Karen Oliveto’s Theology of Criticizing Jesus, Defending Demon Possession

on July 16, 2016

In light of the dramatically pro-schism action of the United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction to propose non-celibate lesbian activist Karen Oliveto to be a new bishop (currently being challenged), it seems worth reviewing her rather radical theological worldview.  The following is actually an early version, with some slight edits, of an article I originally wrote in 2005 on some presentations given at “Hearts on Fire,” a gay United Methodist gathering, by Ms. Oliveto, before she had publicly “outed” herself as a partnered lesbian. 

When I first published this information on our website and in our UM Action Briefing newsletter, it provoked a lot of discussion, including among United Methodist bishops and leading theologians.  I briefly met Oliveto herself not too long after my original report.  Yet in all of the more-than-11 years since we first published this information about Karen Oliveto’s beliefs, I have not observed a single person who was also present for her remarks claim that I at any point misrepresented the truth of what she said there.  Not one. 


The plenary bible studies at the Reconciling Ministries Network’s (RMN) “Hearts on Fire” Convocation, held at Lake Junaluska from September 2-5, 2005 were led by Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto. As pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco, she made headlines last year by officiating at a number of same-sex “marriage” ceremonies, in violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline she vowed to uphold.

Oliveto was supposed to have been joined by the Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, who like Oliveto is currently a professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. However, Kuan was unable to make it to the conference, and so Oliveto explained that she was charged with relating what he would have said as well as conveying her own biblical exegesis.

On the opening night, Oliveto preached on Acts 1:6-11, which describes Christ’s ascension to heaven. She speculated that Jesus laughed at his disciples for continuing to look up as he was lifted out of their sight, trying to “keep their eyes locked on a past that is no longer,” rather than looking down and moving on.

Curiously, the RMN leader proceeded to use this as a biblical argument for acceptance of homosexual practice. While our church “remain[s] rooted to … old traditions” which “may have served us once,” being “rooted in the past” will deprive us of enjoying what God is doing here and now, she warned. By not affirming homosexual practice, Oliveto lamented that the United Methodist Church “has kept its face turned to a past that no longer serves the whole family of God.”

Furthermore, the seminary professor argued that just as the church had overcome “Scriptural norms or church traditions” to reject racism and accept women’s ordination, the church now needs to discard Scriptural and traditional standards in order to affirm homosexuality. Oliveto did not explore the possibility of there being Scriptural reasons to oppose racism and support women in ministry.

Oliveto found encouragement for the Reconciling Ministry Network’s “progressive theology” and in the Pentecost story of the disciples speaking in diverse tongues through the power of the Holy Spirit. While some may say that a weakness of progressive theology is a “lack of cohesiveness,” she encouraged conference participants to embrace this as a great strength. Theological liberals are not like “the religious right,” which is “univocal,” Oliveto boasted. Therefore, she urged her audience to not “expect one uniform progressive theology” or “suppress other views,” presumably meaning as long as those un-suppressed views are not conservative.

After lauding its lack of “univocality,” Oliveto delimited the boundaries of progressive theology.  It should be framed by “pluralism,” “feminism,” “liberationism,” “post-colonialism,” and “ecological and environmental responsibility,” she said. She exhorted “Hearts on Fire” participants to “openly embrace the agenda that drives progressive theology.”

The seminary professor also cautioned her audience against taking too high a view of Scripture.  “The text, the Bible, is not God,” she explained, and “biblical theology” requires addressing both “the benefits and flaws” of Scripture.

On Sunday, Oliveto directly tackled alleged flaws in Scripture. She repudiated at length what she called the “theology of election and chosenness” that she traced in the Bible from God’s choosing Isaac over Ishmael to the Jews being God’s chosen people and on through the New Testament’s teaching that followers of Jesus Christ have a special relationship with God that non-Christians do not have. She also specifically criticized the language used by Jesus Christ Himself of separating sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46.  Oliveto blamed this acknowledged biblical theme for the evils of colonization, slavery, “destruction of native cultures and religions,” women’s subordination, racism, and current oppression of “the gays and lesbians.”

