April 24, 2017

A Legal Case for Removing Karen Oliveto as UMC Bishop (Part 1 of 2)

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, which functions as the denomination’s supreme court, will decide this week on a legal challenge to the attempt by the UMC’s Western Jurisdiction (region) to elect openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto of San Francisco as a bishop, in defiance of the denomination’s ban on ordaining “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” 

The related intricate arguments about interpretations of United Methodist church law are a bit more detailed and technical than most of what we ordinarily publish on this website. But given the importance of this particular case and the widespread concern it has attracted within and beyond our denomination, I am pasting the full text of the amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) briefs I personally have written and submitted to the Judicial Council on this case.  The actual questions on which the Judicial Council will be ruling can be read here.

For practical reasons, I am not including here the 79 pages worth of Exhibits of Evidence which I submitted to the Judicial Council along with my brief.  But where this can be done easily, the text below includes hyperlinks to the online source material for some of these exhibits. 

For handy reference, all past Judicial Council decisions, including those referenced below, can be viewed online at www.umc.org/judicialcouncil

What follows here is the text of the first-round legal I submitted to the Judicial Council in February.  The second brief I submitted on this case, replying directly to the arguments presented in other legal briefs, can be read here



I.  Basic Matters


II.  Statement of Facts about the Election of Dr. Karen Oliveto

A.  Before her election last summer, Dr. Oliveto was widely publicly acknowledged by herself and others to be a self-avowed homosexual in a homosexual relationship which she and others call a “marriage.”

B.  Prior to her election, Dr. Oliveto’s homosexual partnership was widely known among Western Jurisdiction leaders, and something she openly acknowledged to members of her conference board of ordained ministry, a district superintendent, individuals who became delegates to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference, and others.

C.  Well before her election, Karen Oliveto admitted to self-avowing to her bishop at the time that she was in a same-sex “marriage.”

D.  Since her election, Dr. Oliveto has continued to self-avow that she is a homosexual in an active homosexual partnership, to the general public as well as particularly to multiple bishops.

E.  There has been a history of leaders in the Western Jurisdiction effectively disregarding, negating, or violating provisions of the Book of Discipline on sexual morality.


III.       Jurisdiction

A.  General principles.

B.  The wording of the Discipline allows jurisdictional requests for declaratory decisions on a very broad range of matters.

C.  The unresolved questions raised in this request for a declaratory decision are far from “moot and hypothetical,” but relate directly to specific matters, with ongoing effects, of the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference.

D.  The connectional nature of our denomination gives each jurisdiction and central conference legitimate interest in each other’s work, witness, and affairs.

E.  The Judicial Council has the right to use declaratory decisions to intervene in specific situations, by directing particular entities to take prescribed remedial actions, while the Council retains jurisdiction.

F.  Regardless of the above, all parts of this request are directly and tangibly relevant to the South Central Jurisdiction.


IV.  Analysis and Application

A.  General Conference Intent and Our Present Circumstances.

B.  The plain-sense meaning of “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

C.  Defining “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” step by step.

D.  A public record that a nominee for the episcopacy is a spouse in a same-sex marriage disqualifies that person from nomination, election, consecration and/or assignment as a bishop in The United Methodist Church.

E.  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, the action of the jurisdictional conference is null and void.

F.  It is not 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.


V.  Relief Requested



Amicus Curiae Brief of John Lomperis on Docket No. 0417-1



I.  Basic Matters

This case comes from the South Central Jurisdiction’s request for a declaratory decision.

At various points, this brief references specific internet URL’s (web addresses). Due to the internet’s fluid nature, it is possible that some of these web pages may have been altered or removed by the time this brief is read. To preserve this documentation, I am including screen shots of several web pages as Exhibits, and have made sure that many of the other web pages referenced can be viewed, exactly as they appeared when accessed for the preparation of this brief, via the Internet Archive at www.archive.org

All references to the Book of Discipline are to the 2012 edition (i.e., that which was operative at the time of the events in question), unless otherwise noted.
II.  Statement of Facts about the Election of Dr. Karen Oliveto

A.  Before her election last summer, Dr. Oliveto was widely publicly acknowledged by herself and others to be a self-avowed homosexual in a homosexual relationship which she and others call a “marriage.” As an elder in the California-Nevada Conference, the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto was that conference’s 2016 episcopal nominee, and had been a national leader in the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).[i] On the 17th ballot, after all other listed candidates withdrew, the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference voted without dissent to elect her bishop.[ii]

Well before that, Dr. Oliveto had been very publicly open in acknowledging (i.e., self-avowing) that she is a lesbian in a homosexual relationship which she and others call a “marriage,” (quotes used due to this not meeting our Church’s definition, ¶161B). Multiple secular and church media outlets had reported, with her evident consent (since she was interviewed for such articles), that she was in a homosexual “marriage” (e.g., EXHIBIT A).

On October 5, 2014, the aforementioned RMN posted to its Facebook account the announcement, “A huge congratulations to Rev. Karen Oliveto and Robin Ridenour on their wedding!” along with a photograph identifying the two of them dressed in white bride dresses, in a wedding setting. EXHIBIT B is a series of screen shots all taken from this one posting. One screen shot shows Karen Oliveto herself “liking” (giving a virtual “thumb’s up” to) the post, which means that this record of her “wedding” to Ms. Ridenour was shared with her open support and encouragement. The next day, Oliveto posted to her own Facebook account a picture from her wedding celebration showing her and Ridenour with the same flowers and wedding dresses as in the previous Exhibit (EXHIBIT C). This photograph looks identical (except for a superimposed quote) to one Robin Ridenour posted that same day, with a commenter referencing the “wedding” (EXHIBIT D). Nearly exactly one year later, Karen Oliveto posted on Facebook a photograph of herself and a woman she identified as Robin Ridenour standing together, both dressed in the same wedding dresses. Lest there be any doubt, comments by several of Oliveto’s friends identified these two as “brides” and referenced their “wedding.” Oliveto “liked” comments of congratulations in Spanish and “Happy anniversary” in English (EXHIBIT E).

Thus Dr. Oliveto has publicly shared, and also encouraged others to publicly share, photographs, statements, and comments documenting that she and Ms. Robin Ridenour are in an ongoing homosexual relationship and had a sort of “wedding” ceremony in October 2014. The fact that I have been able to view these Facebook posts despite not being “Facebook friends” with Oliveto or anyone else named in this section proves that these statements and photographs were posted in a very public way, rather than only being viewable by the posters’ friends.


B.  Prior to her election, Dr. Oliveto’s homosexual partnership was widely known among Western Jurisdiction leaders, and something she openly acknowledged to members of her conference board of ordained ministry, a district superintendent, individuals who became delegates to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference, and others. EXHIBIT E shows that among those who “liked” (i.e., acknowledged seeing and expressed their approval of) Oliveto’s own aforementioned 2015 anniversary post were Sifa Hingano,[iii] Elizabeth Brick, and Greg Bergquist – all of whom were at that time members and officers of the California-Nevada Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (hereafter BOOM) and later were all delegates to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference.[iv] Among those posting supportive comments on this same post, thus similarly conveying both their confirmation of receiving Oliveto’s self-avowal and their approval, were Susan Hunn (a BOOM member and officer) and Debra Brady (a district superintendent at the time[v]). EXHIBIT C shows that among those “liking” Oliveto’s own 2014 “wedding” photo were the aforementioned Bergquist and Hingano, along with Sharon Moe (delegate to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference from the Pacific-Northwest Conference) and Julie Diane Knudsen (Treasurer for the California-Nevada Conference and also the whole jurisdiction).[vi] EXHIBIT B shows that among those who “liked” RMN’s announcing, with Oliveto’s encouragement, her rather non-secret “wedding” were Karen Stoffers Pugh, Michael Love, and Kristen Marshall (BOOM members and co-chairs of different districts’ committees on ordained ministry), Katie Goetz (BOOM member), Jan Nelson and Duane Anders (2016 Jurisdictional Conference delegates from the Oregon-Idaho Conference), and Kim Montenegro (who joined BOOM less than a year later), while David Armstrong (2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference delegate from Oregon-Idaho) left a supportive comment, also conveying acknowledgement of receiving Dr. Oliveto’s self-avowal.

