By RACHEL ZOLL - Associated Press - Monday, April 24, 2017
NEW YORK (AP) - Karen Oliveto clutched a friend’s hand, closed her eyes and wept when she learned last year she had been elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church. Oliveto, who is married to another woman, had become the denomination’s first openly gay bishop.
Within minutes, a formal complaint was filed challenging her election as contrary to the church ban on clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” - a petition that the highest Methodist judicial authorities agreed to consider. On Tuesday, the court will take up the closely watched case, the latest flashpoint over LGBT rights in a denomination splintering over the Bible and homosexuality.
“It highlights very greatly that we are two different churches and that the real difference is whether or not we’re going to live by the covenant that we each have agreed to,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, who leads Good News, a caucus of evangelical Methodists that has lobbied to uphold current teaching. Said Oliveto, “I’m in deep prayer, reminding myself of what God has called me to do.”
Oliveto, who is based in the Denver area, will attend the hearing in Newark, New Jersey, accompanied by fellow bishops from the church’s Western Jurisdiction, her wife, mother and childhood pastor. LGBT clergy and their supporters plan to pray outside and wear T-shirts listing the first names only of gay clergy who would risk losing their ministerial credentials by coming out.
The goal is to underscore the human cost of church policy, said the Rev. Lea Matthews of the LGBT advocacy group Methodists in New Directions. Prayer vigils are planned in the Methodist Mountain Sky Area region, which Oliveto leads, while others will join a prayer vigil online.
The court, or Judicial Council, is expected to issue a ruling a few days later.