“Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” -United Methodist Church
Bishop Karen Oliveto is the first openly gay elected bishop of the United Methodist Church. She serves as bishop for the Mountain Sky Area of the church, which includes Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and one location in Idaho. Oliveto has been legally married to Robin Ridenour for over two years. They have been in a relationship since they met while serving as counselors at a junior-high camp, more than 17 yeas ago.
With an estimated 12.8 million members, the United Methodist Church stands as the third-largest faith-based group in the nation. At the time of her election as bishop last summer, Bishop Grant Hagiya spoke at a press conference about the choice, saying
“We understand there may be some political implications, but in our mind this was the best person. It was not a question of (sexual) orientation, it was a question of who was the best spiritual leader. The body spoke and said ‘Yes, this is the one.’ ”
Oliveto’s role as bishop is a reflection of the contention in many churches across the nation regarding whether exclusion of LGBTQ individuals is reasonable in modern society. “I think in the short run there will be significant anxiety and negative reaction in many parts of the church” predicted Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the Council of Bishops, “there will be great celebration in other parts of the church. The election reflects an expression of the division we currently have over matters of human sexuality.”
Days after her election, members from the South Central Jurisdiction voted to request a declaratory decision in respect to gay and lesbian church members from the church’s supreme court, the Judicial Council. The United Methodist’s Book of Discipline states “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Oliveto’s position is now being challenged by a woman named Dixie Brewster, a member of the South Central Jurisdiction. On behalf of Brewster, Rev. Keith Boyette, attorney and elder, claimed “nomination, election, the consecration of assignment of Karen Oliveto as bishop” is in violation of United Methodist Church law and should be overturned. In Oliveto’s defense, the Sky Mountain council protested South Central’s interference and requested the church respect their decision.
Last Tuesday, the Judicial Council gathered in Newark, New Jersey for a formal hearing regarding whether Oliveto’s election should be invalidated. The three-hour discussion concentrated mainly on technical aspects of church law. The hearing drew crowds of LGBTQ activists supporting Oliveto. The church is expected to reach a decision within a few days. The night before, Methodist bishops announced they will hold a special assembly in February 2019, in St. Louis, Mo., “dedicated exclusively to differences over church law related [to] LGBT people”.
“I am not the first gay bishop,” said Karen Oliveto, “and I won’t be the last.”