Bishop Karen Oliveto (center) visits with her mother, Nelle Oliveto (left) and her wife, Robin Ridenour outside the meeting of the United Methodist Judicial Council meeting in Newark, N.J. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

By Rev. Rich Lang | Seattle District Superintendent

Truthfully I don’t really know what to say about the Bishop Oliveto decision this past weekend. As many of you know the consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto (Rocky Mountain Conference) was ruled illegal by United Methodist Church law this past weekend. Bishop Oliveto is a married lesbian woman elected by our Western Jurisdiction, and it is her sexuality, not her competence or call, that was singled out in the latest controversy to rock our United Methodist world.

Rev. Rich Lang

I don’t know what to say because I’m not sure what the implications will be in our decades long struggle to figure out whether or not the United Methodist tribe will fully embrace all into a universal covenant of, as scripture says, “God as all in all”. I think we are still awaiting the next specially called General Conference (scheduled in 2019) to discern whether or not United Methodism will remain united.

There are times that I think it inevitable that we United Methodists are headed for divorce. In my own family life my mother married six times, and each of my three sisters divorced at least once. Divorce seems pretty normal to me. But my hope and prayer is that we might creatively embrace our diversity to forge a greater unity. I know that is hard to visualize, certainly almost impossible to fathom. After all, back in the days of the Abolition movement you couldn’t be both pro slavery and anti racism. One’s yes is not one’s no. Similarly it is hypocritical to say all have sacred worth, but some are more sacred than others. Who really wants to live in a segregated world of distinctions and divisions (cf: Ephesians 2:14)?

But I think sexuality is only a symptom of the real issue. What we are really wrestling with is the character and will of God. Is God a compassionate, benevolent presence that offers blessing and favor? Or, is God a righteous judge that separates the pure and impure, the submissive and the rebellious, the sinner and the saint? If God is truly “all in all” as Pauline theology testifies then it strikes me rather odd that we spend so much anxiety focusing on who is in, and who is out. What would United Methodism look and feel like if we thought and acted as if everyone was in? That includes the whole continuum of sexual expression, and the whole continuum of political parties and religious spiritualties. Although such a theology would demand a rigorous discipline over our ego, such a theology would, I think, help us to lead with encouragement and kindness towards all, even our enemies.  Which, by the way, was at the core of Jesus’ love commandment.  To love one’s enemy, just like loving one’s spouse or one’s kids, or one’s friends, seems to imply, at a minimum, protecting, sheltering and deeply caring despite the differences between us.

I know that for some it is normal to hate and to judge and to condemn and to divide. I know that for some it is normal to feel righteous while pointing the finger at others. But Christians aren’t called to normality. We have a greater destiny than that.


The Rev. Rich Lang serves as Seattle District Superintendent in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

6 COMMENTS

  1. For almost 40 years I have stood with those who believe that we are ALL children of a God who celebrates each of us as a unique creation, and who have tried to eliminate the prejudicial words ‘Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.’ from our Book of Discipline. I am so proud to be part of the Western Jurisdiction, which has chosen to follow Jesus’ love and acceptance of all persons. God has called Karen Oliveto to be a pastor and a bishop. How dare we say ‘No’?
    Rev. Barbara Grace Ripple
    Hawai’i District Supt. 1998-2004

  2. If someone is LBGT they were born to be LBGT, and telling someone that they are sinful due to how they were born is ignorant, at best, and I would say against anything that either God or Christ would have a Christian say or believe.
    Why would you single out someone’s sexual orientation or even gender identity to preclude their abilities, their compassion, caring or competence in a position such as cleric or bishop. The whole premise that you put forth just does not make any sense to a thinking person.
    If I constantly lied, was uncaring, showed no empathy or compassion toward my fellow human beings, but was competent, in that I gradated seminary, had a 4.0 GPA AND was heterosexual, then I suppose those who support the Good?? News theory would say that I would be suitable as a cleric or bishop??? WOW, if that is how the UMC thinks, I am glad that I no longer attend a UMC and, instead, attend a progressive UCC.

  3. “Bishop Oliveto is a married lesbian woman elected by our Western Jurisdiction, and it is her sexuality, not her competence or call, that was singled out in the latest controversy to rock our United Methodist world.”

    No, it was her open defiance of the Book of Discipline, not only with respect to her being openly gay, but also with respect to her conducting of same-sex ceremonies. She deemed herself incompetent by refusing to adhere to the Discipline she vowed to uphold.

    “What we are really wrestling with is the character and will of God. Is God a compassionate, benevolent presence that offers blessing and favor? Or, is God a righteous judge that separates the pure and impure, the submissive and the rebellious, the sinner and the saint?”

    God is both. But more than that, he set our moral standards, something not mentioned in your essay. He defined sin. His standards are the “plumb line” against which our conduct is judged as sinful or not.

    “What would United Methodism look and feel like if we thought and acted as if everyone was in? That includes the whole continuum of sexual expression, and the whole continuum of political parties and religious spiritualties [sic].”

    As if everyone was “in” what? The UMC? You must repent of your sins and believe that Jesus Christ is Savior. The Kingdom of God? Same answer. Heaven? Same answer. This is Christ’s command. Not sure how the “whole continuum” of “religious spiritualities” can be “in.” You must “repent” which presupposes sinfulness and a commitment to forego the sins from which you repent.

    Let me ask this question: what if the UMC pastors abided by the covenant they took when they were ordained? Answer: Unified. What happens when Jurisdictions like the Western Jurisdiction defy the BOD? What happens when pastors like Oliveto openly defy the Discipline? What happens when Bishops refuse to enforce the Discipline? De Facto schism.

    • If those in the UMC refuse to accept our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers as equals, in a similar way that the Methodist Episcopal Church (as it was then called) did in the 1840s, when the southern churches allowed slavery, as they viewed slavery as allowed in the “bible,” then perhaps the UMC will again split, or have a schism.
      However, if those who feel that being LBGTQAI is a choice, not an inborn trait, as psychiatrists, psychologists, and other educated individuals know, then a schism will occur.
      There is another way, a third way, and that is to have a “Big Tent Methodism.” Churches, conferences and jurisdictions who feel that all God’s children who love God and their neighbors should have full inclusion, meaning being able to marry the person they love in a UMC, and also, upon graduating seminary, be ordained as a UMC cleric, or a LBGTQAI cleric to become a bishop.
      Those who feel that being LBGTQAI is an incompatible choice, can refuse to allow those who are LBGTQAI to marry in a church or be ordained as a cleric or become bishop.
      The choice is yours, Full Inclusion, Schism or Big Tent.

    • In answer to your post, I feel compelled to add some humor. Suppose, just suppose, that in the next edition of the BoD, and there have been many editions, that the “wise ones of the UMC,” decided that anyone who had seizures, even though they were controlled, could not be married in the UMC or be ordained in the UMC. Remember, those who take the Bible literally, seizures are due to a demon inhabiting the body, and we cannot have someone with a demon residing in him/her as a cleric. Of course we know that seizures are caused by a misfiring of synapses in the brain, not demons. We know that the Earth revolves around the sun, not what the Bible taught, the Sun revolving around the Earth.
      We know, now, that being LBGT is inborn, not a choice. However, the UMC, or some in the UMC, have not come to that conclusion, yet.

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