The widespread awareness of Western jurisdictional delegates of Dr. Oliveto’s being an openly partnered lesbian is further indicated by the official Jurisdictional Conference journal recording that not long before her election, delegates held a closed session for the express purpose of discussing the implications of “electing an openly gay candidate” for bishop.[vii]

Many other leaders in the jurisdiction have had enough of a relationship with Dr. Oliveto for it to be credible that they were aware of her “marriage.” For example, Randall Miller (episcopacy committee chair,[viii] jurisdictional conference delegate, and lay alternate to the Judicial Council) formerly had Dr. Oliveto as his own pastor. Rev. Angela Brown (clergy alternate to the Judicial Council) until recently worked closely with Dr. Oliveto as her associate pastor.


C.  Well before her election, Karen Oliveto admitted to self-avowing to her bishop at the time that she was in a same-sex “marriage.” Oliveto told a CBS reporter that, in the reporter’s paraphrase, “she’s been fortunate to be a senior pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, where her bishop has been supportive regarding her sexual orientation,” and that, in Oliveto’s words, “My bishop has been very supportive of me and my wife,” in what she said was in contrast to how other bishops in other parts of the country would respond (EXHIBIT F). These public statements by Dr. Oliveto show that (1) Dr. Oliveto has publicly declared to news media that she is in a homosexual “marriage,” (2) she had directly, openly acknowledged her “marriage” to her bishop at the time (Bishop Warner Brown), (3) in response, Bishop Brown chose to be “very supportive,” and not bring meaningful accountability.


D.  Since her election, Dr. Oliveto has continued to self-avow that she is a homosexual in an active homosexual partnership, to the general public as well as particularly to multiple bishops. The Rocky Mountain Conference website, for which Dr. Oliveto bears ultimate administrative responsibility, publicly says that she is “the first openly lesbian bishop in The United Methodist Church” and has a “wife” (EXHIBIT G). She has not objected to numerous media publicly reporting that she has been legally “married” to another woman since 2014 and remains so.[ix]

She has also openly acknowledged her active homosexuality to bishops. An online audio page records parts of a January 15, 2017 public worship service in which Bishop Sally Dyck confirms that Dr. Oliveto had acknowledged her homosexual “marriage” to her, and Oliveto acknowledges in the bishop’s close presence that she is cohabiting with her homosexual partner.[x] In a January 13, 2017 public address at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Dr. Oliveto reported that she brought her “wife” with her to last fall’s Council of Bishops meeting, at which the latter participated in a bishops’ spouses gathering—thus indicating that Oliveto has made clear to many of our active bishops that she is in a homosexual “marriage.”


E.  There has been a history of leaders in the Western Jurisdiction effectively disregarding, negating, or violating provisions of the Book of Discipline on sexual morality. For example, the Judicial Council itself has determined that recent actions of the California-Nevada, California-Pacific, and Desert-Southwest Conferences (in which over half of the jurisdiction’s membership lives) as well as the whole jurisdiction would have illegally done this based on their disagreement with our standards on homosexuality (Decisions #1111, 1115, 1220, 1250, and 1262). And last June, the Pacific-Northwest Conference declared that it “will not conform or comply with provisions of the Discipline” on homosexuality with which it disagrees.[xi]



III. Jurisdiction

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction to rule on each part of this multi-part question, and has the further authority to mandate specific remedies for specific relevant situations.


A.  General principles. For all of its work, the Judicial Council is bound by the Book of Discipline. While previous Council decisions may offer some guidance, nothing carries the same authority of the Discipline ALONE (see Decision #96). The Council can occasionally reverse its own precedents in whole or part (e.g., Decisions #847, 682, 859, and 910). For a case with such unprecedented importance, it would be perfectly in order to have a “landmark” ruling that sets new precedents, and even modifies past precedents as necessary.


B.  The wording of the Discipline allows jurisdictional requests for declaratory decisions on a very broad range of matters. The wording of ¶2610.2(f)—which falls under the generous constitutional authorization of ¶56.5—is extremely broad in giving “ANY jurisdictional conference” (emphasis added) the right to request declaratory decisions on any “matters relating to or affecting jurisdictions or jurisdictional conferences or the work therein.” For this right to be meaningful, it cannot be so narrowly construed, as to establish a purely “on paper” right that is overly difficult to actually use. The Discipline’s wording nowhere says that such requests must relate to some business within the petitioning body, rather than to general principles governing the work of all jurisdictions and/or matters originating in another jurisdiction. For the Judicial Council to insist on adding such restrictions to this Disciplinary right would deny the rights of jurisdictions by inventing limitations to the broad wording of ¶2610.2(f).

The plural form of “jurisdictionS or jurisdictional conferenceS” is especially key, permitting jurisdictional conferences’ requests on matters affecting any and all “jurisdictions or jurisdictional conferences” (plural) rather than only that one “jurisdiction or jurisdictional conference” (singular) in which the request originates. The boundaries of legal and sensible policy in one jurisdiction would hold in another. The Judicial Council should not close this important door of access to legal rulings opened by the Discipline.

All parts of this single, unified request from the South Central Jurisdiction relate directly to either the nomination, election, consecration, and assignments of bishops (the primary business of jurisdictional conferences), or in the final sub-question, the work done by bishops and their directly appointed leaders within the boundaries of the jurisdictions. ¶523 states that in all of their work, bishops “shall be amenable for their conduct to their jurisdictional conference.” Each part thus relates directly to jurisdictions, jurisdictional conferences, and the work therein.

Much of the Judicial Council’s subsequent case law cites Decision #33 (or #33’s derivative decisions), which was historically important in limiting the cases in which the Judicial Council could exercise jurisdiction. But that entire ruling hinged on the inclusion of the words, “Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided” in ¶914 of the 1944 Discipline of the Methodist Church (EXHIBIT H), which was retained in the 1948 Discipline. But the 1952 General Conference of the Methodist Church evidently deleted this “moot and hypothetical” restrictive language about declaratory decisions, instead including a list which has largely remained intact through our present Discipline, naming who can request declaratory decisions (EXHIBIT I). The phrase, “moot and hypothetical,” appears nowhere in the present Discipline. After General Conference removes specific Disciplinary language that once restricted the scope of requests for declaratory decisions, it would seem be improper to continue relying on any previous Judicial Council rulings that depended on this now-outdated wording.

If necessary for making a significant and enforceable ruling on this present case, the Judicial Council should seize this opportunity to reverse or modify any principles of previous case law overly restricting valid requests for declaratory decisions from jurisdictional conferences, and restore the broad, plain meaning of ¶2610.2(f).


