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Lesbian Pastor Champions LGBTQI Acceptance In United Methodist Church

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – With hands and legs bound behind their backs, protestors at the United Methodist Church 2016 General Conference on Tuesday expressed their disapproval of the denomination's lack of acceptance regarding human sexuality.

For clergy members who are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, questioning or intersex (LGBQTI), the United Methodist Church's growing theological split is hard to ignore.

Last week, more than 100 United Methodist Church clergy members defied church rules and came out to the denomination's top church officials as LGBQTI the day before the General Conference was set to begin, making human sexuality a key issue at the 10-day event held every four years.

A letter from LGBTQI advocacy group Reconciling Ministries Network, initially signed by 111 ministers, states that the church "required that we not bring our full selves to ministry, that we hide from view our sexual orientations and gender identities."

The letter caused Reconciling Ministries Network's website to crash due to an overload of visitors. Since the release of the letter, at least nine more clergy have formally come out to the church.

On Tuesday, in the most recent show of defiance, a group of LGBTQI supporters and delegates held up their hands bound in rainbow stoles, while others were bound hand and foot and could be seen wriggling on the floor.

Delegates are asking the Council of Bishops for full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the church.

Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto was among the clergy who put her livelihood at risk last week when she signed her name to the letter and formally came out as LGBTQI to the church.

"We put our credentials on the line," Oliveto said last week. "We could lose out positions."

Oliveto is at the General Conference and provided CBS San Francisco with an update into the climate inside the Conference on Tuesday afternoon:

"There is a lot of dissatisfaction on all sides of the theology divide about the state of the church. While the "issue" is human sexuality, it goes much deeper theologically into how we interpret scripture. It is time the UMC finally has an honest conversation about this."

She said the delegates voted in favor of the Bishops meeting on Tuesday to bring a plan regarding human sexuality and the church back to session on Wednesday.

In a blog post on Saturday Oliveto wrote, "I want to remain as one church. If we can't figure out how to live together with our differences, what hope is there for the world?"

Oliveto said she's been fortunate to be a senior pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, where her bishop has been supportive regarding her sexual orientation.

"My bishop has been very supportive of me and my wife," Oliveto said, adding that many other pastors in various parts of the country don't have such support.

She sees this General Conference as a chance for the church to recognize the love she has for her wife and as a chance to bring hope to those United Methodists who are LGBTQI.

"We want to give hope to young people who are struggling," Oliveto said.

Oliveto is one of 864 delegates who have gathered in Portland, Oregon for the United Methodist Church's 2016 General Conference, where the rules of the United Methodist Church are amended or created every four years.

When asked why she doesn't leave the United Methodist Church, Oliveto said that she hasn't found an institution that she 100 percent agrees with, and that she relates to the United Methodist Church's belief in piety, spirituality, and social justice.

Oliveto said that she is one of the only women, let alone lesbian woman, serving as a pastor before 11,000 members. Glide is one of the 100 largest United Methodist churches in the U.S.

"Glide has always stood boldly on the side of justice… Glide has always been a model for what church really is," Oliveto said.

Part of the challenge, Oliveto said, is that the United Methodist Church extends outside the United States and that many conservative foreign delegates are fiercely against gay marriage and acceptance of LGBTQI individuals.

"If we were just a U.S. church, I don't think we'd be here," she said.

Bishop Bruce Ough weighed in on the issue Tuesday at the General Conference saying, "We have risked exploring what many would consider radical new ideas." He said that the bishops have been meeting with both conservative and progressive groups.

"We remain in dialogue; so much of who we are is working, yet so much needs to adapt to new realities," Ough said.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.

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