In contrast, Oliveto had asserted that the message of Jesus (at least in what she judged to be the good parts of the Bible) is that “no one is to be excluded from the community” of faith.  She also argued that God’s calling Peter to evangelize Cornelius the Gentile in Acts 10 signified a comprehensive razing of barriers that divide “God’s people.”

In her sermon during the closing worship, she criticized St. Paul for casting a demon out of the slave girl in Acts 16:16-18. Oliveto encouraged her audience to question the traditional interpretation that this exorcism was “an act of liberation” for the girl. Negatively comparing Paul’s response to the slave girl to his subsequent saving of the jailer, Oliveto asserted that Paul was not motivated by compassion for the slave girl and noted that the text does not say that she found salvation.

The RMN leader went on to defend the demon’s possession of the slave, as this demon helped enrich her owners by giving her fortune-telling abilities. Oliveto declared that by casting the demon out of the girl, Paul did nothing to make the girl’s life better and “probably made it worse” as she was now “damaged goods.” Oliveto was very concerned by “questions about the imposition of religious values,” such as if the exorcism was really good for the slave girl and whether she wanted to be exorcised. However, she did not explore the possibility of demon possession having had any detrimental effect upon the girl.

At another point, Oliveto shared an anecdote apparently meant to encourage her audience about the future. Two men that she knew had been “married” in a church service and there had been some concern about how one of the men’s son, Cliff, would accept it.  But sometime after the union, Cliff was playing with a good (male) friend and exclaimed that they should get married when they grew up.  Overhearing, mother of the friend told Cliff not to be silly, as he knew that boys could not get married to each other.  But Cliff just looked up at her “like she was crazy” and declared, “in my church, they can!”

  1. Comment by John Lomperis on July 16, 2016 at 2:27 am

    The above picture is from a brief statement Oliveto made in 2015: “As a Christian pastor, I stand with my Muslim brothers& sisters and against #Islamophobia #WeAreAllMuslim “

  2. Comment by Glen from the mail room on July 16, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    only christians are our brothers and sisters, she is obviously not one

  3. Comment by revrun on July 16, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Do you know her?

  4. Comment by Glen from the mail room on July 16, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    its rather obvious when you stand with islam, the oppressor and murderer of christians

  5. Comment by muzjlk on July 17, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Who would want to? She is obviously insane.
    A lesbian claiming solidarity with Muslims – she’s a nut case.

  6. Comment by ms1mm0 on April 20, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    I do know her. She was deemed best person for the job. She was declared Bishop of our Western Jurisdition through
    due process of the UMC. She has been openly gay for many years. She like all other LGBT people do not choose to be
    gay. Who would want to live a life of continual bullying, harassment, discrimination? The Book of Discipline has been used to discriminate against LGBT people for 40 years and is in breach of human and civil rights. Nor does it represent scripture. History has shown that oppressed peoples eventually overturn their oppressors – it’s the human spirit.

    It is interesting to hear so many straight people lecture gay people on standards where heterosexuals are solely responsible for the skyrocketing divorce rate in the US. You need to stand in the shoes of an LGBT person and feel their pain and suffering – know what it is like to have the door constantly slammed in your face and you heart broken daily. Please don’t insult LGBT people by telling them some of your best friends are gay. I can assure you that at best they tolerate you. Then again, LGBT people are probably some of the most tolerant people I know.

    The number of verses in scripture relating to homosexuality are in single digits – compared to 100s of verses for heterosexual moral behavior. As a white American it is unlikely you know what it is like to be discriminated against. If you want to take the bible literally then 1 Corinthians 14:34 “women should be silent”. What about Don’t eat
    shellfish, do not be in the same house as a menstrurating woman, do not wear clothes of mixed fabrics, do not shave –

    I could go on. The point is most of us have evolved and have become educated and understand that these laws are based on lack of intelligence, are irrelevant, unnecessary in today’s world beacuse we have more intelligence these days…..
    Whatever the outcome of the Judicial Council hearing set for April 25 this is a necessary step for the UMC.