C.  The unresolved questions raised in this request for a declaratory decision are far from “moot and hypothetical,” but relate directly to specific matters, with ongoing effects, of the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference. The official records for this case immediately recognized its direct relevance for Dr. Oliveto. The Judicial Council’s own docket listing for this case includes a letter from Bishop Cynthia Harvey saying: “Specifically, the petition addresses action by the Western Jurisdiction in electing Rev. Karen Oliveto, reported to be an openly gay clergy member, as a bishop. Accordingly, the petition will directly affect Bishop Oliveto, her qualifications and the efficacy of her election as bishop. More generally, the petition will affect all jurisdictions and jurisdictional conferences of the United Methodist Church, who have an interest in the election and appointment of bishops in the United Methodist Church.”


D.  The connectional nature of our denomination gives each jurisdiction and central conference legitimate interest in each other’s work, witness, and affairs. Connectionalism is a fundamental principle of our denomination’s polity. ¶101 declares, “We are a worldwide denomination united by doctrine, discipline, and mission through our connectional covenant.” ¶102 declares our commitment to “a connectional polity based upon mutual responsiveness and accountability.” ¶125 declares, “United Methodists throughout the world are bound together in a connectional covenant” of mutual accountability in discipleship and mission (Cf. ¶¶132, 141, 256.3c[3][g], 271.1, top of page 351.) Our denomination is fundamentally committed to the biblical principle of mutual interdependence, such that no part of our connection can tell another “my business is none of your business” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-16).

Our Constitution is clear that “[a]ll jurisdictional conferences shall have the same status and same privileges” (¶24). Thus, any clarification of the rights and privileges of what one jurisdictional conference may or may not do will automatically become true for all others.

The third Restrictive Rule of our denomination’s Constitution protects the connectional, rather than local or diocesan, nature of United Methodist episcopacy, by preventing even General Conference from ending our “itinerant general superintendency” system (¶19). All bishops’ powers, duties, and continuances are subject to the global General Conference (¶16.5). All bishops are part of a single, global Council of Bishops charged with “the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church and for carrying into effect the rules, regulations, and responsibilities prescribed and enjoined by the General Conference…” (¶47, emphases added). A bishop elected in one region may even potentially itinerate into another part of the connection (¶49). Bishops serve as presidents and members of boards and other leadership bodies of the entire general Church. The statements by many bishops (Section IV.B below) show how deeply this case is of concern to the whole Church.


E.  The Judicial Council has the right to use declaratory decisions to intervene in specific situations, by directing particular entities to take prescribed remedial actions, while the Council retains jurisdiction. For example, in Decision #1216, in response to a request for a declaratory decision, the Judicial Council detailed “[t]he circumstances leading to the request for the declaratory decision” and required certain actors to undo previous actions and even provide financial restitution (Cf. Decision #1156). In Decision #1204, the Judicial Council similarly responded to a regional body’s request for a declaratory decision by actively intervening in a particular situation. That ruling actually invalidated an action of a regional body, and required it to take prescribed remedial action within a set timeline, with the Judicial Council retaining jurisdiction. In our present case, the Judicial Council has the same authority to mandate detailed remedial action by entities specified by the Judicial Council.


F.  Regardless of the above, all parts of this request are directly and tangibly relevant to the South Central Jurisdiction. The structure of the jurisdiction’s motion is one unified request for a declaratory decision, with five sub-questions, all relating in some way to the selection, elevation, and duties of bishops. There was some discussion of there possibly being a gay bishop candidate at the 2016 South Central Jurisdictional Conference. And that jurisdiction’s concern with the election, consecration, or assignment of bishops was not limited to last July, but is an ongoing concern. Even before last summer, work was in progress on planning for the 2020 conference at which that jurisdiction’s next group of bishops will be elected. In our present climate, it is highly relevant for the work of any jurisdiction to prepare for the possibility of someone in a homosexual “marriage” potentially being elected bishop. But the jurisdiction could not realistically seek relevant guidance from the Judicial Council for its own 2020 elections at any time other than when it adopted its request for a declaratory decision. If it had waited for its next scheduled meeting in 2020, the Judicial Council’s response would have come too late.

Furthermore, there are other ways in which the third and fifth sub-questions were directly relevant to the South Central Jurisdiction. The business of the South Central jurisdictional conferences not only includes bishop elections, but also nominations and elections of individuals to boards and committees. In many cases, there are “slots” reserved for clergy and others for laity. An implicit corollary to the final sub-question is: “What does it take for clergy to violate the Discipline, to the point that they are no longer eligible to enjoy such privileges of ordination as the possibility of being elected as clergy to these jurisdictionally selected positions?” This was not merely hypothetical for the South Central Jurisdiction, as during its 2016 meeting there was within it a clergywoman who had “come out” as a partnered lesbian, but who at that point had not been determined to be “a self-avowed, practicing homosexual,” so that her eligibility to represent the jurisdiction as a clergy member of a board or agency was not clear to all.[xii]

Finally, there are a couple further direct and tangible ways in which Dr. Oliveto’s election in another jurisdiction impacts the South Central Jurisdiction. According to the UMC Constitution, by electing Dr. Oliveto as a United Methodist bishop, the Western Jurisdiction chose to make her potentially a bishop subject to residential assignment in the South Central Jurisdiction, with no vote by the full membership of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference (¶49). Also, South Central Jurisdiction United Methodists pay apportionments into the same unified Episcopal Fund that supports all bishops, including in the Western Jurisdiction.



IV.  Analysis and Application


A.  General Conference Intent and Our Present Circumstances. General Conference has shown a consistent intent in disapproving of homosexual practice since 1972, and since 1984 in barring homosexually active people from ministry. It has amended the Discipline to deem homosexual practice “incompatible with Christian teaching” (¶161F), define marriage as only “between a man and a woman” (¶161F), require clergy candidates to “make a complete dedication of themselves” to the ideals of our Social Principles in their personal lives (¶310.2[d] and footnote – which are binding church law), forbid “[c]eremonies that celebrate homosexual unions” (¶341.6), and make it a chargeable offense for clergy to violate these standards (¶2702.1[a], [b], and [d]). In the years since these provisions were adopted, they have all been repeatedly, overwhelmingly re-affirmed, never rescinded, and only strengthened. Furthermore, Dr. Oliveto’s ordination includes her pledging herself, per ¶310.2(d), to the value that those who “disobey laws that they deem to be unjust and discriminatory” – as she is now protesting our church laws – should be “willing to accept the consequences of disobedience” (¶164F).

The Discipline does not spend as much time repeatedly reiterating our Church’s disapproval of some other chargeable offenses. The Disciplinary provisions cited above represent distinct instances of General Conferences voting to add and re-affirm disapprovals of homosexual unions and prohibitions on our clergy participating in such relationships and practices. There comes a point when it breaks the bounds of good-faith governance and basic reasonableness to insist that even so many legislative enactments by separate General Conferences are not enough, and that future General Conferences allegedly need to add still more legislation to clarify if our church law really forbids what most readers understood was already forbidden by these parts of our present Discipline

When General Conference first enacted ¶304.3, “same-sex marriage” was not a widespread concept and was not nearly as established in secular law as today, with these societal changes being especially concentrated since 2008.[xiii] That was the last year General Conference was allowed to vote directly on ¶304.3, as all petitions to amend it, including those that would have made its application to “same-sex marriages” more explicit, were basically tabled at both of the last two General Conferences as a result of extraordinary interventions by individuals other than delegates. But the widespread new reality of legal “same-sex marriages” in many places provides a new means by which people can “openly acknowledge” to the general public (which includes everyone listed in the first footnote to ¶304.3) that they are practicing homosexuals.


