United States

First Lesbian Bishop Elected by United Methodist Church

An openly lesbian senior pastor of San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church has been elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church, which raises concerns among the church's leadership, according to officials with Glide and the United Methodist Council of Bishops.

Rev. Karen Oliveto was elected to the post July 15 at a meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, of the church's Western Jurisdiction, which consists of eight regions in the western United States.

"This is a major victory for humanity!" Glide's co-founder and Minister of Liberation Rev. Cecil Williams said in a statement.

"Glide has been fighting for unconditional love and acceptance in the church and for the rights of all people regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status and others in marginalized and poor communities for over 53 years. This is an historic moment and truly the affirmation of love and justice."

Oliveto is the first United Methodist clergywoman to be a lead pastor of one of the 100 largest United Methodist Churches.

"I keep looking around to see who's around me," Oliveto said with a laugh. "Because it must be somebody else."

Glide has about 11,000 members, according to Glide officials.

Glide's Executive Director Rita Shimmin said she believes Glide is about creating a beloved community where everyone is included.

"Her election is a sign we're closer to realizing that beloved community," Shimmin said.

But Council of Bishops President Bruce Ough said in an address to the church that the election raises concerns and questions about church polity and unity, though church laws exist to resolve even complex issues such as this.

The church currently bans openly gay individuals from serving as ordained ministers, but the final decision lies with each region. Oliveto's election shows that not everyone agrees with the ban.

"For years, I withheld my name from the episcopacy because I didn't want to harm the church," she said.

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops said technically the judicial council could overturn the decision.

"It appears to be a violation of our current book of discipline, our current church law," Ough said. "There's been no formal complaint brought against her at this point. So that's why she been able to move forward in this election process."

Church officials are forming a commission to help members to navigate the future of the church.

Oliveto's last day at Glide Memorial is Aug. 14. She officially starts her job as bishop on Sept. 1.

Contact Us