Lesbian Bishop

Lesbian Bishop Election Bringing Financial Stress to Western UMC Congregations

on February 3, 2017

The election of a partnered lesbian as a bishop in the United Methodist Church’s liberal Western Jurisdiction has resulted in significant fallout in the Denver-based Mountain Sky Episcopal Area. Reports from multiple congregations indicate that membership and financial contributions have decreased since the election, placing some in a precarious position.

In a seeming confirmation of troubles, the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences have launched a “sustenation fund” to compensate for financial “stress.” The fundraising appeal is being promoted on multiple liberal United Methodist websites.

Bishop Karen Oliveto of San Francisco, California was elected to the episcopacy by delegates to the Western Jurisdictional Conference July 15, 2016 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The former pastor of Glide Memorial Methodist Church was consecrated as a bishop the following day and later appointed to oversee the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences. Oliveto’s election is being challenged as a defiance of church law against partnered gay clergy. The election is on the docket for review by the denomination’s high court, the Judicial Council, at its April meeting.

United Methodist congregations in the region have been struggling for many years, and the Western Jurisdiction is by far the church’s smallest. This recent spate of losses is worse than the rate of decline that was already occurring prior to the election of Oliveto. The dual announcements of the sustenation fund have been characterized by the urgency of their language.

“This fund is especially needed where a pastor’s compensation is at risk,” the announcement reads. “Allocated funds for equitable compensation support will be exhausted before the need is met. And, importantly, by Discipline, equitable compensation funds cannot be used for part-time pastors in the same situation.”

While the announcement does not significantly cite Oliveto’s election as the cause of membership and giving declines, it prominently leads with her election, consecration, and appointment, indicating that the two are connected. The statement subsequently reports: “As we crossed the threshold, there has been stress in some of our most theologically diverse congregations.”

IRD has heard directly from multiple sources within the local conferences about how the recent accelerated rate of decline is a direct result of the moves to impose Oliveto as their bishop. Negative reports from churches in the region are numerous:

  • One congregation has lost 20 percent of its membership in the brief time since Oliveto’s election.
  • A member from one church reported that so many of their members had left, and the last key donor had gone, that they could no longer afford a pastor after the first of the year.
  • Members from another church said they were planning on going ‘non-denominational’ and planned to discuss costs involved for purchasing their facilities from their annual conference.
  • Members from two churches indicated that they were “hand-to-mouthing” bills and were not sure how much longer they could stay open.
  • Members from several other churches have indicated that their yearly tithing commitments ended up falling short; some by a large amount.
  • One church in a large town reported that it had exhausted its reserves in December.

The extent of discontent with Oliveto’s election and assignment there has come as a surprise to the Mountain Sky Area’s liberal leadership. One person related a conversation with a delegate that voted for the new bishop in which the delegate said, “I was caught totally off guard by the amount of resistance to Bishop Karen’s election.”

Another delegate, explaining their vote for the new bishop, experienced so much push back that the delegate looked “shell shocked” in a church meeting.

Officials in the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Annual Conferences appear to be operating within a bubble or echo-chamber in which they assumed United Methodism in their area was monolithically liberal, not expecting resistance at the local level. Attempts by Oliveto to demonstrate enthusiasm from every congregation – and taking names of those who are not – aren’t faring well in the region. The bishop has described United Methodists displeased with her election as “the bad churches” and denounced them as a “destabilizing factor” in the region.

Calls for greater “inclusion” do not appear to have resulted in the including of more people in the life of local United Methodist congregations: there is no corresponding evidence that financial losses brought about by departing traditionalists are being offset by liberal gains.

UPDATE [2/9/2017]: Christian Post has coverage of developments in the UMC Mountain Sky Episcopal Area that can be viewed by clicking here. Notably, the “sustenation fund” has been re-styled a “generosity fund.”

  1. Comment by Bob Wynn on February 3, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    maybe not paying mission shares would open more eyes of those in charge

  2. Comment by Janet on February 3, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Looks like the folks in the Pews are getting some “backbone”.