B.  The plain-sense meaning of “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” For understanding the meaning of specific terms and phrases in the Discipline, the general rule should be simply to use the commonly understood definitions, except to any extent that the Discipline itself explicitly contradicts or excludes such a common definition.

While the definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” (¶304.3 and ¶2702.1[b]) would also include individuals in other situations, the plain-sense meaning of this phrase should at least include someone who, like Dr. Oliveto, is known to be in a homosexual “marriage” or civil union. Dr. William Lawrence, former Judicial Council president, determined that the well-known fact of Dr. Oliveto being in a “same-sex marriage” makes it sufficiently obvious for him to publicly describe the problem as: “church law specifically says a person in this situation shall not be ordained or appointed and, suddenly, exactly the person described in church law is elected bishop” (EXHIBIT J, emphasis added). Furthermore, Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the UMC Council of Bishops, has even said publicly that Oliveto’s election “appears to be a violation of our current book of discipline, our current church law” (EXHIBIT K).

And there’s more. Media reports have readily recognized that the election and consecration of Oliveto were done “in defiance of” our Church’s official governing standards.[xiv] Such characterization has been echoed by supporters of these actions. For example, before the 2016 jurisdictional conferences, a group within the Western Jurisdiction urged the election of either Oliveto or another openly partnered homosexual bishop candidate, making clear that this Oliveto-endorsing group would see her election as “the Western Jurisdiction … operating beyond all of the discriminatory restrictions of the Book of Discipline.”[xv] At least one official annual conference news page has acknowledged that Dr. Oliveto is obviously “a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”[xvi] A 2016 statement on the website of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, a main progressive caucus, basically defines “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” as applying to anyone who is openly homosexual and partnered.[xvii]

For multiple bishops across the theological spectrum within our denomination, the widely publicized fact of Dr. Oliveto being a spouse in a “same-sex marriage” was sufficient for them, as professionals in UMC law, to publicly acknowledge that of course the language of ¶¶304.3 and 2701.1(b) applies to her. Shortly after Oliveto’s election, Bishops Mary Virginia Taylor, Jonathan Holston, Mark Webb, and John Schol all explicitly identified Dr. Oliveto as a self-avowed practicing homosexual.[xviii] Several other active bishops issued strongly worded statements describing this election as a troubling defiance of our Discipline.[xix] Outside of the USA, Bishop Eduard Khegay of Moscow told the United Methodist News Service, “I do not see this election in accordance with the Book of Discipline,” and that it reminded him of the Communist times in his homeland in which “we had ‘selective justice,’ which means the law is applied selectively: Some people should follow the law, but others at the top can ignore it.”[xx]

Aside from attempts by a small number of activists to play games with words in hopes of making ¶304.3 nearly impossible to enforce, the above record shows how the plain-sense meaning of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is widely understood by United Methodists across the theological spectrum as it applies in this present case. This record should be sufficient for the Judicial Council to rule in the affirmative for the final sub-question.


C.  Defining “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” step by step. Alternatively, we may go the more complex route of defining this phrase step by step, beginning with “homosexual.” As a noun, “homosexual” is widely understood to mean a person who is romantically and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex, “homo” meaning “same” and “sexual” referring to the sex/gender of the object(s) of such a person’s affections and desires.[xxi] The term “lesbian,” which Dr. Oliveto has repeatedly, publicly applied to herself, simply means a female homosexual.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (hereafter, “M-W”) defines “practicing” as “actively engaged in a specified career or way of life,” as in the phrase, “a practicing physician.” Relevant M-W definitions of the base verb, “to practice” include to “carry out” or “apply” as in the phrase “practice what you preach,” or “to do or perform often, customarily, or habitually,” or “to do something customarily.”

The qualifier, “practicing,” distinguishes a “practicing homosexual” from a “non-practicing” homosexual. There are many who experience homosexual attractions but choose, for moral reasons, to remain single and celibate for life. Their “way of life” is not particularly homosexual. Their lifestyles are consistent with and affirmed by our Social Principles (¶161D) and Doctrinal Standards (¶104, Methodist Article XXI). Our faith tradition has examples of exemplary single ministers, including Francis Asbury, Paul, and Jesus Christ Himself.

The above M-W quotations indicate that a “practicing homosexual,” on the other hand, is one who actively engages in a way of life related to his or her homosexual attractions, who does or performs something (who takes some external action out of these homosexual attractions), who carries out or applies homosexual feelings. To carry out or apply romantic or sexual attractions obviously involves actively relating to one or more other persons in the sort of romantic and/or sexual ways desired.

Marriage is of course an inherently romantic relationship. So one who is romantically attracted to someone of the same sex and consequently joins them in what they call a “marriage” relationship is thus actively engaged in a homosexual way of life, carrying out and applying their homosexual attractions as a way of life, and is therefore by definition, a practicing homosexual. Choosing to enter and then stay within a homosexual “marriage” or civil union amounts to choosing actions/practices through which one applies and carries out in an ongoing way one’s homosexual feelings. Our beloved Church faces public embarrassment and great internal frustration and mistrust when such matters are treated as more complicated than they need to be.

It has also been needlessly hurtful for our Church when those charged with enforcement of ¶304.3 and ¶2702.1b act as if these Disciplinary provisions cannot be enforced without the uncomfortable spectacle of clergy suspected of breaking these standards being subjected to embarrassingly technical, detailed, and intimate questions about the “genital contact” activity of themselves and those closest to them. We should not make church law overwhelmingly supported by subsequent General Conferences needlessly difficult and painful to enforce.

If General Conference had at some point explicitly written into the Discipline that “genital contact” is inherent to our definition of a “practicing homosexual,” that would have been one thing. But it has not done so. When General Conference writes such key terms into the Discipline as “practicing homosexual,” and chooses to refrain from writing in narrowly restrictive definitions of the term, then the broader, plain-sense, commonly understood meanings (in this case, that a practicing homosexual is someone who engages in same-sex sexual practices or homosexual romantic relationships) should be operative for church law.

Yes, Judicial Council Decision #920 says that if in the course of a review of a clergyperson’s ministerial office, she “affirms that she is engaged in genital sexual activity with a person of the same gender, she would have openly acknowledged to one or more of the persons enumerated in footnote 1 to ¶ 304.3 that she is a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” But again, Judicial Council decisions carries categorically less binding authority than the plain meaning of the Discipline’s own words. Furthermore, neither Decision #920 nor our Discipline says that the ONLY possible way for clergy to cross the line of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is to make such a confession within such a process. If a minister does this, then s/he is clearly a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Thus, the non-Disciplinary language about “genital sexual activity” can be helpful insofar as it provides bishops, trial courts, and others with one possible type of evidence that would prove that someone is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. But since this language about “genital contact” does not appear in the Discipline itself, it cannot be used to limit application of the Discipline to this being the ONLY acceptable proof of a clergyperson’s being guilty of this offense. 

When there are already well-established facts of clergy being partners in same-sex “marriages” or civil unions of public record, it is not clear what good is achieved by mandating awkward and uncomfortable questions about “genital contact.” The Discipline nowhere limits the homosexual practices forbidden for our clergy to explicitly confessed “genital contact.” Furthermore, any United Methodist minister who knows our Discipline but chooses to enter into a legally recognized homosexual “marriage” or civil-union relationship already understands that they are not honoring the letter, intent, or spirit of church law. 

