By Good News.
The Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, senior minister of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, has been elected as a bishop by the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. She is the first openly married lesbian to be elected bishop within the denomination. After two other candidates withdrew concluding the 16th ballot, Oliveto’s name was the lone candidate choice on the screen before the delegates.
She was one of three openly gay candidates running for bishop within The United Methodist Church. Gathering in Phoenix, the Western Jurisdiction delegates sent a provocative message to the worldwide 12-million member United Methodist Church – a denomination with over 5 million members in Africa and the Philippines.
Oliveto was a prominent signer of an open letter written by 111 “local pastors, deacons, elders, and candidates for ministry” with the intent to publicly come out to General Conference delegates on the day before the policy-making event took place in Portland. She has been the chair of the board of Reconciling Ministries Network and recently served as the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at Pacific School of Religion where she continues as adjunct professor of United Methodist Studies.
“There is a lot of dissatisfaction on all sides of the theology divide about the state of the church,” Oliveto told CBS News in San Francisco in May. “While the ‘issue’ is human sexuality, it goes much deeper theologically into how we interpret scripture. It is time the UMC finally has an honest conversation about this.”
The Council of Bishops was charged by the 2016 General Conference to create a special commission to explore the possibility of how the denomination can move forward with seemingly irreconciable theological differences over interpretation of scripture, marriage, and sexuality. Half a dozen annual conferences in the United States preemptively voted to pass variations on a resolution of non-conformity to the provisions of the Book of Discipline on issues of human sexuality.
The election of an openly gay bishop is not the kind of conversation that moderate and conservative lay and clergy leaders had in mind as the bishops prepare, later this year, to appoint the commission to study the church’s sexual ethics and preserve denominational unity.