Commentary: Church at the speed of life

Karen Oliveto at her consecration as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist ChurchPhoto courtesy of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church

Karen Oliveto at her consecration as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church

*by Rebecca Simon-Peter

Last week, Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop of the United Methodist Church was elected. Much like at her baptism, she was consecrated with the laying on of hands and sacred words of declaration.   She has even been appointed to her place of service for the next four years. This is a historic moment indeed.  Some will say historically tragic. Others, historically grand.

How did we go from decades of “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and the inability of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” to being ordained with Karen Oliveto being elected Bishop?

How did we go from all matters of sexuality being referred to the Council of Bishops at General Conference to this historic election just a few short weeks later?

While this decision is dramatic, it is certainly not without precedent.

Consider the number of annual conferences that have voted in favor of non-conformity with the Book of Discipline, and now refuse to take on church trials related to LGBTQ folks.  (The acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.)  Eight annual conferences voted in favor of full inclusion of gay clergy.

It’s no secret that the church is often slow to change. Measured and cautious, we approach change with a deliberate pace. We’ve taken some flak for it. Missed some opportunities. Not acted while the iron is hot.

The pace has suddenly picked up when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion.  At least it may seem fast to many of us. But consider the gay people, who were baptized at birth in the church, and later called by God to be in ministry. They’ve responded.  But we have not thrown our arms wide open.  Even so, gay people have been answering the call to ministry and serving UM churches for decades.  What’s happened is that we’ve finally hit church at the speed of life, to borrow a phrase from a colleague.

The world is changing and it’s not waiting for committee votes or episcopal commissions or legislative changes.   Same thing in the church.

Over the years, various conferences have voted for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians from the Great Plains to Arkansas, and New Jersey to Germany.   Resolutions have been passed, legislation has been voted on. But the Book of Discipline has remained unchanged on these matters of human sexuality.

That is, until the Western Jurisdiction and the North Central Jurisdiction nominated three openly gay candidates for bishop between them, and one was elected.

Certainly, there will be upset and judicial rulings.  Some people will decide to leave the church.  Others will decide to come back to church.  There may be a split, a schism, an exodus.  People on all sides will have opinions.

One thing will not change:  the need to love each other in the midst of fear and anxiety.

In the United Methodist Church, this election has been a long time coming.  Especially if you are gay, called to ministry, and anxious to live out that faithful calling. Although I’m straight I am anxious to receive the giftings of these clergy, and welcome Bishop Karen Oliveto to the Rocky Mountain Conference. Turns out she’ll be my Bishop.


simon-peter_rebecca_600sq*An ordained Methodist minister, Rebekah is the developer of the award-winning group coaching program,Creating a Culture of Renewal, which interrupts church decline by empowering church leaders to do the impossible with people who may not even get along!  She is also the author of several books including her most recent, The Jew Named Jesus.  Rebekah lives in Casper, Wyoming with her husband, Jerry and two furry friends.


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Daniel WagleJM SmithPaige S.Paul W. Recent comment authors
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Paige S.
Paige S.

Count me among those who will leave the United Methodist denomination. I’m a nobody ~ not clergy, not a Biblical scholar, not a loud voice; I’m a 56 year-old life-long Methodist in the Rocky Mountain conference. No one will miss me and most won’t even know I’m gone. But for me, this is a life-changing event that’s been brewing for several years now as I’ve watched this issue develop. I’ve listened to the “progressive” voices and read the books they’ve recommended to me. I’ve really tried to understand where they’re coming from and have prayed unceasingly for direction on this… Read more »

JM Smith

“Especially if you are gay, called to ministry, and anxious to live out that faithful calling.”

The Christian term for such a situation is “celibacy.”

Paul W.
Paul W.

Promoting and celebrating disobedience and open sin has no place in Wesleyan theology and practice. Apostasy is nothing to be proud of. Many decades of tolerating non-Wesleyan “you can’t tell me what to believe” clergy and leadership has resulted in this latest travesty.

The progressives truly glory in their shame.

Daniel Wagle
Daniel Wagle

I have studied the Bible in the original languages and this has convinced me that committed gay relationships are not per se sinful. For instance Deuteronomy 14:3 uses the word “abomination” or “toevah” to refer to unclean foods. We don’t think eating pork or shellfish is a sin just because it is referred to as an abomination in Deuteronomy 14 and in Leviticus 11 as “loathsome” or “sheqets.” Touching the mountain of the Lord in Exodus 19 carried the death penalty, but we don’t think this is a sin. Gathering sticks on the Sabbath also carried the death penalty, but… Read more »

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