For the sake of refraining from needless complication in the construal of ¶¶304.3 and 2702.1(b), avoiding needless barriers to enforcing church law, and keeping church law as intelligible as possible, the Judicial Council should here rule that the sorts of confession described in Decision #920 can be ONE way in which clergy can meet the definition of being “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” but that the simple fact of being a partner in a same-sex “marriage” or civil union is an alternative way to meet the definition, with this second way involving no need for any further questioning about “genital contact.”

But if the Judicial Council nevertheless believes that the non-Disciplinary language of “genital contact” must be the pivotal standard for determining any alleged violations of ¶304.3, then the established fact of partnership in a homosexual “marriage” or civil union of public record should still be sufficient. At the very least, this should establish a rebuttal presumption that this individual is regularly engaging in homosexual genital contact.

Our Church does not recognize any homosexual relationships as “marriages.” But if a homosexual couple call their relationship a “marriage,” then it is reasonable to expect that it would have all the elements normally part of a heterosexual marriage, to the extent possible.

Regular genital contact for the purpose of sexual gratification has always been widely understood to be an inherent part of marriage. This widespread understanding that sex is an inherent and expected part of marriage relationships is so strong that many colloquial phrases literally refer to marriage but are polite euphemisms for sexual relations and desires: marital relations, marital congress, conjugal visits, matrimonial polka, marital impulse, etc. In fact, parts of U.S. immigration law explicitly treat sexual relations as inherent to marriage, such that the lack of sex can be grounds, in some circumstances, for deeming a marriage legally invalid.[xxii] For married Christians, Scripture teaches that they should not deprive their spouses of regular sexual gratification (1 Corinthians 7:3-9). The standard wedding vows “to have and to hold” and to remain faithful point to the sexual intimacy and sexual exclusivity of the marriage union.

One of the oldest and strongest assumptions in law is that a married man is the father of a child born to his wife during their marriage, absent compelling evidence to the contrary. For example, the Tennessee Supreme Court relatively recently stated that “Pursuant to the common law, a child born to a married woman was presumed to be her husband’s legitimate child. This presumption was universally accepted and has been repeatedly noted by this Court.”[xxiii] This legal presumption of legitimacy is found throughout the world, from the Philippines to Nigeria.[xxiv] “Some jurisdictions presume legitimacy conclusively, while the majority of jurisdictions hold that it is rebuttable by clear and convincing proof.”[xxv] This presumption rests on two foundational assumptions about marriage: that it involves (1) regular genital sexual contact between the spouses (which in heterosexual marriages is potentially procreative), and (2) “a comparatively high degree of sexual fidelity.”[xxvi] These assumptions would carry over to “same-sex marriages.”

Thus, if we are to assess how for our purposes to view a “same-sex marriage” affirmed outside our Church, we can either, to parallel the language and legal traditions cited above, presume conclusively that this relationship involves regular genital contact between the homosexual spouses, or else treat this as a rebuttable presumption, that can be rebutted in exceptional circumstances only “by clear and convincing proof.” If this is a conclusive presumption, then establishing the fact of a clergyperson being in a same-sex marriage relationship would be sufficient proof that s/he is engaged in ongoing homosexual genital contact and is therefore a practicing homosexual, period. But if it is a rebuttable presumption, then this would mean that clergy established to be in “same-sex marriages” would be assumed for church-law purposes to be involved in ongoing homosexual genital contact—unless and until they actually present clear and convincing proof that they are not. Rebuttable presumptions put the burden of proof on those seeking to disprove the presumption. So clergy established to be in “same-sex marriages” who then refuse to answer questions about their engaging in homosexual genital contact will have failed to rebut the presumption of their doing so, and thus would be proven to be “practicing homosexuals” in our church law.

Civil unions are legal structures for co-habiting same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples in some legal jurisdictions. They are generally stop short of the full package of benefits and responsibilities of legal marriage. However, they are in many ways similarly intimate, romantic relationships for which presumptions of regular sexual contact are reasonable. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has a fact sheet that lists how entering such legal relationships involves similar eligibility criteria as for marriage: the partners must be legal adults, “not in a civil union, marriage, or another substantially similar legal relationship” (paralleling laws against bigamy), and “not closely related to each other (for example, not a sibling, descendent, aunt, uncle, or cousin)” – with the last restriction reflecting the expectation that this relationship includes sexual relations.[xxvii] Therefore, all of the implications outlined here of clergy in “same-sex marriages” would also apply to those in civil unions.

So much for defining “practicing homosexual.” Now for the final Disciplinary qualifier: “self-avowed.” M-W defines the verb, “avow,” as “to declare or state (something) in an open and public way,” or “to declare openly, bluntly, and without shame.” The hyphenated prefix “self-” is largely self-explanatory. For someone to be a self-avowed practicing homosexual, they themselves must in some way avow that they are a practicing homosexual.

¶2701.2(b) simply lists “being a self-avowed practicing homosexual” as a chargeable offense without the same footnote as ¶304.3. Thus to satisfy ¶2701.2(b), it is sufficient to simply prove that a clergyperson is a spouse in a same-sex marriage or a partner in a same-sex civil union and that she has herself declared or stated this in an open and public way.

Marriage is ordinarily understood not to be a strictly private matter, but a public self-avowal of commitment. Our Church even requires annual conference boards of pensions to report “marriage dates” upon request to the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (¶1504.7). When two people enter a legal marriage, they chose to publicize their relationship, by allowing a record of their marriage to be typically available to anyone from the general public who requests it from the proper government office. This present case focuses on “a same sex marriage or civil union of public record” (emphasis added). Thus, if a clergyperson enters such a legal relationship, this amounts to her self-avowing (i.e., declaring or stating in an open and public way), by making it a matter of public record, that she is in a homosexual relationship and is therefore a self-avowed, practicing homosexual according to ¶2702.1(b).

¶304.3 includes a footnote specifying certain parties to whom a valid self-avowal could be made. To satisfy this, it must simply be shown that a clergyperson has conveyed the relevant information to any individual in the list (note that it could be ANY bishop or district superintendent). But when a clergyperson chooses to enter such a legal arrangement of public record, she is, in the footnote’s words, “openly acknowledg[ing]” this fact to the general public. And the general public includes every individual listed in the footnote. If the attention of a bishop (or someone else in the footnote) is first called to a clergyperson’s public homosexual “marriage” record by someone else, this is not a matter of third-party testimony, of the clergyperson making this self-avowal to a private audience that excluded the bishop, or her self-avowing in a way that was at all hidden to the bishop. Rather, this is equivalent to writing a letter to one’s bishop announcing that one is a self-avowed practicing homosexual and simultaneously releasing this letter to the whole Church. Another equivalent situation would be a clergyperson standing in front of an audience that she knows includes the bishop, holding up a huge sign declaring “I AM A SELF-AVOWED PRACTICING HOMOSEXUAL,” and the bishop not noticing this for a few seconds, until someone else in the audience encouraged the bishop to look over at the displayed sign. In this scenario, the fact that the bishop was initially looking distractedly out the window before someone else whispered “Hey, look up there!” would not change the fact that the bishop was among those to whom this self-avowal was made.

