(See 2/20/2018 update below.)
Is the religion of contested lesbian “bishop” Karen Oliveto really as radical, anti-Jesus, and pro-demon as we have reported on this website?
Well, if not, then her supporters actually have a golden opportunity to prove me wrong!
Over the last couple of years, one of the most widely read articles I have written was this July 2016 piece reporting on some of the more bizarre and extreme spiritual beliefs and teachings liberal caucus folk (associated with groups like the Reconciling Ministries Network, “Uniting” Methodists, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action) apparently have no problem with Dr. Oliveto bringing to the office of bishop. Most notably, this report highlighted how, in a series of teachings at RMN’s 2005 national “Hearts on Fire” convocation, Oliveto
(1) broadly urged her audience to address both “the benefits and flaws” of Scripture;
(2) repudiated the “theology of election and chosenness” which she admitted was deeply embedded in Scripture, particularly taking issue with language portraying God as separating “the sheep” from “the goats” (language that is actually Jesus Christ’s own direct teaching in Matthew 25); and
(3) criticized the Apostle Paul for casting a demon out of a slave girl (as recorded in Acts 16), on the grounds that becoming demon-free allegedly did nothing to improve the girl’s life, and that the incident raises “questions about the imposition of religious values.”
On the night delegates to the 2016 Western Jurisdictional Conference voted to elect the openly lesbian-partnered Oliveto as bishop, in knowing defiance of our denomination’s explicit ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy,” I was at my own North Central Jurisdictional Conference as a delegate. Recalling some of the out-there things Oliveto had said back at “Hearts on Fire,” I quickly looked through my old files, found an early version of an article I had written at the time on Oliveto’s teachings sessions, and posted it online from my hotel room, after some very slight edits.
Judging by the attention and response given to my posting this as a new article, a lot of other United Methodists also found Oliveto’s (1) criticism of the Bible, (2) rejecting red-letter teachings of Jesus Christ, and (3) defending the alleged benefits of demon possession to also be rather extreme, to put it mildly.
The liberal responses I saw largely fell into the pattern we have often seen with liberal idolization of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), a group strongly supported by Oliveto: When faced some of the most indefensible aspects of your favored cause, neither consider modifying your position nor look silly defending the indefensible, but instead attack the messenger and yell “Liar! Liar!”—even in response to well-documented facts.
Okay, so logically, this gives us a couple possibilities.
If indeed my reporting on Oliveto’s remarks can be shown to be inaccurate, and to have dishonestly misrepresented what she actually said – as some of her supporters have charged – then there is no need for her supporters to substantially respond to concerns about if they really think that in selecting United Methodist bishops, being a lesbian activist is a more important qualification than having beliefs that are a bit less anti-Bible, anti-Jesus, and pro-demon than what I have reported.
If, however, I was not being dishonest, then Oliveto’s record raises some hard but unavoidable questions for her supporters about their priorities and where their activism will ultimately lead.
I could note how it was way back in September 2005 that I first reported on Oliveto’s “Hearts on Fire” remarks, including the three above-listed highlights of her remarks (1) speaking of the “flaws” of Scripture, (2) rejecting Jesus Christ’s teaching about sheep and goats, and (3) defending the alleged benefits of demon possession.
I could note how in the dozen years since then, I have not observed a single individual who was actually there dispute the accuracy of my reporting on Oliveto’s remarks.
I could highlight how a couple weeks after my initial reporting on Oliveto’s strange “Hearts on Fire” remarks, the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) distributed a blog post taking issue with my reporting on ten key points. I could point out how not one of these ten points identified any actual inaccuracy or directly disputed any of my above-noted reporting on Oliveto’s preaching at this event.
I could recall how when I briefly met Oliveto in person a year or so later, she gave no indication of feeling she had been misrepresented by me.
But there is a much simpler way to get to the bottom of this.
The record shows that RMN took video recordings of Karen Oliveto’s teachings at “Hearts on Fire” and made DVDs available for purchase.
Shortly after Oliveto’s election, I contacted RMN staff to ask if they still had any available for purchase. I was informed, “We no longer have these resources available for distribution.” It could be that they ran out, after all these years. Or perhaps they just did not want to sell such DVDs to me, which I suppose is their right.
In any case, by now, there are surely a number of RMN supporters who have purchased DVDs of Oliveto’s “Hearts on Fire” teaching sessions. And the folk at RMN’s headquarters surely have access to these recordings, even if they are out of copies “for distribution.”
And the people in both categories are not exactly the sort one would expect to want to hide any information they could use to damage the reputation of myself, the UM Action program I direct, and/or IRD more broadly.
So I respectfully extend a public invitation to anyone with access to these recordings to help set the record straight. After all, I am enthusiastically in favor of holding folk to rigorous standards of accuracy and accountability, including myself.
Liberal United Methodists, if you can show that for all these years, I’ve been dishonestly misrepresenting the truth about what Oliveto said at this event, you would strike a HUGE blow to cripple my/IRD’s reputation (beyond just activist liberal circles), defend Karen Oliveto, and help the “Reconciling” cause more generally!
All you have to do is dig out your old copy of the DVD, check to confirm that it shows that Oliveto said absolutely nothing in any of her several sessions along the lines of the key points I’ve reported, make it available (without hiding any key sections) somewhere easily accessible like YouTube, and then contact me directly or else let us all know about it in the comments!
I’ll update this blog post in a month to see if any RMN staff or supporters have been able to respond to this challenge!
Of course, assuming that we can all agree that a United Methodist clergyperson, let alone a bishop, teaching such extreme things about Scripture, the words of Jesus, and Paul’s exorcism are very serious matters, then if this challenge is not met, that would raise the big question of why no one in RMN’s network is willing to come forward and show how the video recording disproved my reporting on Oliveto saying such radical things. Unless, of course, it actually confirms the accuracy of what I’ve reported all along.
Ball’s in your court, Oliveto supporters.
2/20/2018 UPDATE: Over one month after this article was first published online and shared widely on social media, including in forums in which many liberal United Methodists participate, not one RMN activist or other Oliveto supporter has come forward to share the DVD of Karen Oliveto’s remarks at “Hearts on Fire” about Scripture and demons. Out of all the current RMN board members and staff who could access the caucus’s originals of this recording, and out of all the “Reconciling” activists who previously purchased a copy, no one has left a comment here or otherwise attempted to contact me to say, “The full recording actually shows that Oliveto said no such things at the ‘Hearts on Fire’ event.” Despite my broad and repeated public invitations.
If the recording had actually exonerated Dr. Oliveto and shown that I had misrepresented what she actually said, then this would be an irresistible opportunity for all of the many RMN activists with potential access to this recording to discredit IRD/UMAction and to clear the name of their idolized Oliveto.
So then why would not one of the many people with potential access to the recording come forward in all these weeks, and why has no one who was present at “Hearts on Fire” ever disputed my first reporting in 2005 about Oliveto’s remarks there – unless Karen Oliveto’s official, recorded remarks really did defend the alleged benefits of demon possession, talk about the “flaws” of Scripture, and repudiate the red-letter teachings of Jesus Christ, as I originally reported?