lesbian activist Karen Oliveto

Lesbian Bishop Seeks to ‘Reshape United Methodism for a New Era’

Collin Bastian on January 17, 2022

On November 20, the unofficial liberal caucus called United Methodist Association of Retired Clergy (UMARC) held their Inclusiveness V Webinar in celebration of the fifth year of openly partnered lesbian activist Karen Oliveto’s contested episcopacy in the United Methodist Church. Webinar host Don Messer, former president of the Iliff School of Theology, explained that he “drew up the articles of incorporation…for UMARC” as a means of demonstrating “unwavering support for…Karen Oliveto,” as well as a “commitment to the inclusion of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in our denomination as well as in society.”

The online conference included pleas for inclusivity and togetherness in the face of the impending split between the liberalized post-separation United Methodist Church (psUMC) and the conservative Global Methodist Church, which will soon form in the wake of a schism. After the split happens, these Oliveto celebrants will be significant voices with the psUMC.

Besides the venerated Oliveto, the webinar included many prominent progressive voices within the liberal arm of the UMC: German Bishop Harald Rückert, Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi of the Western Pennsylvania and Susquehanna Annual Conferences, openly gay Filipino minister and San-Francisco-based Reconciling Ministries Network staffer Israel Alvaran, UMC General Conference delegate and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mark Holland of Kansas, former General Conference delegate and current leader of the anti-traditional Resist Harm movement Pat Luna of the Alabama-West Florida Conference (who is also a member of the Convening Team for the supposedly “centrist” UMC Next caucus), former General Conference delegate Cimpaye Valentine of Burundi, and Queering Wesley, Queering the Church author Keegan Osinski, and openly gay General Conference clergy delegate Jay Williams of New England (now a leader of the Liberation Project).

Oliveto opened the conference by laying out her “vision for the future of United Methodism.” As Oliveto related, five years ago she had a dream where the UMC would welcome all sexual minorities. Yet while that dream has not changed, the world has changed around Oliveto; as she said, America has had to deal with “the rise to power of Donald Trump, the ensuing political divide that has been revealed in our country,” as well as other sources of conflict, claiming that “climate change… has created apocalyptic conditions.”

“All of these,” Oliveto continued, “have impacted our church and begs a response as followers of Jesus.”

What was Oliveto’s response to these developments? Similarly to Oliveto’s previous statements decrying her ideological opponents within the church, Oliveto blamed Fox News Host Tucker Carlson, among other voices. She stated that “the divisions fostered by Fox News and others are within our pews,” and that “instead of being guided by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, too many have preempted the Gospel mandate to love our neighbors for the unholy epistle of division.” As a corrective, Oliveto suggested that the church needed to do its job “of imparting our United Methodist values.” The question, of course, is what are “United Methodist values,” as Oliveto understands them to be?

Noting the fracture soon to come to the United Methodist Church, Oliveto proclaimed “We will have the opportunity to reshape United Methodism for a new era, and that’s a hopeful thing.”  Oliveto then railed against the UMC’s rules, claiming that “queer people are the only class of people the Book of Discipline singles out.”  Oliveto further stated that “forcing people into closets, denying their right to commit themselves to love is an abomination to the God who made us all and who we have come to know as love.” To do so, Oliveto says, would mean failing to “be an inclusive church,” which Oliveto views as a sacred aspect of the church because “diversity is built into the Godhead.”

Other speakers throughout the virtual conference echoed the sentiments of Oliveto. Messer noted that the purpose of the conference was to “encourage and inspire inclusiveness within our United Methodist Church.” Like Oliveto, Messer also promoted a reshaping of the UMC. Indeed, in the event’s introduction, Messer and other UMARC speakers proclaimed their great affection for Oliveto through the presentation of three gifts. Among these gifts was a decorative heart bearing the bishop’s name and other characteristics the speakers thought befitting of her (including such attributes as “loving,” “tough,” “amazing,” and “humble”), $400 in tickets to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and a wall plaque depicting a cross in front of a rainbow-colored background. Of the last gift, Messer suggested that it “could become a new logo for United Methodism.”