It is not clear what process in our polity for disciplining clergy would not at some point involve any of those listed in the first footnote to ¶304.3. Thus if at any point in the course of a formal review of a clergyperson’s ministerial office, a record of her being in a same-sex “marriage” or civil union, or an admission by the clergyperson that she is in such a relationship, is shared with any of the footnote’s listed entities, this shall constitute sufficient proof that she is in such a relationship and is therefore a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.

Finally, in this case, Section II.A-D above establishes that Dr. Oliveto has openly acknowledged to multiple bishops (before and after the election) as well as to her conference’s board of ordained ministry and at least one district superintendent (before the election) that she is a spouse in a same-sex marriage. These individuals are all listed in ¶304.3’s first footnote.

The Judicial Council should rule that whenever a clergyperson shares with any bishop, district superintendent, or individual members and/or officers of a board or district committee on ordained ministry, that s/he is a spouse in a same-sex “marriage,” in such ways as Dr. Oliveto has done (II.B-C above), then this alone is sufficient to establish the fact that s/he is a self-avowed practicing homosexual as set forth in ¶¶ 304.3 and 2702.1(b).

Furthermore, Sections B and C above are entirely independent of each other, but either provides sufficient basis for the Judicial Council to make a general ruling that whenever a bishop, district superintendent, district committee on ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session becomes aware or is made aware that a clergyperson is a spouse or partner in a homosexual “marriage” or civil union of public record, that this alone sufficiently establishes that s/he is a self-avowed practicing homosexual as set forth in ¶¶ 304.3 and 2702.1(b), related footnotes, and related Judicial Council decisions, and that that individual is consequently ineligible for appointment, REGARDLESS of whether or not s/he ever makes any explicit confession of “genital contact” or pronounces the precise words, “I am a self-avowed practicing homosexual.” The Judicial Council should further rule that at this point, the proper annual conference authorities ordaining, appointing, or failing to file a complaint against, or dismissing or otherwise nullifying a relevant complaint against, such individuals would constitute “disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church” (¶2702.1[d]). And the Judicial Council should specifically rule that due to her being a spouse in a same-sex marriage, Dr. Karen Oliveto is indeed a self-avowed practicing homosexual for church-law purposes.


D.  A public record that a nominee for the episcopacy is a spouse in a same-sex marriage disqualifies that person from nomination, election, consecration and/or assignment as a bishop in The United Methodist Church. If someone does not meet the basic requirements to be an elder under appointment under ¶304.3, they are ineligible for election, appointment, or assignment to any office reserved for elders, including bishop. To rule otherwise would invite chaos: Could jurisdictions then elect as bishop someone who is beyond mandatory retirement age (in similar defiance of ¶¶358.1 and 408.1)? A deacon or a layperson (against ¶¶402-403.1)? Someone who has not met the educational requirements? An “elder” in another denomination?

In Decision #363, the Judicial Council faced some legally relevant questions. It admitted, “There is no specific and direct statement” in the Discipline operative at that time (unlike the 2012 edition) “concerning the requirement of ordination for eligibility of a person to be elected to the office of bishop, nor is there any statement that specifically states he must be ordained as an elder before consecration as a bishop.” But the Judicial Council ruled that laity “may not be elected or consecrated to the episcopacy” based in part on what Disciplinary provisions “implied,” “would seem to imply,” or how they “would suggest that the episcopacy is to be understood.” It also interpreted the Discipline’s non-explicit wording as mandating “limitation of the term denoting eligibility for election to the episcopacy to ‘traveling elder’ or ‘itinerant elder’”—who we would now call elders eligible for appointment. Although parts of our present Discipline are not as “specific and direct” as perhaps they could be, the Judicial Council should here similarly rule that how Discipline suggests the episcopacy is to be understood means that eligibility for the office is be limited to UMC elders eligible for appointment, and that an elder found to be in a homosexual marriage or civil union (¶304.3) is ineligible for appointment and therefore “may not be elected or consecrated to the episcopacy.”

The Judicial Council has also ruled that “an Annual Conference may not vote to admit a [clergy] candidate who has not met all” of the standards for conference membership, and that motions to approve such candidates are out of order (Decision #678). And in Decision #650, it declared “we cannot ratify an action by an Annual Conference which leads to ordination if the basis of the action was a direct violation of the Discipline,” “strongly disapprove[d] of the actions of the presiding bishop and the executive session of the Louisville Annual Conference in allowing this matter to come to a vote,” and significantly, acted unilaterally to immediately rescind the ordination of a specific individual, without the due-process protections of ¶20 (which has been in place since at least the 1968 merger) and elsewhere applying, because he had no right to be ordained in the first place. In our case, the Judicial Council should analogously rule that jurisdictions have no right to elect episcopal candidates who are disqualified because of being spouses in “same-sex marriages,” that the bishops presiding over the Western Jurisdictional Conference should have ruled Dr. Oliveto’s nomination out of order and prevented her candidacy from being voted on, and that it does not violate due-process provisions to decree that she immediately reverts to being an elder in the California-Nevada Conference, despite the jurisdiction’s vote, just as Decision #650 decreed that Lawrence McNeill Dowdy immediately “reverts to the status of a probationary member,” despite the annual conference vote.


E.  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, the action of the jurisdictional conference is null and void. If a jurisdiction tries to elect anyone who unquestionably fails to meet the standards for elders under appointment, then the election should be deemed null and void as soon as possible.

If an elder elected bishop was found to have, at the time of election, not met these standards, it would not violate due-process protections for her to be removed automatically from the special ministry of general superintendency. Bishops are NOT a separate order, but a special office filled by some among the elders (¶402) who remain “elders in full connection” (¶403). So removing elders from this office is not the same as defrocking them altogether. The Discipline includes numerous provisions mandating elders to be automatically removed from certain positions when the clear facts show that they were or became ineligible (¶¶ 418, 524.1, 612.2[b], 710.4, 710.9, 710.10, 2606), and similarly provides for automatically removing lay members from some positions (¶¶ 710.9, 2531.2, and 2534.6). In such cases, the due-process provisions of ¶20 (right to trial, appeal, etc.) do not apply, because these peoples’ good standing as elders or laity would remain unaffected. Similarly, when the clear facts show that an elder was ineligible to be bishop at the time of her election, these due-process provisions would not apply to declaring her election to be null and void. They would apply to complaints targeting anyone’s credentials as elder, or complaints against bishops for offenses allegedly committed only some time after they were first elected bishop, but these are fundamentally different situations.

The Council should rule specifically that the election of Karen Oliveto is null and void, that ¶407’s procedures for episcopal vacancies must be followed, and that elections of anyone similarly in a legal homosexual “marriage” or same-sex union are illegal.


F.  It is not 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. Since the same part of the Discipline—¶404.1(f)—provides for bishops consecrating other bishops as well as ordaining clergy, then bishops’ rights and responsibilities with doing one should parallel those for the doing the other. In Decision #920, the Judicial Council held that when an ordination candidate does not meet the Discipline’s ordination standards, the clergy session has no right to “vote to admit or ordain” her, while the presiding bishop “has both the authority and the responsibility to rule out of order any motion which would have that effect.” In his Concurrence to Decision #1330, Justice Reuben Reyes rejected claims that “the bishop’s role in ordaining and commissioning clergy is plainly ceremonial.” Instead, he said, “At ALL times, the bishop in presiding over an annual conference, must ensure compliance with the Discipline” (emphasis added), and that making necessary interventions to do so “is not undue interference or intervention in the power of other church bodies or agencies.”

