The Rev. Dr. Karen P. Oliveto was elected to the episcopacy on the 17th ballot by the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church (UMC). Her wife, Robin Ridenour, stands with her.
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Last night the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church elected the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto to the episcopacy. And they made history by electing the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church.
Dr. Oliveto is currently the Senior Pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the country.
Before her appointment to Glide, she served as the Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and the Director of Contextual Education at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She also served as pastor at Bethany UMC in San Francisco and at Bloomville UMC in Bloomville, New York. She also served as the Campus Minister at the Ecumenical House Campus Ministry at San Francisco State.
She did her undergraduate work at Drew University, where she also earned a Master of Philosophy and a Ph.D. She earned her Master of Divinity degree at the Pacific School of Religion. And she has been a leader in a number of agencies addressing the needs and hopes of people at the margins of society. She is known as an excellent preacher and a caring pastor.
She is, by every reasonable measure exactly the sort of person we should be electing to lead the church.
Except, of course, for the part about being openly gay. And in a partnered relationship.
Before the Western Jurisdiction delegates had finished celebrating, the delegates in the South Central Jurisdiction voted to ask the Judicial Council (the Methodist equivalent of the Supreme Court) for a declaratory ruling on the legality (in church terms) of the election.
The request, approved by 56% of the delegates, was made by Dixie Brewster (that really is her name), a lay woman from Kansas.
This is her motion for a "Declaratory Decision":
MOTION FOR A DECLARATORY DECISION
"Bishop, I move that the South Central Jurisdictional Conference request a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the following matter:
"Is the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as a bishop of The United Methodist Church of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage lawful under The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.
"What is the application, meaning and effect of ¶ 304.3, ¶ 310.2d, ¶ 341.6, and ¶ 2702.1 (a), (b), and (d) in regard to the nomination, election, consecration and/or assignment as bishop of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage or civil union?
• "Does a public record that a nominee for the episcopacy is a spouse in a same-sex marriage disqualify that person from nomination, election, consecration and/or assignment as a bishop in The United Methodist Church?
• "If a jurisdictional conference nominates, elects, consecrates, and/or assigns a person who, by virtue of being legally married or in a civil union under civil law to a same-sex partner, would be subject to a chargeable offense, is the action of the jurisdictional conference null and void?
• "Is it lawful for one or more of the bishops of a jurisdiction to consecrate a person as bishop when the bishop-elect is known by public record to be a spouse in a same-sex marriage or civil union?
• "When a bishop, district superintendent, district committee on ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session becomes aware or is made aware that a clergy person is a spouse in a same sex marriage or civil union of public record, does such information in effect and in fact amount to a self-avowal of the practice of homosexuality as set forth in ¶ 304.3, related footnotes and related Judicial Council Decisions?"I included the full resolution because it illustrates both the arcane nature of the Discipline and the lengths some will go to in order to prevent the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church.
In the twenty-first century, is this really what the church should be doing? Is this how we bring Good News to a hurting world? In the history books, this little chapter in the life of Methodism will look like the Salem witch trials.
But there is a larger point, which is illustrated in the scripture text (above) from Luke’s Gospel.
In an unintended way, Karen Oliveto and Dixie Brewster provide the perfect illustration for what the United Methodist Church ought to be. We ought to have a place for each of them. They both belong.
Of course, in order for that to work, Dixie Brewster would have to stop trying to exclude Karen Oliveto. But we ought to be a place where diverse opinions can peacefully coexist. And at our best we have been that place.
We sometimes ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”
We know from the Gospel records, that he would be advocating for those at the margins, for those who are excluded.
But I believe he would also be taking Dixie Brewster out to lunch.