  3. Comment by Dr ExCathedra on February 4, 2017 at 3:26 am

    For a Christian church to ordain females in the first place, it must have un-moored itself from its historical identity. With the ordination of females to the ministry and the consequent enforced feminization of the organization and its personnel and symbolic expressions, doctrine (a male concern) is submerged in a sea of “concerns” and you have Lesbian bishops…the process is not finished, but once started, it cannot be halted.

  4. Comment by Dave on February 4, 2017 at 7:55 pm

    Are you serious? You’re obviously not a Methodist.

  5. Comment by Dr ExCathedra on February 5, 2017 at 5:16 am

    Totally convincing argument. Well done. I feel demolished.

  6. Comment by jthorton on February 18, 2017 at 10:02 pm

    Odd. You can disagree with a whole host of things the UMC does and still be a Methodist can’t you?

  7. Comment by mikehardin63 on February 5, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Please direct me to the passages in scripture that limit ORDINATION to males. I’ll wait. Some offices are limited, depending on one’s reading of the text. That’s not the same thing.

  8. Comment by Sundialer on February 6, 2017 at 12:03 am

    There aren’t any because the once and for all sacrifice of Christ on the cross abolished the OT system of temples, priests, and sacrifices. The only priests in the NT is that of all believers. Usually these arguments are made by weak men intimidated by strong gifted women out of man made traditions that do not expound the scriptures accurately. IMO.

  9. Comment by Doris Phillips Brothers on February 6, 2017 at 10:11 am

    Book of Timothy says HUSBAND of one wife, no women, no devorced.

  10. Comment by mikehardin63 on February 10, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    The book of Timothy does say that with regard to pastors. It doesn’t mention ordination, to the best of my recollection. The two aren’t necessarily synonymous. Also, I think the primary point of the Timothy passage is monogamy, not gender. The Bible also tells us that as many as believed he gave the right to be called sons of God. None of us really think women are excluded from that. We just take it as male inclusive language. You have some leeway with whether you do the same with the “husband of one wife” idea, but I respect your hermeneutics either way.

  11. Comment by Clayton Croy on February 6, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    I find it very disappointing that the matter of a non-abstinent lesbian bishop would be linked to the issue of women in ministry. The former violates the consistent, unambiguous witness of Holy Scripture about sexual ethics. The biblical witness on the latter is by no means unambiguous. Many solid evangelical Christians, whose credentials can scarcely be questioned, BOTH condemn homosexual acts AND affirm the gifts and calling of women in all offices of the church. The problem with Bishop Oliveto is not her gender but her behavior, her theology, and her patent violation of Scripture, UM doctrine, and her ordination vows. Lets not confuse the two issues.

  12. Comment by Dr ExCathedra on February 6, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    I am not an evangelical, so I will stay out of the Scriptural debate. I was describing what is a widespread phenomenon in (non-Catholic or Orthodox) churches and adding my own opinion as to its origin and my speculation as to its outcomes. When women were first ordained ministers, there was widespread adherence to traditional sexual mores in the doctrine of the mainline churches. But 40 years later, that’s all gone. I give evangelicals time to unwind, too. What may be clear on paper now may very well, as in the other cases, become merely an academic distinction.

  13. Comment by The Hon Alexander Mothershed on February 7, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Well could also make the argument and it is the truth that for a church to knowingly allow known pedophiles to continue in their ministry is a disgrace and a stench in the nostrils of God… It is a betrayal of those who are least able to protect themselves from these so called men of God who are in reality wolves in sheep’s clothing…

  14. Comment by Dr ExCathedra on February 8, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    True, but nothing to do with my point, viz. the ordination of women and its significance and effects in the mainline churches.

  15. Comment by Bob in Florida on March 17, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    You are correct, a lot of stuff happened in a generation of 40 years. We have completely undone, and unwound thousands of years of tradition, reason and scripture. We have reinterpreted, reinvented and edited God’s Word to our own desire. We have systematically abandoned Truth for a lie.

  16. Comment by Shirley M Starnes on February 24, 2019 at 7:09 pm


  17. Comment by James C on February 4, 2017 at 11:51 am

    Funny, not one bit surprised. People know the difference between Biblical Christianity and heresy. Our people aren’t stupid, they know there is not one Biblical admonition for this lifestyle being compatible with Christian teaching. It’s affecting the church nation wide as well, maybe not as much yet in some places, but if the commission “studying” on this again comes out with wrong recommendations, I can assure you the UMC as we know it today is history. I know many just waiting to see.

