The controversy about Bishop Karen Oliveto is one of those things which are largely invisible to people outside a particular community, but which can feel agonizing for those inside. Since Temple United Methodist has put its concern literally out on the street, I feel okay about writing something about what is going on here.
When gay people began to make ourselves more visible in the 1970s, most U.S. Protestant churches reflexively recoiled. We're not talking about prayerful, thoughtful discernment here; we're talking about panicky reassertion of poorly considered sexual pieties. But gay Christians didn't shut up and go away. The very bravest among us insisted they had as much right to, and as much need of, the promises of their traditions as any other believers. And because these impossible people didn't disappear, many religious communities have found themselves rethinking much.
Bishop Oliveto is a married lesbian and an experienced pastor whose denomination raised her up to lead 400 congregations in a region centered in Denver. There is nothing secret about her life. Here's how she explained "coming out" to NPR:
U.S. United Methodism's Western Region chose Oliveto to serve as a Bishop. But more conservative regions effectively said "hey -- don't we have rules about this?" And the church does have rules -- rules which create internal church disciplinary processes that will work themselves out and may, or may not, lead to censure of Oliveto and/or splits in the community.
This stuff hurts. It's not my business to opine how Methodists will emerge from this round, though I would not bet against this faithful woman and the loving Spirit she evokes.
Kudos to Temple United Methodists for putting what some might call "dirty linen" on the street. Sure, they are in San Francisco and not likely to encounter fierce local push-back. It would be easy to think something like "aren't you a little behind the times?" But when you are inside a convulsion, stepping out takes some bravery and some faith. Prayers for Bishop Karen and community seem right on time.