Keegan Osinski, Librarian for Theological Studies and Ethics at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and author of Queering Wesley, Queering the Church, a book which Osinski described as attempting “to see Wesleyan essentials…in a new light that makes space for and embraces LGBTQ experience as a vital contribution for the church” also spoke to the need to reform United Methodism. Regarding the role of tradition within the church, Osinski stated that she did not view it as a “monolith…in the past, that we have to keep looking back to and pointing at,” instead likening it to “a stream” which “moves through the present and into the future.” As such, she then further hinted that “we can change the direction” of the stream, as part of church people’s ability to affect “the stream’s movement into the future.”

Other speakers focused their comments on the importance of emphasizing the inclusion of LGBTQ lifestyles in the church. Valentine, the only African speaker, praised the conference’s the vision for an inclusive church, stating that “an inclusive church is a church that refuses all exclusion, be it racial, social, sexual….” Alvaran, meanwhile, suggested that issues of economic justice were intricately tied to the concerns of inclusion, declaring that one could not “have a fancy gay wedding” if one could not also “have a job.” German Bishop Rückert expressed his hope that the UMC would “be a church where LGBTQ persons can be ordained and blessed in the marriage ceremony and also where traditionally-minded people can uphold their ideals.”

Still, considering the uniform ideological bent of the UMARC presenters, it is worth wondering whether those who are more traditionally-minded would be left with anything beyond private misgivings under these proposed progressive visions. No speaker expressed any clear support for firm protections to prevent orthodox believers in the psUMC being forced to submit to a partnered gay bishop. Indeed, with no speaker leveling anything resembling a salient dissent from Oliveto’s lifestyle or views, it would seem safe to assume that any conservatives would be allotted no more than places of quiet submission in the psUMC.

  1. Comment by Mike on January 17, 2022 at 8:33 am

    Are there any Christians among the leadership of the UMC? There certainly are not any among those quoted in this article.

  2. Comment by David S. on January 17, 2022 at 10:52 am

    I’m beginning to think the same thing about the institutional structures of all the mainline churches.

  3. Comment by Dan W on January 17, 2022 at 11:21 am

    The Gospel of Jesus is divisive. Jesus asked his followers “Do you think I came to bring peace on Earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Luke 12:51) John the Baptist tells us Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff, “gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12)

    Karen really thinks Fox News and Tucker Carlson are driving the U.M.C. Apart? The U.M.C. is toast (or chaff) and climate change isn’t emptying the pews.

    By the way, using the dictionary definition of apocalyptic, where has climate change created “apocalyptic conditions”?

  4. Comment by c on January 17, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    Anyone else notice the irony with respect to the sign she’s holding?

  5. Comment by David Miller on January 17, 2022 at 6:30 pm

    What can lay persons do. I feel so disrespected by the liberals and abandoned by Traditionalists. Laypeople are totally powerless to effect these changes. We are left to simply leave. Very sad.

  6. Comment by Tom on January 17, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    So this is where acceptance of homosexual clergy leads.

    I’m in the PCA, and we are having the debate over our very first homosexual pastor right now. Thank you, Methodists, for showing us where all this will end up.

  7. Comment by Steve on January 17, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    Who’s she kidding, the church “reshapes” the way she wants, its not going to have much of a future (but if she plays her cards right maybe she’ll get her pension before the wheels fall off). The phrase “Rearranging deck chairs on the Titantic” comes to mind.

  8. Comment by Diane on January 18, 2022 at 3:38 am

    Re Tom in the PCA comment – how can you have a debate about a homosexual pastor when you got rid of those who declare they’re gay when PCA formed? There’s a PCA church in my town and openly lgbtq people aren’t allowed. No debate whatsoever because gay people are presumed to be heterosexuals, just disoriented heterosexuals, but heterosexuals. No identifying as anything other than tainted, disoriented heterosexuals. Only one sexual orientation exists, heterosexual, according to the PCA congregation in my town. Also, the PCA here doesn’t have a clue what Black Lives Matters means. They’ve driven out people of color, too, so by default their white pastor helps them. He spoke on a community panel and said he explained Black Lives Matter because they’re the lost sheep in the parable of the same. The 99 sheep are the white people who don’t need help; then there’s the black sheep gone astray and therefore, matters to Jesus. And that, he explained, is what Black Lives Matter means.