    As for this forum – I can’t recall when I last saw so much hate from so many wannabe-Christians – with a small ‘c’. Your hate betrays you.
    That said – I love you all – and there’s nothing you can do about that.

  7. Comment by Faithful Christian on April 26, 2017 at 1:46 am

    It isn’t a choice? I suppose this is why people become homosexual only after they were either molested, exposed to the mainstream media, exposed to public schools, or exposed to people that support homosexuality? This is also why transgenderism is on the rise. And leftism.

  8. Comment by looneytoonsindville on October 5, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Jesus said to the prostitute, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on SIN NO MORE.”. (Emphasis added)

  9. Comment by Stephen Bringardner on March 24, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    I feel your love, brother.

  10. Comment by Kathe on August 16, 2018 at 10:04 am

    @ms1mm0: I am not a so-called “straight person” lecturing about the perils of homosexuality. The LGBTQ affirming movement would label me Queer because of who I am attracted to. But I daily submit my heart, mind, and spirit to the authority of God’s Word. I believe everyone who professes to be a Christian, regardless of sexual leanings, should leave behind sexual sin of all kind, whether “hetero” or otherwise. Also, regarding your point about the divorce rate of traditional marriages, I find that a hollow point. My cousin has been married and divorced twice in gay marriage. I do not know Bishop Oliveto, but her teaching is public. Even if she weren’t LGBTQ-affirming, I would still say this particular teaching reveals a heretical view of Jesus.

  11. Comment by Paul on August 5, 2019 at 6:32 am

    Good Lord, I have to respond to this:
    “I suppose this is why people become homosexual only after they were either molested, exposed to the mainstream media, exposed to public schools, or exposed to people that support homosexuality?”

    I was 10 when my parents explained the “facts of life” to me with a book written for children my age. It had chapters about a girl growing up and chapters about a boy growing up. I was10 years old and fascinated by the story of the boy. I was essentially excited by thinking of him and not interested in her at all. I didn’t know that I was going to go through teasing and be bullied occasionally as a teenager, nor that I would have to lie to my male friends about which girl I fancied (when I did not of course).

    I was NEVER molested. Not by anyone. I wished a male friend of mine would, but that was only in my secret fantasy I had. My parents, still married and faithful after 50+ years, were wonderful. I had no evil sibling or uncle touch me inappropriately.

    So let us be VERY clear about this. I did not understand it at the time, but I was very clearly growing up attracted to other boys, and later to men. Never to the females of this world, even though I obviously have some great female friends. I have to take issue with any suggestion that being gay is caused by mistreatment. In my case it clearly was not. Is not. I was/am just wired the way I am and I found someone else like me 15 years ago. We’re still together and plan on being so until we die.


  12. Comment by Christian Counseling and Resea on July 17, 2016 at 8:17 am

    Please STOP telling me that I’m Muslim ! STOP IT with the FALSE Prophesies, harracies , and Anti-Christ sentiment inflicted upon a Minister CALLED by God, and standing firmly on the unadulterated TRUTH of His WORD, as He can not lie ~

  13. Comment by Michael Vannoy on September 16, 2017 at 11:37 am


  14. Comment by Birdellia Patrick on October 5, 2017 at 11:13 am

    I wouldn’t want to be in this woman’s shoes when she stands before Jesus on the day of judgement. She is a daughter of the devil and if she don’t repent she will spilt hell wide open.my God have mercy on her soul

  15. Comment by diaphone64 on November 9, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist–denying the Father and the Son.
    I John 2:22

  16. Comment by Ken M on July 16, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Liberals don’t actually believe in salvation or an afterlife. Getting attention like she’s doing right now is the closest they get to a spiritual experience. If you read the posts by homosexuals on religious blogs, there’s this constant refrain – “We exist!” Talk about a religion of low expectations – “Conservative Christians are talking about me! I’ve never been so happy in my life!”

  17. Comment by revrun on July 16, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    You really don’t have a clue.

  18. Comment by Faithful Christian on April 26, 2017 at 1:47 am

    They are like modern day Saduccees, only they replace the Law with whatever the leftists are rallying around.

