August 1, 2019

Karen Oliveto Begins Damage Control Over Separation Brochure

Over the past few weeks much has been developing in the Mountain Sky Conference (MSC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Their recent annual conference meeting voted to both reject the Traditional Plan and to create a committee to look into ways to separate from the rest of the UMC. Pursuant to this, a brochure sent out to the clergy of the MSC detailed various aspects of a potential separation such as what would happen to pensions, church leadership, and apportionments.

This brochure claims that the MSC would become its own denomination with a Book of Discipline based on the current one but with significant revisions if the 2020 General Conference does not turn out in the liberals’ favor. The brochure claims that after such a separation there would still be guaranteed appointments for elders and Wespath would continue to provide clergy benefits and pensions.

UMAction and MSC clergy have taken this brochure as evidence that the top leadership in MSC is actively planning a separation from the UMC. A week ago, Rev. Karen Oliveto, bishop of the MSC, began efforts to relieve the stress and panic of her clergy created by this surprise revelation. On July 22nd, Oliveto released a letter ostensibly only to the clergy of the MSC, though it was quickly leaked.

In this letter, Oliveto explained that the brochure was created in light of petitions passed by the MSC’s recent annual conference gathering to both break from the UMC and to resist the Traditional Plan. According to the letter, the brochure was created for use in private conversations between clergy and their district superintendent and was not intended to be released to the general public. In the letter, Oliveto lamented how many lay members were insufficiently informed about General Conference 2019 and the possible repercussions of it, and the brochure was meant to remedy this by informing clergy, who could then inform their congregations in due time.

Despite the institutional response that the leak of this brochure provoked, social media reactions have been muted. Chris Ritter, a noted traditionalist pastor, posted about the response letter on Twitter without further comment. He also added the letter to the “UMC Fallout” post on his blog. Annie Rigo Arnoldy, the Director of Connectional Ministry at the MSC, posted on Facebook about the brochure saying, “The brochure… is one piece of the deeper conversations we are having with our clergy…”

While very little has been said on social media regarding the letter and the brochure, Oliveto and her leadership team are clearly seeking to downplay its importance and reassure the laity that no drastic actions are being taken. However, this rings somewhat hollow in the light of the pro-separation resolution passed by the recent Annual Conference of the MSC. In all, while the brochure was not supposed to reach the laity broadly speaking, it has caused less outcry than it otherwise could have.

21 Responses to Karen Oliveto Begins Damage Control Over Separation Brochure

  1. So every church and every member of her conference wants to leave? I don’t believe it.

  2. Reynolds says:

    The leadership is trying to work out a deal where they decide if a church leaves or not. As long as the rules do not change, it will take a 2/3 Cote of laity to leave. 44% of laity is orthodox so the numbers are not in their favor so they desperately need to change the rules

  3. B Alley says:

    Go for it Ms. Olivito. The rest of us will shed no tears. Just make it sooner rather than later.

  4. Creed S Pogue says:

    You wouldn’t put together a brochure with only one path if you were looking at different paths.

  5. Michael says:

    Oh, what a tangled web….

  6. Mr. Bill says:

    So the MSC would like to leave the UMC while simultaneously demanding the UMC guarantee their funding. Got it.

  7. Bob says:

    Recently I had perused the Mountain Sky Conference website and read a summary page listing the decisions that were made at their annual conference in June. Among those decisions was one stating that the conference would not “punish” those congregations who decide to adhere to the Traditional plan. This smacks of supreme confidence that they expect the progressive churches to be “in charge” and make all the rules. After reading your article, I went back to the MSC website and can no longer find that page. On another note, many of the MSC churches have already had or have scheduled Top Priority congregational meetings to discuss (discuss or be dictated to?) the future of their congregations. Some meetings already held have featured topics such as “what about the money?” and “what about the church property?” I’m sure MSC plans to hang onto as much of it as they can get away with. I don’t have a problem with the progressives leaving the UMC. I just don’t think they should be able to “take the name, take the money, take the property, and run”. In multiple UMC-church communities (whether MSC or not), there should remain a church for the conservatives, who largely paid for those buildings and who desire to uphold the principles in the Bible and the Book of Discipline as written. Our community has 4 churches and I dread the thought that all 4 would become pulpits for Bishop Oliveto’s “vision for Mountain Sky Conference.” What a horrific betrayal of trust to those early saints who built those properties and upheld God’s word. I wonder how the progressives can sleep Sunday nights after participating in the “communion of Saints”, which is meant to connect us not only with God, but with all Christians who came before.

  8. Kathy Fitzgerald says:

    I wander if the actual count of churches who are traditionalist has been made. I agree with Bob in that we have built our churches w/ property, have raised money and used it in mission work, and I do not feel the progressives have the right to take any of it away from us, including the name of our denomination. We have followed the book of discipline as it is written and follow the Bible in teachings from the scriptures. It is written in the Bible that no one is to change was it says and the progressives are obviously changing it to read the way they want it rather than how God wanted. Now is the time for the MSC to wake up and smell the roses…not all of our congregations agree with you and now is the time for them to start telling you.