  9. Comment by Anthony on January 18, 2022 at 12:29 pm

    “No speaker expressed any clear support for firm protections to prevent orthodox believers in the psUMC being forced to submit to a partnered gay bishop. Indeed, with no speaker leveling anything resembling a salient dissent from Oliveto’s lifestyle or views, it would seem safe to assume that any conservatives would be allotted no more than places of quiet submission in the psUMC.”

    Of course this is where the psUMC is going. The issue for traditionalists is the Great Lie that they will be welcomed and respected in this church. To all traditionalists— run from these deceivers into the Global Methodist Church as soon as its doors open. This Great Lie is like presenting a revisionist Hitler who welcomed Jewish Germans into the NAZI Party in the 1930s.

  10. Comment by E C on January 18, 2022 at 3:49 pm

    Tom’s comparison of his own PCA and the current UMC controversy is like comparing apples and oranges. Both sides in the PCA question (including the pastor identifying as gay) agree with a traditional sexual ethic–no gay sex, no gay sexual unions. That pastor Tom mentions is celibate and he intends to remain celibate. The UMC questions are a horse of a different color–we have never gotten past the question of whether affirming gay sexual activity should be condoned in the church.

    As I read this, there seems to be little interest by these UMC officials in the general welfare of LGBTQ parishioners — many of them suffer depression, loneliness, etc. Where’s the beef? All I can see is a hierarchy interested in pursuing a political/theological agenda as far from orthodox Christianity as they can get.

  11. Comment by Anthony on January 18, 2022 at 4:53 pm

    EC, you say — “The UMC questions are a horse of a different color–we have never gotten past the question of whether affirming gay sexual activity should be condoned in the church.”

    Phil Thrailkill presents a rather strong, fact base case that the UMC certainly does answer that question – not only regarding gay sexual activity but all human sexual activities comprising the totality of Biblically defined sexual immorality:


  12. Comment by td on January 18, 2022 at 6:30 pm

    Context is everything. Concerning this photo of this bishop holding an “we are all muslims” sign, it has absolutely no meaning because this is a bishop posing as a christian who engages in tarot cards and other occult actions.

    So- this photo is offensive; it is not the same as president Kennedy saying, “ich bin ein berliner”. If the pope were to hold this sign, it would have meaning because he is a christian.

  13. Comment by Anthony on January 18, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    This is the state of the UMC — per the Judicial Council, this bishop was elected illegally and is serving illegally while the Western Jurisdiction ignores them as her liberal bishop colleagues celebrate her and honor her while telling General Conference, the Judicial Council and the traditional segment of the UMC that points this out that they can all go to hades. Yet, these same bishops tell all of us traditionalists that we will be welcomed and respected in a psUMC.

  14. Comment by E C on January 18, 2022 at 6:55 pm

    Anthony: the fact that we both agree with a traditional view of Christian sexuality does not negate the fact that there is a controversy—just ask the bishops! The side issue dealing with the PCA, brought up by commenter Tom, is an important one, too, however—once you have achieved separation and a room of only non-affirming believers—how does the church approach those in the room who happen to be traditionalist LGBTQ? That is really the issue that Tom brings up that I do not think we have really begun to consider as a church body

  15. Comment by Anthony on January 19, 2022 at 9:45 am

    Thanks for the dialogue, appreciate it. You ask, “how does the church approach those in the room who happen to be traditionalist LGBTQ?” 
    Paul said:
    “we preach Christ crucified — do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”.

