A heresy complaint has been filed with the appropriate authorities in the United Methodist Church against the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto.
In July 2016, the denomination’s schismatic Western Jurisdiction illegitimately elected her to the office of bishop, in open defiance of our denomination’s longtime rules banning “self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy” (let alone bishops). Oliveto is an openly partnered lesbian activist.
However, the Christian Post reported earlier this week that this new complaint was NOT submitted over anything related to sexuality. Instead, this complaint accuses Oliveto of the arguably more serious charge of heretical false teaching.
This stems from a public message Oliveto offered in 2017 in which she encouraged people to take an essentially Unitarian view of Jesus Christ being “as human as you and me,” to the point of His being sinful and having “his bigotries and prejudices,” which he needed another person to teach Him to give up in what Oliveto called “his conversion.” You can read more here about what she said.
The Christian Post quotes the complaint from the Rev. Robert Barnes, a concerned pastor in our denomination’s Baltimore-Washington Conference, as outlining these problems:
“Although it is commendable and necessary for United Methodist Bishops to teach against bigotry, Bishop Oliveto’s teaching does so by directly contradicting what Articles 1 and 2 of the Methodist Articles of Religion and Articles 1 and 2 of the EUB Confession of Faith, stress concerning the full divinity of Jesus Christ.”
“Even beyond that, however, the Bishop’s remarks are not only contrary to our theological and doctrinal standards regarding the divine/human nature of Jesus but a) they denigrate Jesus to being that type of human being we might not always have respect for, due to His alleged prejudices and b) in doing so they elevate her own beliefs to a level higher than the beliefs that Jesus had early in his ministry.”
The Methodist Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church (referenced by Pastor Barnes) are part of the core, official United Methodist “Doctrinal Standards,” which even our denomination’s highest governing authority, the General Conference is constitutionally forbidden from revoking, altering, changing, or contradicting.
Here are the particular sections Barnes charges Oliveto with contradicting:
Methodist Articles of Religion
Article I — Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body or parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the maker and preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there are three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Article II — Of the Word, or Son of God, Who Was Made Very Man
The Son, who is the Word of the Father, the very and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin; so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one person, never to be divided; whereof is one Christ, very God and very Man, who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.
Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church
Article I — God
We believe in the one true, holy and living God, Eternal Spirit, who is Creator, Sovereign and Preserver of all things visible and invisible. He is infinite in power, wisdom, justice, goodness and love, and rules with gracious regard for the well-being and salvation of men, to the glory of his name. We believe the one God reveals himself as the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, distinct but inseparable, eternally one in essence and power.
Article II — Jesus Christ
We believe in Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, in whom the divine and human natures are perfectly and inseparably united. He is the eternal Word made flesh, the only begotten Son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. As ministering Servant he lived, suffered and died on the cross. He was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, from whence he shall return. He is eternal Savior and Mediator, who intercedes for us, and by him all men will be judged.
Barnes declined to share updates on the complaint (reportedly filed sometime in late September) with the Christian Post, citing the confidentiality of the process and negotiations that could lead to a possible “just resolution.”
But when you look at Oliveto’s teaching, there is simply no way that her view of Jesus Christ being a bigot and less wise than Karen Oliveto can be compatible with what United Methodist doctrine teaches about His eternal divinity and His infinite wisdom, justice, goodness, and love.
In the secular world, a “gaffe” has been defined as when a politician accidentally says aloud the crazy things s/he actually believes. I don’t doubt the sincerity of Oliveto meaning what she said about how we should not “create an idol out of” Jesus but instead take Him down several notches to our own level, or lower. But is somewhat with such beliefs really the best person to be elevated as a prominent teacher and leader within our denomination, even apart from questions of sexual immorality?
It is not clear what will happen with this complaint. The Christian Post reports that it was submitted to Bishop Robert Hoshibata of the Desert-Southwest Conference, who is president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops.
But in the meantime, this raises several serious questions for our denomination.
Can there be ANY Christian accountability within the Western Jurisdiction? Dr. Oliveto has been under complaint for sexual immorality for over two years. But she has continued to illegitimately occupy the office of bishop in the Denver-based Mountain-Sky Area, acting at times like a petty dictator eager to intimidate and pressure people into personal loyalty to her. The bishops of the Western Jurisdiction have evidently buried the sexual immorality complaint, out of a commitment to keep Oliveto in office no matter what. Will things be any different with this new complaint? Even if they are all uniformly committed to the agenda of LGBTQ liberation, is there anyone within the Western Jurisdiction leadership at least willing to take a stand for drawing a strong line against Oliveto’s denigrating Jesus Christ?
If any of the Western Jurisdiction bishops truly values core reverence for Jesus Christ over idolizing the cause of LGBTQ liberation, then why did not one of them file a complaint against Oliveto for her teaching, which has been widely known for a year? It would not have taken too much courage or risk for them to do so, given the formidable position bishops enjoy in our system.
Instead, a less prominent local-church pastor stood up and called for accountability after bishops and other official leaders failed to lead by doing so. This was a rather brave stand for Barnes, considering how he is a pastor under appointment in the liberal-dominated Northeastern Jurisdiction, in a liberal-dominated annual conference, under a bishop who publicly supports Karen Oliveto.
And what about the rest of our bishops? After years of hearing bishops say that it is unfair to blame them for not doing more to hold each other accountable because our governing Book of Discipline gives them limited tools for doing so, we recently enacted some new requirements to give the global Council of Bishops new powers for holding individual bishops accountable. While some of this may have been invalidated by a recent Judicial Council ruling, other parts of this new accountability system should remain intact.
Bishop Ken Carter of Florida, who is now president of the Council of Bishops, along with the majority of other American bishops have left no doubt about their commitment to pushing General Conference proposals to roll back our denomination’s rules against same-sex weddings and homosexually active clergy (effectively rewarding those in the “disobedience movement” who have been provocatively breaking those rules). But what about core commitment to Jesus Christ? With the new tools they have been given, can the majority of our disproportionately American-dominated Council of Bishops at least be trusted to say or do anything draw a firm, public line against denigrating Jesus and calling Him a bigot?
It is also worth noting that the Western Jurisdiction bishops, Karen Oliveto herself, and some ofOliveto’s strongest supporters are also prominent promoters of the so-called “One Church Plan” (OCP) proposed for the 2019 General Conference.
If this “One Church Plan” is as moderate as its marketers would have us believe, where do the leaders promoting it stand on Oliveto’s bizarrely anti-Jesus theology, in light of this new complaint? Are ANY willing to take a clear, strong stand that Oliveto’s theology goes too far and does not belong at the highest levels of leadership of the “One Church” they seek?
Sadly, all that I have seen from the most prominent OCP leaders has been quite consistent on this point. Even after Oliveto’s bizarre theology of rejecting the words of Jesus Christ and defending the alleged benefits of demon possession was publicly known, several leaders of “Uniting Methodists,” a single-issue caucus devoted to passing the OCP, went out of their way to show support for Oliveto (as previously reported here and here), while two advisory board members of “Mainstream UMC,” another single-issue caucus devoted to passing the OCP, went out of their way to defend Oliveto’s election before the Judicial Council.
When news broke of this new heresy complaint against Oliveto, an outspoken member of the Uniting Methodists leadership team wasted no time in denouncing the complaint and expressing support for Oliveto in the face of these concerns about her false teaching.
Let us be in prayer for this complaint process.