Methodism’s Prohibition Bishop & Lesbian Bishop

The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction has defied church law regarding sexual ethics by electing as bishop an openly avowed lesbian married to another woman.

For many liberal United Methodists, LGBTQ affirmation is the primary justice cause of the day demanding church affirmation. Political social justice advocacy has been a theme of liberal Methodism and much of Mainline Protestantism since early in the 20th century, with a presumed univeralism/syncretism that doesn’t prioritize evangelism or discipleship. Instead, the church’s primary calling is to urge and model egalitarian political social justice. Over the last century there have been many urgent political crusades touted by zealous church activists who claimed their cause of the moment was crucial to God’s Kingdom on earth.

 

The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction has defied church law regarding sexual ethics by electing as bishop an openly avowed lesbian married to another woman. Karen Oliveto of Glide Church in San Francisco is a long-time LGBTQ activist and exponent of radical theology and politics. The church’s South Central Jurisdiction has asked the church’s top court, the Judicial Council, to address the legality of her election.

Although it includes the West Coast, Rocky Mountain states and Desert Southwest, the very liberal and fast declining Western Jurisdiction includes only about 2 percent of United Methodism’s global over 12 million membership. It long ago was said that Georgia has more United Methodists than the Western Jurisdiction. Now it can be said that the North Georgia Conference by itself has more members than a region including 10 mostly fast growing states in continental USA, plus Hawaii and Alaska. Very likely in the next decade the Western Jurisdiction, as it further declines with greater speed, will be disassembled, with pieces attached to other jurisdictions, maybe with the creation of a new missionary region that can rebuild what was lost.

In United Methodism jurisdictions elect their own bishops without wider ecclesial. approval. In contrast, under the Episcopal Church system, when the Diocese of New Hampshire nominated Gene Robinson as the their denomination’s first ever openly homosexual bishop, approval was required and gained from the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, setting in motion an ongoing Anglican schism in North America and globally over the last 13 years. The Episcopal Church’s membership decline accelerated, and New Hampshire lost about 20 percent of members under Bishop Robinson, who’s since retired and is now a fellow with the politically liberal Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Unlike the Episcopal Church and other declining USA Mainline Protestant bodies, liberals in United Methodism have failed to liberalize the denomination’s official teaching on marriage, thanks mostly to their own membership losses while conservative overseas United Methodist churches grow. So United Methodist liberals have in recent years touted defiance of church law, which officially teaches monogamy in male-female marriage and celibacy in singleness. Oliveto’s election is the latest defiance.

For many liberal United Methodists, LGBTQ affirmation is the primary justice cause of the day demanding church affirmation. Political social justice advocacy has been a theme of liberal Methodism and much of Mainline Protestantism since early in the 20th century, with a presumed univeralism/syncretism that doesn’t prioritize evangelism or discipleship. Instead, the church’s primary calling is to urge and model egalitarian political social justice. Over the last century there have been many urgent political crusades touted by zealous church activists who claimed their cause of the moment was crucial to God’s Kingdom on earth.

The first such social justice cause for 20th century Methodism was Prohibitionism, which imagined that the legal elimination of alcohol from society would establish public righteousness in which sober Americans were safer, healthier, kinder, more virtuous, more generous and a light unto the rest of the suffering world. It was Methodism’s greatest political success, for a time, and then its greatest failure, after Prohibition’s collapse, from which Methodist social witness and cultural influence never fully recovered.

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