The Judicial Council should rule that by the same logic, a jurisdiction has no right to vote elect a bishop candidate who is ineligible for election or consecration because of being in violation of ¶304.3, that bishops presiding and participating in jurisdictional conferences (including consecration services) must ensure compliance with the Discipline at all times, and that such bishops have the right and responsibility to actively intervene or refrain from participating in the process of such invalid elections or consecrations, to the extent necessary to prevent violations of the Discipline, without such actions or inactions constituting undue interference.



V.  Relief Requested


Our beloved Church stands at a crossroads, and it can be hardly overstated how much is at stake here. After the Episcopal Church elected an openly partnered homosexual bishop, that denomination suffered irreversible schism, worsened ecumenical relationships, and accelerated decline, while the painful fallout continues of former fellow church members taking each other to courts for bitter property battles. Within our UMC, we face a crisis from the non-enforcement of our Discipline’s standards on sexuality, of which Dr. Oliveto’s election represents the most pointed instance, so that distrust is at an all-time high, there are unprecedented threats of schism, and now some large, fast-growing U.S. congregations are already leaving our denomination in exasperation over our failure to enforce what our Discipline says we believe.

Shortly after this election, the Steering Committee of UM Action, an unofficial United Methodist caucus, released a declaration now endorsed by nearly 2,000 United Methodists in 47 U.S. states as well as Norway, the Philippines, Liberia, Senegal, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (www.standfirmumc.org). It strongly declares that Oliveto’s election “is illegitimate and cannot stand,” and hopes that the Judicial Council “will make this election null and void.” There are dozens more Western Jurisdiction United Methodists who signed this statement about Dr. Oliveto’s election than those who voted for her, and over one-third of these Western Jurisdiction signers are in the Mountain Sky Area to which she was assigned.

For the good of our Church, we cannot afford to wait any longer. General Conference has repeatedly made clear its will. But great disruption has been caused by an unrepresentative minority suggesting the Discipline is less clear than it already is. For the Judicial Council to “punt” this to a future General Conference would impose another 2-3 years of extreme tension and inconsistency over enforcing our Discipline, which has been worsening for several years. The Council has a sacred responsibility of upholding the plain letter, spirit, and implications of church law, with deference to the widely understood intent of General Conference and skepticism towards attempts to construe church law in ways that make it nearly impossible to enforce. It is a sound legal principle to attribute to words and phrases their plain meanings.

Beyond the rulings requested in Sections IV.C-F above, there remain questions of how relevant church law will actually be enforced in the situation of Dr. Oliveto. Section II indicates the widespread commitment of leaders in the Western Jurisdiction to defying our Discipline, and the failure of those in the California-Nevada Conference to fully review her ministerial status required by Decision #920 after she announced her “marriage” in 2014. All active (at the time) Western Jurisdiction bishops participated in consecrating Dr. Oliveto.[xxviii] Given this record and the high stakes for our Church, the Judicial Council should, as much as legally possible, limit the amount of discretionary authority placed for this matter within the Western Jurisdiction, and retain jurisdiction, requiring all those to whom the Council gives direction to report back in time for the Council’s Fall 2017 meeting, allowing the Council to review their compliance.

As a result of Dr. Oliveto’s election being null and void, she should be immediately reverted to membership in the California-Nevada Conference. Bishop Minerva Carcaño of that conference should be instructed to file a complaint against her based on Decision #920 and the facts here presented. The Judicial Council should also declare authoritatively that Dr. Oliveto has no right to privileges and powers reserved for bishops, and can no longer legally ordain, commission, or appoint anyone. And the Council of Bishops Executive Committee should be directed to do all in its power to ensure that she is placed in no committee or position of our general Church reserved for bishops.

Since effective bishops are entitled to funding for salary and expenses only “from the date of their consecration” (¶818.1), and Dr. Oliveto was never legitimately elected or consecrated bishop, the Judicial Council should direct the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to freeze any such support of Dr. Oliveto from the Episcopal Fund, within a reasonable time. This also falls within GCFA’s rights and responsibilities under ¶806.9.

Given the record of defiance within the Western Jurisdiction, the Judicial Council may also direct all active bishops of that jurisdiction to recuse themselves from any further involvement in this case, and direct the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops to appoint appropriate replacements to serve on their behalf as needed in subsequent reviews of this situation.

If needed, the Judicial Council may extend final disposition of this matter until a future Council meeting, for the sake of gathering any further information, as part of its authority to make determinations of fact (see Decision #595).

Respectfully Submitted,



John Lomperis, M.Div.

Lay Member, Indiana Annual Conference




[i] Candidate bio: http://calnev-email.brtapp.com/files/pdf_documents/instant_connection/karen+oliveto+bio.pdf;

[ii] http://www.umc.org/ballot/episcopal-elections-ballot-results; accessed 24 January 2017.

[iii] This is a name used by the Rev. Siosifa Hingano: http://www.sjaacsa.org/mlkluncheon/revsiosifa.asp

[iv] The official listing of delegates can be found on pp116-166 of the 2016 Advanced Daily Christian Advocate – Volume 1: Handbook for Delegates. Lists of members and officers for that board of ordained ministry as of now, June 2015, and June 2014 are respectively available from http://www.cnumc.org/ordainedministry; https://calnev.brtapp.com/files/pdf_documents/journals/2015+journal.pdf, p10; and http://www.cnumc.org/files/pdf_documents/journals/journal2014.pdf, pp10-11; all accessed 8 February 2017.

[v] She is so listed in 2015’s conference journal: http://www.cnumc.org/files/pdf_documents/journals/journal2014.pdf; and remains so as of this writing: http://www.cnumc.org/cabinet

[vi] https://www.linkedin.com/in/julie-diane-knudsen-8160716; http://www.cnumc.org/conferencestaff; and http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/leadership/officers/

[vii]http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/WJ-2016-Journal-Revised-2017-01-23.pdf, pp26-27

[viii] http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/leadership/officers/; accessed 8 February 2017.

[ix] For some examples, see EXHIBITS F, J, and K, and also http://religionnews.com/2016/07/19/first-openly-lgbt-united-methodist-bishop-this-is-the-time/; accessed 7 February 2017.

[x] http://www.faithatfirst.libsyn.com/; particularly the 5:31-6:49 and 14:00-14:27 segments for 1/15/2017. I am happy to share further documentation of this, included a downloaded file of this audio recording, upon request.

[xi] http://www.pnwumc.org/news/passed-action-of-non-conformity-with-the-general-conference-of-the-united-methodist-church-pnwac16/; accessed 8 February 2017.

[xii] http://www.greatplainsumc.org/newsdetail/date-location-announced-for-rev-cynthia-meyer-trial-5365757

[xiii] For a helpful overview of these changes within the USA and rest of the world, see “http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000030; accessed 1 February 2017.

[xiv] E.g., “United Methodist Church Elects First Openly Gay Bishop, In Defiance Of Church Rules,” NPR, http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/07/16/486300173/united-methodist-church-elects-first-openly-gay-bishop-in-defiance-of-church-rul; accessed 1 February 2017.

[xv] http://wmjm.org/web/wjc-2016/124-wmjm-endorses-gay-lesbian-bishop-candidates; accessed 1 February 2017.

[xvi] http://www.advocatesc.org/2016/07/umc-reacts-as-most-women-ever-elected-bishop-plus-first-lesbian-bishop/

[xvii] Anna Blaedel, “A Moment of Personal Privilege,” http://mfsaweb.org/?p=9639; accessed 7 February 2017.

