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First openly LGBT+ UMC bishop faces hearing while UMC struggles to hold together

First openly LGBT+ UMC bishop faces hearing while UMC struggles to hold together

From the Washington Post

“Bishop Karen Oliveto, who was elected last summer, immediately saw her election challenged by a Midwestern laywoman who said it violated church law, which forbids the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” Dixie Brewster of Milton, Kan., wants the court to invalidate the election.

The two women greeted one another and shook hands before Tuesday’s hearing before the Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest court. Nearly 200 people attended the hearing at a New Jersey hotel, which lasted almost three hours.

A ruling is expected within days.

Oliveto serves as bishop of the Mountain Sky Area, which includes Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and a church in Idaho. Her spouse, Robin Ridenour, is a church deaconess.

At the time of her election, Oliveto was a 58-year-old senior pastor of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. She won on the 17th ballot with 88 votes from clergy and lay delegates from states representing the denomination’s Western Jurisdiction.”


The issue of LGBT+ inclusion was the main topic of last year’s General Conference, which included the floating of plans to break up the United Methodist Church.  Ultimately, the church’s leadership held off on schism in favor of putting the topic off into the future in the hope that the break would lessen tensions (with limited success).


Yesterday, the Council of Bishops set the date for a special session of General Conference to deal exclusively with the issue.


“The Council of Bishops announced the call to a special General Conference on Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

The special meeting of The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly will be limited to acting on a report by Council of Bishops, based on the proposals from the Commission on the Way Forward. The 32-member commission, appointed by the bishops, has the charge of finding ways for the denomination to stay together despite deep differences around homosexuality.”

The Commission on the Way Forward was tasked with developing a structure that would allow the UMC to continue despite the deep disagreements over issues of LGBT+ inclusion.  The issue is divisive not only along the “liberal/conservative” rift, but also is a stumbling bl;ock to the UMC’s desire to be a truly world-wide church as the division is also seen along US/Global South lines.  Commission members indicated that they were leaning toward a simpler structure with clearer processes for decision-making and accountability for the church in its mission.  The commission members reported that they were honoring the learnings of the Call to Action and a worldwide Book of Discipline. Conversations during the meeting indicated a commitment to finding a way forward that honors the complexity of the global denomination and the unity of a shared faith in Christ.


In a personal response at Ministry Matters, Rev Christy Thomas, a retired UMC pastor says “It’s time.  Blow up the UMC.” She writes further;

“A couple of days ago, I posted on a UMC clergy Facebook page a blog piece written by a former pastor (not UM) with a transgender son. I’ve been following their journey for a while. The dad has written with great vulnerability about how his son’s reality has taught him what love is about.

[The] The responses may be breaking point for me. A church based on a theology of grace operates with no more gracefulness than the nastiness of our current political discourse. We have debased ourselves.”

Suggesting that from her perspective outside of the “church bubble,” the primary issues facing the UMC are structural, and not doctrinal.  And that these structural challenges, which perpetuate prejudice and poor pastoral leadership, are likely beyond repair.

“the hate-filled comments of my fellow clergy toward a young man who has finally found peace with himself has brought me to the breaking point. It’s indeed time to break up. The UMC must die to its prejudicial sin.”

The Episcopal Church. Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Presbyterian Church (USA) have all followed this path and have experienced schismatic efforts.  It seems likely that the UMC will experience the same.  No matter which way the Judicial Council decides on the election of Bishop Oliveto, the church will be filled with many people who will claim they no longer can tolerate the views of he other.




image: Bishop Karen Oliveto in the sanctuary of a United Methodist Church near her office in Highlands Ranch, Colo. (David Zalubowski/AP)


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Paul Woodrum

Amen, David. Amen.


The headline of this article is mistaken. The good Bishop Karen is not facing charges. Rather, a procedural ruling regarding the constitutionality within church law of the western jurisdiction appointing certain sorts of people as bishop is what is the matter at hand.

[please provide first and last name in future comments]

David Allen

certain sorts of people

That’s almost humorous if it wasn’t so demeaning! And sad.

I’ve never thought of myself as being “that sort of person!” I’ve just always thought of myself as me. Who knew?

Brian Foster (UK)

Jesus teaches us that there is no sexuality in Heaven – ALL are made in the image of His Father.

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