  19. Comment by Patrick98 on July 16, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Demon possession is a reality and not to be scoffed at. Casting demons out of people in the name of Jesus is a mercy and true liberation.

  20. Comment by Patrick98 on July 18, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Who puts these spam comments on websites? Does anyone ever click on these commercials and check out this scubala?

  21. Comment by Dan on July 16, 2016 at 11:49 am

    So, instead of revoking her clergy credentials and bishop election because she is a self-avowed, practitioner of homosexual acts, why not just give her the boot because she is not a Christian. Oh wait, if we apply the criteria that UMC clergy have to be Christian, we’d have to boot over 50% of them, according to recent surveys of their beliefs.

  22. Comment by Philip on July 16, 2016 at 12:50 pm

    We once were Wesleyan, now we are Unitarian Universalists. I’m not elitist enough to be UU and I like reading the Bible. Who wants to spend time wallowing in their own enlightenment? Not me.

  23. Comment by Christian Counseling and Resea on July 17, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Secularists cult ~ ONLY God gives LIFE ~ any blind eyes opened after all this emoting ? Deaf ears healed ?

    * Come meet a Safeway worker BORN with a hearing impairment COMPLETELY HEALED in Manoa Honolulu ~ no longer has to wear a hearing aid !

    Now that’s what I call CHURCH ! ! ? Sure glad we spent time in God’s unadulterated Word of LIFE, vice endless opinion blogs without RESURRECTION LIFE ~ & so is the Safeway worker : ) ~ welcome to meet him !

  24. Comment by Barrister on July 16, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Fine. Just agree to disagree. Bye
    The scripture says this

  25. Comment by OldCat1 on July 16, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    It’s pretty apparent that the Western Jurisdiction is not Christian.

  26. Comment by Knotty woodworker on July 21, 2016 at 4:08 pm

    At least the MAJORITY of the Western Jurisdiction are not Christian. I live in the WJ, PNW Conference. I am a Christ follower whose stomach is in termoil over these attacks on the church. In the PNW conference about 30% of UMC church members are Christ followers. I base this on voting at the many Annual Conferences I have attended.

  27. Comment by Namyriah on July 16, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    Let her go stand on the street in Nice and hold that sign up.

  28. Comment by Christian Counseling and Resea on July 17, 2016 at 8:31 am

    Clever ~

  29. Comment by Tim Ahlen on July 16, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    Fortunately, Ms. Oliveto has not been assigned the privilege or responsibility of validating our Lord or His Word. Quite the contrary, it is our Lord Who through His Word validates, or should I say, invalidates, those who claim to speak for Him.

  30. Comment by Christian Counseling and Resea on July 17, 2016 at 8:01 am

    Not Muslim ~ please ask the Holy Spirit BEFORE perpetuating your false prophesy signage ~ ~

    If a blind man follows a blind man, in this case woman, both will fall into a pit ~ hopefully not The Eternal pit …

    “Thou shall NOT covet thy neighbor’s wife” … The fear of The Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom ~ all sounds like a secular cult to me, UMC will branch off of this cult.

    Our Board Member and Pastor has a marvelous deliverance, healing and prophetic ministry ~ Our Director, deliverance for schizophrenia gives Messiah’s peace to those tormented by fear and demonic oppression ~ this misguided “bishop” won’t get any of our guys to agree that they were better off in the psycho ward – called to God’s lost sheep, our Director’s bi and lesbian friends have been, themselves delivered by God’s unfailing love, and are ashamed of their past horring around, decadence and the like, wanting to live in obedience to the Lord know ~



    Mark 9:42-43, 45, 47-48 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

    Let God be True, and every man a liar ~

    * Some of our ministries are so strong, that your aggression can not stand, many die right in front of us for lying to The Holy Spirit within our Ministries ~

  31. Comment by craigeliot on July 17, 2016 at 9:00 am

    What an imbecile. The LAST thing Muslims want are gay people.

  32. Comment by Faithful Christian on April 26, 2017 at 1:42 am

    I believe that she supports Islam because of her subconscious hatred of Christian values, which is what the followers of the Quran hate as well.