  18. Comment by AbnDoc on February 5, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I guess it hurts the pocketbook when the true Christians leave after realizing their church has left Christ and Christian principles.

  19. Comment by JGP on February 13, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Are you a true Christian? What is your position on heterosexual Christians engaging in anal sex?

  20. Comment by Bob in Florida on March 17, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    What I call the typical “silly argument.” Change the subject, because you know you can’t win on the merits you have. That is one of the oldest freshman debate tactics I ever learned. When you know your argument is losing, change topics, and throw the burden on that individual. We can discuss your issue at some other time, but stay focused only on the one that lies before you. Anytime you change the topic, you are admitting your side is 100% wrong.

  21. Comment by Zeke Clinton on February 5, 2017 at 3:08 pm

    Well deserved.

  22. Comment by Philip on February 6, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    A bubble is right. In conversations I have had, I point to both the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches finances (and membership decline) after their policy changes and most just don’t want to believe it or take the time to look at the data. These denominations publish their own research and it is quite clear that the folks will turn off the money spigot over this issue.

  23. Comment by Dan on February 6, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    This is kind of how I imagine the bishop’s visits going with those “bad churches”


  24. Comment by John S. on February 7, 2017 at 7:09 am

    Love how they appeal to the BOD while they are flagrantly violating it.

  25. Comment by bostic on February 19, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    My church pays 100k to appointments. We stopped giving to the general church two years ago just because of liberal agenda like this

  26. Comment by Skipper on February 23, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Two of the largest United Methodist churches in Mississippi are disassociating and another had both its pastor and 79 members leave recently. The majority of Methodists want morality restored, but who will help us? Who will stand for the Lord?

    Satan tempts us to ignore and disobey God. Sexuality is one of his best tricks to lure people away from the fold of God. Those false ministers who push immoral lifestyles would do well to listen to Hebrews 3:15 – “If you hear His voice today, don’t be stubborn like those who rebelled (and died in the desert)”. They must seek the Lord while He may be found. Their time is running out. People are perishing in their sins while this false gospel persists.

  27. Comment by LatinLiberty on February 28, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    The Episcopal Church and the UMC are morphing into social justice organizations so divorced from biblical scripture. Where’s the theological argument to support their stance on these issues?

  28. Comment by Skipper on March 6, 2017 at 10:55 am

    We need to keep in mind that financial stress is only one problem caused by immoral living. In Mark 8:34 Jesus said that to be His follower, we must take up our cross and follow Him. That would be sexual purity in this case. Romans 1:24 speaks of people whose hearts crave sexual impurity and have degraded theirs bodies, exchanging “the truth about God for a lie.”

    Living an earthly lifestyle disqualifies one from being a follower of Christ, much less a minister or leader. To allow such people to think they have a good relationship with God is worse than dishonest. It is deadly. And deadly in the eternal sense.

  29. Comment by sstnt on April 25, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    I am part of this group. As soon as she was elected, I stopped my donations. I also stopped attending the UMC for several months, going to a more conservative non-denominational church. I did restart towards the end of the year…but only after cutting it by 2/3rds and giving the remainder to organizations directly supporting reductions in abortion (teen pregnancy centers, orphanages, etc). I was several thousand dollars deficient in my commitment. And I continue to give at that much reduced level…..to ensure the “powers that be” understand my displeasure with a total and complete disregard of the Book of Discipline. And the seemingly full-throated support from my church’s senior pastor for this decision.

  30. Comment by Erwin on July 5, 2017 at 1:25 am

    Church people who reads the word of the Bible of God Jesus Christ will know the real truth, and no one who doesn’t know the word of the Bible will change the will of God. That’s why we Christian have to defend the rightful word of God.

  31. Comment by Larry on February 25, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    I can site 32 passages that are clear in the condemnation of homosexuality as a sin. Can any progressive out their site ONE verse that says homosexuality is OK?

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.