  16. Comment by E C on January 19, 2022 at 11:53 am

    In quoting Scripture from Paul, I am not sure how you have applied those verses to the situation described. The minister spoken of is a sinner, like all of us, identifies as gay but abstains from any sexual activity and discourages any sexual activity outside the man/woman married relationship. I read that Scripture and see a person who should be treated as anyone else is in the church, with the same opportunities for leadership because of his faith, personal sacrifices, and his choice of obedience to God. Do we center on what his nature is or what his daily walk/talk looks like?

  17. Comment by Anthony on January 19, 2022 at 4:13 pm

    Perhaps I did misunderstand in that you are talking about those who identify as celibate LGBTQ Christians, like the gay celibate PSA minister, and follow, agree with, and support orthodox Christian sexual ethics?However, Paul preached true transformation by joyfully proclaiming “that’s what some of you WERE” (past tense) in that “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” thus would no longer identify as LGBTQ, sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who have sex with men, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers nor swindlers — but only as children of God. Now that’s the GOOD NEWS that brings celebration from the angels in heaven that the Christian church is compelled to proclaim., that converted and saved clergy are compelled to live and proclaim — yet large segments of the UMC is tragically ignoring and not proclaiming or egregiously proclaiming a heretical message as is pointed out in the article.

  18. Comment by JR on January 22, 2022 at 12:26 am

    I believe that all sinners, like myself, first have to confess our sins to God, then ask for his forgiveness. Finally, we must REPENT. By that I interpret the Bible as saying you have to change your behaviors so that you don’t continue to commit the sin. Repentance has to be from the heart and just not in the spirit of the moment. Again, my opinion. I belong to an ARP Church, and we have a very defined protocol for dealing with ongoing sin of any kind. The UMC seems to have procedures as well, and they were properly applied in the gay Bishops case. However, she and her conference are simply ignoring the UMC governing body. I left a PCUSA church for exactly the same reasons that UMC is going through a split. Just take a look at PCUSA’s own statistics to see how devastating that path has been to that denomination. In Matthew 24:43, Jesus warned the disciples that he was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves and told them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Once you make an exception for gay clergy, you have just opened the door for Satan. If a church would not accept a gay person as a member, how can they then issue a call or ordain a gay minister?

  19. Comment by Stephanie Jenkins on January 22, 2022 at 8:48 am

    This is crazy. No boundaries.

  20. Comment by Skipper on January 22, 2022 at 10:26 am

    It’s sad when a person becomes so sexually confused.

  21. Comment by td on January 26, 2022 at 6:07 pm

    Anthony, i also don’t understand what issue you have with a minister who has same sex attraction, but does not engage in same sex sexual relationships. Are they to be disqualified from service because they are tempted to do something but avoid acting on that temptation? What exactly do you want that person to do? Resign because he is being successful at resisting temptation? We certainly would next expect a minister to resign who had temptations to cheat on his wife, but resisted those temptations.

  22. Comment by Mick on September 18, 2022 at 3:21 pm

    It’s a money grab. The lgbtq portion of the UMC knows that the rest of the UMC would rather leave than deal with their unbiblical crap. Thus giving all of the properties of the UMC to the LgbtqUMC

  23. Comment by ela g. Cruz on November 14, 2022 at 9:07 pm

    i dont want to be equally yoked with people who refused to follow the authority of the Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

  24. Comment by Bill on May 5, 2024 at 4:37 pm

    What does Karen Oliveto think The God of the Universe meant when He clearly stated in Leviticus 18:22, and then repeated the same thing in Leviticus 20:13 regarding His intent on homosexuality? There is no ‘gray’ area of His position. Do not ‘practice’ homosexuality.

    Also, the sign she is holding for the whole world to see gives clear evidence of her distorted thinking. Jesus provides clear reference to the Muslim religion in his warning in John 16: 2b-4a.

    Karen demonstrates that she is NOT a leader; but, a divider. Another warning given by Christ.

  25. Comment by Matt on May 20, 2024 at 5:41 pm

    I agree, Bill. If Karen wants to reject the saving grace of Jesus Christ, that’s for her. But we most certainly aren’t “all Muslims.”

    It’s almost as if she regards religion and spirituality as a fashion accessory, not a faith to live by.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.