Rev Karen Oliveto (58) is the first openly gay person to be elected bishop by the United Methodist Church, in contravention of church rules.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued the following statement regarding the results of the Episcopal election at the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church, meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, on July 15th.
“The Western Jurisdiction has elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco to serve as a bishop of The United Methodist Church. Rev. Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson.” This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.
Our Book of Discipline has clearly delineated processes in place for resolving issues even as complex and unprecedented as this election.
The authority to elect bishops is constitutionally reserved to the jurisdictional and central conferences. Any elder in good standing is eligible for election as a bishop of the church. An elder under an unresolved complaint is still considered to be in good standing. Being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual is a chargeable offense for any clergyperson in The United Methodist Church, if indeed this is the case.
The Council of Bishops is monitoring this situation very closely. The Council does not have constitutional authority to intervene in the election or supervisory processes at either the annual conference, jurisdictional or central conference levels. And, we are careful to not jeopardize any clergy or lay person’s due process by ill-advised comments” […..].
He acknowledged that whereas some would see this as a violation of church rules, others would see it a step forward towards inclusivity:
“There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. Others will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been. Still, others will likely see this election as disrupting or even rendering moot the purpose and work of the Commission currently being formed by the Council”.
However, the bishop stated that the church would continue to work together to iron out any differences or disagreements, and that their unity was not defined by uniformity.
Rev Oliveto was elected on the 17th ballot with 88 votes. Another gay candidate, Rev Frank Wulf, had withdrawn earlier.
The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States: the Alaska Conference, the California-Nevada Conference, the California-Pacific Conference, the Desert Southwest Conference, the Oregon-Idaho Conference, the Pacific Northwest Conference, the Rocky Mountain Conference and the Yellowstone Conference.