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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The United Methodist Church is electing their first openly gay bishop.
In a decision Friday night at a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona for the church's Western Division, the Rev. Karen Oliveto was elevated to role of bishop, a move deemed controversial due to the church's current position on homosexuality. According to the church's 2012 Book of Discipline, "[t]he practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." It continues to note "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
"This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity," admits Bruce R. Ough, president of the church's Council of Bishops in a statement following the vote. "[Individuals] will no doubt have questions as we find ourselves in a place where we have never been."
The move comes nearly two months after a narrow vote by Methodist church hierarchy approved a "full review of all church law on sexuality." In their decision, the delegates chose to delay reviewing any proposals related to the LGBT community and instead conduct a two-year review of the implications of altering the Book of Discipline.
"We are at a precipice," asserted a delegate from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference. "There is urgency before us. The church might divide."
Despite this, representatives from the church's Western Jurisdictional Conference proceeded with electing of Oliveto, an open lesbian.
Speaking of the decision, Bruce Ough noted,
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. ...Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable.
"I think at this moment I have a glimpse of the realm of God," declared Oliveto, who hails from Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. "And know I stand before you because of the work and prayers of so many, especially those saints who yearned to live for this day, who blazed a trail where there was none, who are no longer with us, and yet whose shoulders I stand on."
"Today we took a step closer to embody beloved community and while we may be moving there, we are not there yet," she concluded. "We are moving on to perfection."
Although the move flies in the face of current Methodist discipline, there were those within the ranks who had wholly supported the move. "This means our church — at least part of our church — has finally come to the realization that there is no longer any place for exclusion," proclaimed retired bishop, Melvin Talbert. "We are all children of God regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or abilities. We would be blessed to invite all God’s people to their rightful place at the table."
"We just blew the socks off the denomination,” declared a lay attendee to the conference.
The reactions, however, were not all supportive, with the Rev. Rob Renfroe warning of the ramifications of a regional body ignoring the decision of church hierarchy. "[T]hese conferences have moved ahead with legislative enactments pledging non-conformity with the Book of Discipline, culminating in the election of a practicing homosexual as bishop," he explained. "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 church began undergoing much pressure to amend its guidelines following a 2015 decision by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the church's largest denomination, to change the church's constitutional definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples. Only a few months following the Presbyterian move, the General Convention for the bishops of the Episcopal Church approved liturgies or services geared toward same-sex couples.
The Episcopal approval was met with concern by hierarchy within the Anglican Communion, with the archbishop of Canterbury maintaining the "decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships."