Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Western Jurisdiction Post-Judicial Council Hearing Press Conference Remarks

My name is Karen Oliveto and I am the Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church. I stand here with my colleagues of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, the cabinet of the Mountain Sky Area and delegates and leaders from the Western Jurisdiction as well as my siblings in Christ, the Queer Clergy Caucus of The United Methodist Church. Also standing with me today is the childhood pastor who helped me hear my call into ministry, Rev. Ken White, my mother, Nellie Oliveto and my wife, Robin Ridenour.

I want to thank Rich Marsh for his hard work as counsel over these past many months, for Llew Pritchard for his assistance as co-counsel, and for the prayers from across the connection and around the world, that have sustained Robin’s and my souls.

I love being a bishop in The United Methodist Church. I have been moved by the faithful ministries within the churches of the area I serve. I love the relationships we have formed and the vision for our future that has prayerfully emerged in these nine months. It is as if everything I have done throughout my vocation has brought me to this position where I can best serve God as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

What is fascinating about today’s hearing is that no one questioned the gifts and graces I possess for ordained ministry and specifically for the episcopacy. And no one has looked at my work and said my abilities for this task are lacking.

In the Gospel of John it is written:

John 15:16  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name God will give you.

This is a pivotal moment in the life of The United Methodist Church as the Judicial Council deliberates on those whom God has called to bear fruit in the world-- specifically, the role gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people have in ordained ministry.

In fact, lgbtqi people have been serving faithfully as ordained ministers and yes, even as bishops, in The United Methodist Church since it was created in 1968. And we have done it at great personal cost, serving in the silence of closets, in order to be faithful to God’s call.

Making heterosexuality a requirement for ordained ministry instead of asking whether someone possesses the gifts and graces for ministry denies God’s infinite imagination that is evidenced through the lives of God’s diverse children. One part of Christ’s body cannot say to the other, “We have no need of you.”

Since 1972, The United Methodist Church as a human institution has been divided about homosexuality. We are not of one mind. What we know is that God loves us all unconditionally. We’ve come to an impasse. The legislative process and the decisions we’ve made have not allowed us to get to know each other, understand each other, hear how the Holy Spirit is working in our lives, and love each other deeply as God would have us do.

This is why I support the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. Some have said that my election was ill-timed. As people of faith, we know we can’t give deadlines and timelines to the Holy Spirit, who moves in our lives in surprising and unexpected ways and compels us to follow.  I strongly and prayerfully support the work of the Commission. If my election does anything, it highlights the urgency of their task. Because God has and will continue to call faithful United Methodists who happen to be lgbtqi to serve their church. This helps move the conversation away from debating homosexuality as an issue, to talking with people in The United Methodist Church who are lgbtqi whose lives bear the fruits of the Spirit that enrich the community of faith. In this way, we are bringing gay and straight together to build up the body of Christ in a way we have never experienced before.

I believe this is what John Wesley meant when he said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” He wove into the very fabric of the Methodist movement a vigorous tension of difference that enlivens unity, not detracts from it.

This is what I know to be true: the Holy Spirit will continue to move in the lives of lgbtqi United Methodists. Some will be called to ordained ministry. Boards of Ordained Ministry will find them to possess the gifts and graces for ministry. And there will be those to whom God calls into the episcopacy. I am not the first gay bishop, and I won’t be the last.

May we let go of fear of an unknown future, and live into love’s demands.

Bishop Karen P. Oliveto
Resident Bishop of the Mountain Sky Area
April 25, 2017