, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), have approved same-sex marriage.