[xviii] http://holston.org/media/about/thecall/EpiscopalLtrHolstonConferenceMVT7222016.pdf; https://www.umcsc.org/home/a-pastoral-letter-to-south-carolina-united-methodists/; http://www.unyumc.org/news/article/from-the-desk-of-bishop-mark-j.-webb-moving-forward; http://www.mississippi-umc.org/newsdetail/bishop-swansons-pastoral-response-to-western-jurisdiction-episcopal-election-5366917; and https://www.gnjumc.org/news/september-2016-graceful-controversy/; all accessed 8 February 2017.

[xix] See http://okumc-email.brtapp.com/viewinsite/22688dd1e65051767da6973e3a32d3d0; http://www.kyumc.org/newsdetail/bishop-davis-and-cob-respond-to-western-jurisdiction-election-results-5366680; and http://arumc.org/2016/07/a-message-from-bishop-gary-e-mueller/; all accessed 1 February 2017.

[xx] http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/bishops-respond-to-gay-colleague; accessed 8 February 2017.

[xxi] See http://www.nj.gov/corrections/pdf/EED/EED_Legal_Definitions.pdf and http://www.glow.cc/about.htm; both accessed 8 February 2017, and both of which make clear that such attraction need not be purely sexual.

[xxii] https://www.uscis.gov/policymanual/HTML/PolicyManual-Volume12-PartG-Chapter2.html

[xxiii] Evans v. Steelman, 970 S.W.2d 431 (Tennessee 1998); https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/OPINIONS/TSC/PDF/981/evansms.pdf. Cf. https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/presumption-of-legitimacy/

[xxiv] See https://philippinefamilylawperspectives.wordpress.com/category/paternity-filiation/presumption-of-legitimacy/ and http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/JLCR/article-full-text-pdf/AD1C9C47702

[xxv] “Mother’s Marriage to Another Bars Putative Father’s Paternity Claim,” Mary E. K. Rader, Suffolk University Law Review, vol. 20 (no. 3), 1986, p. 705-706.

[xxvi] The Jurisprudence of Marriage and the Uniqueness of Marriage, Lynn D. Wardle http://www.law2.byu.edu/page/categories/marriage_family/past_conferences/mar2009/drafts/Dr4%20Jurisprud%20of%20Marr%20LDW%20-%20presenta.pdf; accessed 18 August 2016.

[xxvii] http://civilunions.aclu-il.org/?page_id=41; accessed 18 August 2016.

[xxviii] This is documented here http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/WJC2016_Consecration_Service.pdf and there were many official photographs documenting this, such as those found in these albums:

https://www.facebook.com/California.Nevada.Conference/photos/pcb.1037427876349971/1037427813016644/?type=3&theater; https://www.facebook.com/UMOrId/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10157107681150587; and https://www.flickr.com/photos/wjcumc/

12 Responses to A Legal Case for Removing Karen Oliveto as UMC Bishop (Part 1 of 2)

  1. sstnt says:

    If a member of the clergy, or an entire Jurisdiction, can simply ignore any or all provisions within the Book of Discipline with impunity, then I renounce any and all authority said clergy and said Jurisdiction may have over me, based on the same rules and expectations of this denomination…as well as renounce any support to the church that might flow to them.

  2. disqus_Ymj2vBCg9w says:

    Sheesh. You spent a lot of time on this. Who’s paying you to write this?

  3. nostressjusthesed says:

    John really REALLY R.E.A.L.L.Y. needs to know if Oliveto is actually gay. REALLY. He knows she says she is. Her wife says she is. Her family says she is. Her friends say she is. But HE. REALLY. NEEDS. TO. KNOW. IF. SHE. IS. ACTUALLY. GAY. WHAT DOES SHE DO WITH HER VAGINA. JOHN NEEDS TO KNOW. JOHN NEEDS PROOF.

    • apriluser says:

      It’s not that at all. It’s about aligning oneself, soul, body, and mind with Scripture. And if I understand Scripture to endorse marriage between a man and a woman – from Genesis to Revealtion – then I must align my relationships with that truth. If we have leadership that has not subscribed to this truth, then church discipline must ensue – again as outlined in Scripture – and as we have seen this played out in the past many years with the UMC.

      • Pete Phillips says:

        ‘It’s about aligning oneself, soul, body, and mind with Scripture.’ Of course, if we align ourselves to scripture as you suggest, then we must kill men who lie with men as if they are women, not allow women to go to church when they are on their period, not wear clothing made out of mixed fabrics, not allow women to speak in church, cut off our hand if it causes us to sin… so many things… by the way, are there any bishops who are divorced? Any who are ‘rich?’ What did Christ say about homosexuality? (Plenty about wealth and the rich). I should probably say homo-eroticism being that the word homosexual didn’t exist for nearly two millennia after Christ’s death. If you believe that homosexuality is ‘incompatible’ with Christian principles, that’s fine as long as you have studied the very few biblical texts that are used (misused) when condemning homosexuality as a sin, (Bible never says homosexuality is a sin, first because as I explained above, the term doesn’t exist in the Bible, and second, because when homo-erotic relationships are discussed, they are not called sins). Maybe you should be more concerned with pederasty and sexual exploitation/violence as Paul was when he condemned them. Look at Paul’s historical and socio-political context and then try to justify your stance. I think you will find it very difficult if not impossible to do so.

      • Pete Phillips says:

        And the scripture doesn’t endorse marriage between a man and a woman from Genesis to Revelation. It endorses one man and women for much of it. And are you sure you want to turn to the Bible in order to define marriage? In biblical times, marriage was all about breeding rights. And arranged marriages. Sanctity of marriage? Joseph was supposed to have Mary stoned to death but decided to follow the law of love and not biblical law related to marriage. If she had been unfaithful, it most likely would have been due to sex with Joseph, which obviously Joseph knew that wasn’t the case, or that she had been raped by a Roman soldier. No thirteen year-old Jewish girl would have been having premarital sex unless it was rape in biblical times. And, yes, in the case of rape, marriage was so loving and sacred, that the biblical law was to stone her to death because she obviously didn’t fight hard enough. Once again, that’s your measuring stick for marriage?

        • Marco Bell says:

          Well stated Pete Phillips.
          No amount of logic and/or reason will deter the American Theocrats from achieving what they think is right in God’s ‘eyes’.
          Hence, the election of Donald J. Trump, the Righteous leader of all things great and small!
          These people are “Dinosaurs”. And their destiny is doomed.

  4. Douglas says:

    Dear John; Thanks for taking this stand. It’s interesting to see those that share Olivito’s agenda come out of the woodwork. They care not for our Lord, nor our Church. They seek only to destroy, divide, and mock the tenants of our faith, (and maybe make a few bucks on the side). Why don’t they just create their own denomination and leave the rest of us alone? Because they would never have enough money to sustain their own ministry, therefore they must hijack someone else’s dedication and hard work. Pretty much the definition of parasites.If they kill the host, move on to the next victim. They are not satisfied with the destruction of the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and other denominations they have infiltrated, but must carry on until Christianity is eliminated. How come they don’t try to bring “social justice” to Islam? March on Mecca? Go to Saudi Arabia and protest? Because they would be killed. The agenda has more to do with “wrongs” than “rights”. The BOD must be enforced, evenly and across the board.

  5. Cynthia Mistler says:

    So with all the legal talk which is hard to sift through.. Is Karen Oliveto removed as bishop? Is she still preaching heresy? I am very upset that this woman spews lies at the pulpit.

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