  33. Comment by OriginalRS on July 17, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Can she be booted for a lack of intelligence? She certainly seems like she’d qualify, and you’d think you need SOME standards to be a bishop and all.

  34. Comment by myrnaJO on July 17, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    I would tell her to speak for herself – being a muslim means you believe as one ! I certainly don’t and NOBODY I know does either. Let her go live in a muslim country and then tell us she is a muslim !

  35. Comment by mamaditto on August 25, 2016 at 9:58 pm

    I’ll give you three guesses as to what the towelheads would do to her.

  36. Comment by Beau Jackson on July 18, 2016 at 10:11 am

    She doesn’t have a theology, she has ME-ology. This is all about her.

  37. Comment by Andreas Kjernald on August 19, 2016 at 6:20 am

    This article needs to be take for what it is…a reprinted 11 year old article about a couple of sermons at a convention for RMN. As such, it behooves us to be cautious about drawing too many conclusions, especially about the “I am muslim” sign”. Clearly, it follows in the “I am Charlie” tradition from Paris, France and clearly people back then weren’t saying that they were a newspaper.
    I know that even though I am very conservative/evangelical some stuff that I preach may sound heretical out of context. BUT, with that said it is obvious that what Oliveto is preaching is the results of horrible exegesis.
    The problem for the UMC is not necessarily that a bishop is epsousing heretical and fallacious opinions, it is that there is no accountability. I would be amazed if the judicial council takes action here, as we have seen numerous other instances where ordained elders and even bishops openly state that they will disregard the General Conference and/or the BoD…without any action taken. Without enforcement our BoD is toothless.

  38. Comment by Diane Katz on August 20, 2016 at 6:59 pm

    Confusing, self-serving babble (Or shall I say “Babel”?) with a big dollop of grossly misinterpreted Old Testament to further corrupt. Feh!

  39. Comment by mamaditto on August 25, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    She’s a nut.

  40. Comment by Child of God on August 26, 2016 at 4:27 pm

    It’s a shame that the UMC has allowed heretics to invade the Denomination. As in Christ’s time, it’s the Religious leaders who are the main problem. They mostly seem to be more interested in their own power, and current day politics, than in Jesus.

  41. Comment by Faithful Christian on April 26, 2017 at 1:53 am


  42. Comment by okiefrom on August 31, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    The IRD is “crabgrass in the lawn of life” , as Charlie Brown used to say.

  43. Comment by RandyBurbank on September 2, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Well, since we are all children of God, what difference does it make what we do, as long as we believe that God is love and that love overlooks whatever is wrong with us. Well, we certainly don’t need to even have churches, or seminaries!

  44. Comment by Ron Roesener Grand Valley UMC on May 5, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    This article supports my feelings that the church is saying my family is not welcome because I have a daughter that is a lesbian.

    I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Karen Oliveto and I found her inspiring. Her passion of Christ came through in her service. I also had the pleasure of meeting her partner. I found them both Christians in mind and spirit.

    This is the 21st Century. She makes a point that God did not write the bible but man did. It was written over 500 years with contributions by many. I am inspired by the Bible enough so I have read it five times.

    Should Dr. Oliveto be asked to step down and/or leave the faith my conviction is to do the same. UMC would no longer be my church. She has more to offer than many ministers I have heard over 68 years. The UMC needs to examine their beliefs.

  45. Comment by Rozlynn Downer on October 3, 2017 at 9:28 pm

    If and when the UMC officially endorses homosexuality and/or pastors we will officially leave it. We are now 57 year members joining at age 12. My grandfather was a fire and brimstone Methodist pastor. I remember regular alter calls and revivals! Fortunately we still attend what I would call an evangelical Methodist Church. Apostasy is great everywhere in these last days; just EXACTLY as prophesied!

  46. Comment by Lynn Helene Bonfils on November 29, 2019 at 8:04 pm

    God tells us that we cannot add or subtract anything from the Scriptures. God is love but He is also the God of Justice. Sin separates us from God – He does not tolerate sin. Those that continue in sin will experience eternal damnation. The UMC should put those out of the church that do not follow God’s will.

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