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.
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.