DENVER - The first openly gay bishop for the United Methodist Church could lose her title because of her sexuality.
The denomination's highest court heard arguments Tuesday and could decide this week if it will overturn Denver-based Reverend Karen Oliveto's election.
"This is a community of faith and I'm a clergy person who believes we are called to draw our circle wider, not to build walls, not to build barriers, not to exclude people," said Rev. Eric Strader of Christ Church United Methodist.
The church on Colorado Boulevard in Denver is covered with rainbow signs signifying open doors for the LGBT community.
While some individual churches and pastors like Strader welcome diversity, in the 1970s the United Methodist Church added a clause to their rules stating clergy cannot be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."
Despite this rule, Oliveto became the first lesbian elected bishop last July. She oversees hundreds of churches in five states including Colorado.
"It's time," said Dr. Thomas Wolfe, president and CEO of the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
The school is associated with the United Methodist Church and some students graduate and go on to become Methodist pastors.
Wolfe said when Oliveto was elected last summer, he felt the church was moving forward.
"There is a generation being raised right now for whom human sexuality is not a defining issue," he said. "I think there's wisdom in that deep acceptance that can inform the church."
But there is still division in the church. A formal complaint challenged Oliveto's election and a judicial council in New Jersey will ultimately decide if she stays. It all goes back to the 1972 language barring openly gay clergy.
"I love this church but I will resist it when it says we are going to exclude people. I will stand firmly that God's love is greater and bigger and more powerful than the narrow ways we sometimes seek to understand it," said Strader.
A decision could come at the end of the week. Despite the result, Strader said Oliveto will always be his bishop.
The bishop was in New Jersey for the hearind and will be back in Denver Wednesday morning to speak to Iliff School of Theology students.
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