    • td says:

      There is no way to know which umc churches would choose to be traditional or progressive- that is not the way the umc currently works. Yes, the are a few reconciling churches and a few wca affiliated churches, but most churches have not even begun to discuss what direction they would go- many are in small town rural america where the church revolves around multi generational family members and an acceptance of varying types of faith. Most of these churches try to avoid controversy in order to maintain their community.

      So, unlike the umc in suburban america, it is not a pick and choose environment. Truly, most of these churches will go with the default position of the umc that will not require a vote. If the umc forces these churches to make a decision, it will be the end of between at least of a third of them. If the default is traditional, there won’t be many people leave; if it is progressive, i would guess they would lose about a third.

  9. David Gingrich says:

    Money is the only thing that has kept the liberal bishops and clergy in the UMC. The rest of this story will be about money.

  10. Gary Smith says:

    How did she become a Bishop in the first place? Her very presence in the job violates the Book of Discipline.

    • William says:

      According to a ruling by the UMC Judicial Council, she occupies the position illegally. No one under her should be paying her any attention, even ignoring her appointments, for example. What if a minister refused her appointment? Or, how can she handle a complaint against a fellow clergy since she herself was elected illegally and technically is not a bishop in the first place? The Western Jurisdiction was supposed to take up her illegal election and act on it. Sure, and the church holds its breath. Her situation and the situations in other places where the Book of Discipline is mocked and intentionally violated tells us that we already have TWO denominations de facto. General Conference 2020 really has no choice but make that reality official.

    • Lee D. Cary says:

      There is not disciplined accountability for failing to follow the Book of Discipline.

      In a secular setting, we’d label that arrangement the tyranny of lawlessness.

  11. Andrew Hughes says:

    God help our UMC leadership today.

  12. Hank Holcomb says:

    Our conference held an open meeting to share our delegates’ observations on what occurred at GC2019. Maybe Karen Oliveto should do the same in her conference so the laity can be informed. Isn’t that part of her job?

  13. Bob says:

    I think the laity in the Mountain Sky Conference is very aware of what occurred at GC2019. The progressive element has continued to forge ahead, in spite of the GC2019 decision. This entire region (with rare exceptions) is ultra-liberal. That’s why Oliveto was sent from San Francisco to the Rocky Mountain Conference (now Mountain Sky). The liberal top leadership of the UMC laid the groundwork for this action very well in the years leading up to it, by sending very progressive pastors into conservative congregations, which in turn chased away a lot of conservative members and left the progressives to carry on. One of those pastors was challenged by a church member who asked him how he could justify coming into a congregation and seeking to change the theology of that congregation. His answer: “When I was ordained, I made a covenant with the UMC to go wherever I was asked to go and do whatever I was charged to do.” That was a horrible moment of clarity. I always assumed that ordination was a covenant made with GOD.

  14. John Smith says:

    Anytime one discovers a document that was not meant to be released to the general public an eyebrow must be raised. As a minimum it betrays a lack of trust between the public and its leaders.

    As a sidenote, mention was made of Oliveto’s ambiguous status. As the liberals start to face the hard numbers and cost of separating and being separate compared with the non-cost of noncompliance don’t expect a stampede for the exit. After all the old BOD wasn’t enforced, why would the new one?

  15. pastor's wife says:

    As a pastor’s wife and adherent to God’s Word, I’ve felt so angry for so long that I’m worn out. I’ve defended Scriptural truth on a person to person level and publicly in UMC churches for many years. As the UMC, beginning in my teen years, veered farther and farther from the Truth, I actively worked to support lay & clergy leadership who fought to hold the UMC true to God’s Word. Now decades later, my angry energy of challenging again and again liberal attacks on Biblical truth, is largely spent. I’m just weary. But I can and will continue to stand firm in the faith, holding firmly to the Word of God. I’m deeply hurt by what liberal Scriptural distortions have done to the church I’ve loved all my life. I’m hurt by people, ordained to the preaching of the Word and the care of God’s church, who in His name distort and dishonor His Word instead. Much of my anger is spent now, replaced by a deep gut-wrenching sadness. My encouragement comes through those who, battle-scarred like me, still hold firmly to God’s Word, and who remain firm regardless of the actions of those who choose another way. The danger is not in the liberals who want to leave. What’s dangerous to the UMC is the liberals who vow never to repent and submit to God’s Word, but to remain in the UMC instead and work to pull others away from the Truth. We must not let that happen. Our duty is to hold firmly (but not unkindly) to the Truth, armed with the Word of God, and “. . . having done all, to stand.” Powerful encouragement for the times in which we stand.

  16. Jay says:

    Rather than fighting to reform the Baal worship that is going on, why not join a denomination that ACTUALLY still adheres to the Word of God? As those denominations GROW, it might send a message- not only one of encouragement for those congregations and the constant battles that they are waging with the liberals in their own midst- but also as a way of tangibly refuting / rejecting the false prophets in your own midst? As long as people stay in these apostate churches (church bodies), nothing is going to change.

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