Lesbian Bishop Responds To LGBTQ Ban In United Methodist Church
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A split may be coming in one of America's largest Protestant churches. The United Methodist Church has grown in recent decades to include millions of members around the world. And on Tuesday, delegates meeting in St. Louis not only rejected a proposal to accept LGBTQ bishops and same-sex marriage, they also voted to strengthen an existing ban. Bishop Karen Oliveto became the church's first openly gay bishop, despite the fact that it was ruled as incompatible with church law. She joins us now from St. Louis, where the meeting took place.
Thanks so much for being with us, bishop.
KAREN OLIVETO: Thank you so much, Rachel - good to be with you.
MARTIN: As I noted, you and others have been fighting for the United Methodist Church to become a bigger tent, specifically when it comes to LGBTQ congregants. Were you surprised by this outcome?
OLIVETO: I was surprised. It's not that we were trying to become one. We are one. The fact is there are LGBTQ people around the world serving in all levels of the United Methodist Church. What stunned me was our failure to recognize that, to celebrate it and to say, we are stronger because of the faithful witness LGBTQ people have been giving for decades within the church.
MARTIN: But it wasn't a failure to recognize or celebrate it. It was actually a repudiation of it, right?
OLIVETO: It was but by 54 votes out of 822. What the vote reveals is that we are extremely divided as a church. And I've been a local church pastor. I never take a vote when a church is that split. It means we have more work to do. We have more discernment to do, more relationships to build before you take a vote like that.
MARTIN: Are you concerned, though, that there will be people in your congregation and others around the country in different Methodist churches who say, this is not what we're about? If our church can't reflect our values as being inclusive towards LGBTQ people, then we're going to leave.
OLIVETO: I don't want to see anybody leave because we are stronger together. So my commitment is not to have anybody leave. But this is what I know. This decision has caused a shockwave of trauma across the church and around the world. There are hurting people in our pulpits and in our pews. And we have a lot of pastoral care to offer. We have to care for our young people who are shocked that a church that raised them, that helped them understand God's love for them - they see in this vote a tremendous rejection.
MARTIN: Let me ask you, though, about the fact that this is a global church. This wasn't just about American Methodists getting together and making this decision. There were delegates at this conference in St. Louis from many other parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, where the church is very strong and very conservative. I want to play a little bit of some remarks that were made by Rev. Jerry Kulah. He's from Liberia. This is what he had to say during the meeting.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JERRY KULAH: We support the traditional plan because it has helped the church in Africa. Today the church in Africa is growing in leaps and bounds because we are committed to biblical Christianity.
MARTIN: In his expression, biblical Christianity and the so-called traditional plan - this is a rejection of same-sex marriage and broader LGBTQ rights. How do you reconcile what appears to be a schism - a large schism between the progressive wing of the American church and the more conservative elements in this country that are aligned with the broader church, in particular, Africa?
OLIVETO: I celebrate what's happening in Africa. I know that there are LGBTQ people throughout the continent of Africa who face death for who they are. And the church ought to be speaking out, ought to be helping them live their lives safely, ought to be pushing back the injustices they face. So I want to work with my brothers and sisters in Africa and throughout the world because we have a message of love. The United Methodist Church has always been a big-tent theology church. We don't just turn to scripture. The United Methodist way of doing theology is to look at scripture and then look at church tradition, experience and reason. And so when you bring those four things together, it allows us a breadth of difference. And in the tension of our differences, there's something life-giving. And so we're losing that essential element of Methodism when we draw a line and say, no. This is the only way. That's never been who we are.
MARTIN: Bishop Karen Oliveto, thank you so much for your time.
OLIVETO: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.