The day following her appearance at a United Methodist Judicial Council hearing that may affect her episcopacy, contested Bishop Karen Oliveto returned to her Mountain Sky Episcopal Area to address seminary students and faculty.
In her address, Oliveto encouraged students to “embrace the doubting Thomas within you,” lashed out at the church’s discipline proscribing homosexual practices as “silencing”, and equated the act of coming out as homosexual or “gender queer” as comparable to Christ’s resurrection.
Oliveto spoke April 26 at the Iliff School of Theology chapel service in Denver, Colorado, where she serves on the board of trustees for the United Methodist-affiliated seminary.
Considered among the most progressive of the 13 official seminaries serving the United Methodist Church, the school educates a relatively small number of United Methodist seminarians. According to the denomination’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) in 2013, Iliff educated fewer than a dozen ordinands.
Iliff President Tom Wolfe opened the chapel service, announcing to Oliveto “we welcome your courage. We welcome your wisdom, we welcome your heart.” The congregation was enthusiastic, rising out of their pews and clapping for an extended duration as the newly-elected bishop acknowledged their welcome.
Oliveto assessed to the Iliff community that “we are in a waiting time” unsure if she will still be their bishop on Friday, the earliest possible date that the Judicial Council may hand down a ruling. The Judicial Council is the top court of the denomination and has been asked to make a ruling of law about the validity of electing a person as bishop who is in a legal same-sex marriage. While Oliveto is unmentioned in the case and did not speak at the hearing, the case was precipitated by her July election and consecration. In 2014, Oliveto entered into a legal marriage with Deaconess Robin Ridenour.
Oliveto spoke on the gospel reading for the day, John Chapter 20 verses 24-29, in which the disciple Thomas encounters the resurrected Christ and will not believe until he places his hand into Christ’s side.
“The more I meditated upon Thomas, especially during the Judicial Council [proceedings]; my appreciation for him has grown,” Oliveto said. “How many of us have had our reality condemned or disbelieved?”
Addressing language in the Book of Discipline that proscribes homosexual practices, Oliveto declared “this has resulted in an increased silencing of queer voices.”
“I want to celebrate you, the doubting Thomases, who put their foot down and say that unless it is part of my experiences, I cannot accept it as my truth,” Oliveto announced.
“I am not untrustworthy, and I am not sick,” Oliveto declared. “What lies have you been fed about you?”
Quoting New Age spirituality author Eckhart Tolle, Oliveto said “When you find your truth, your actions will be in alignment with it.”
“Embrace the doubting Thomas within you,” Oliveto advised. “We believe the lies told about ourselves and we end up, as the song goes, looking for love in all the wrong places.”
The United Methodist cleric assessed that doctrines and dogma fail to fill this hunger. Instead, people are looking for an experience of God.
“They want to touch and be touched by God,” Oliveto diagnosed. “To those of us who are the children of Thomas, God has not left us to wallow in our doubt.”
The contested bishop also reflected on the reality of the resurrection.
“I believe that resurrection happened, and it continues to happen. It is a miracle that I have witnessed over and over again,” Oliveto reported. “Every time I see someone come out as LGBTQI or gender queer, there is a resurrection going on.”
Oliveto concluded by calling for putting “our whole self in” and “speaking aloud the truth of our experience.” Recalling a fellow passenger on mass transit whom she initially expressed annoyance at for playing music without headphones, she realized the familiar tune was the ‘Hokey-Pokey’. Encouraging the gathered seminary community to embrace this authenticity, she punctuated her address by leading them in the familiar dance and song.