Attendees walk past a handful of placards during a break in the Methodists annual conference in Portland, Ore., in May 2016. The United Methodist Church, the nation's largest mainline Protestant denomination, was holding its once-every-four-years meeting and is facing a bitter fight over whether it should lift the church ban on same-sex marriage.

 Don Ryan/AP

 


Attendees walk past a handful of placards during a break in the Methodists annual conference in Portland, Ore., in May 2016.

The United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denomination, was holding its once-every-four-years meeting and is facing a bitter fight over whether it should lift the church ban on same-sex marriage.

Representatives of the United Methodist Church have elected their first openly gay bishop, in defiance of church prohibitions on homosexuality.

Rev. Karen Oliveto, senior pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, was elected bishop of the church’s Western Division at a conference Friday night in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“I think at this moment I have a glimpse of the realm of God,” 58-year-old Oliveto said after her election, according to a news story from the church. “Today we took a step closer to embody beloved community and while we may be moving there, we are not there yet. We are moving on to perfection.”

The United Methodist Church, which has more than 7 million members in the United States, is divided over the issue of homosexuality. “This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity,” Bruce R. Ough, president of the Church’s Council of Bishops, said in a statement after the vote.

As Ough wrote, “we find ourselves in a place where we have never been.” He highlighted the divisions on the issue:

“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.”

As the Associated Press reported earlier this year, “other mainline Protestant groups, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have approved same-sex marriage.” In a vote in May, the United Methodist Church’s top policy–making body “narrowly approved a full review of all church law on sexuality.” That is happening now and is expected to take at least two years.

Oliveto’s election, while the church’s practices are under review, garnered immediate criticism from some church members. “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,” Rev. Rob Renfroe, head of the evangelical organization Good News, said in the church’s news story.

However, as the church noted, many were celebrating – such as Wesley Hingano, who called it “a beautiful day.” The church added that “his father, Rev. Sisofina Hingano, was also a candidate for bishop. When Hingano withdrew his name from the ballot, he said he was doing it so people like his son could walk through the doors to freedom in the church.”

Hingano said: “I want to see gay and lesbian people walk freely.”