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Statement on UMC Ruling Regarding Bishop Karen Oliveto

Karen OlivetoPacific School of Religion shares the deep disappointment of many members of the United Methodist Church in response to the ruling by the top court of the United Methodist Church, the Judicial Council, that the consecration of openly gay bishops, like alumna Bishop Karen Oliveto, violates church law.

Bishop Oliveto’s election and consecration as the first openly lesbian Bishop in the United Methodist Church, and her assignment to the Mountain Sky Area, were celebrated by many. Her spiritual and temporal leadership for the Gospel has been welcomed and has inspired discipleship. She has also been at the center of a firestorm of controversy about the role of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy in the church.

This Friday, the Methodist Judicial Council ruled that Bishop Oliveto’s consecration was incompatible with church law, which prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” The Judicial Council expanded guidelines around who is considered a “practicing homosexual” (and therefore, ineligible for consecration) to include clergy married to same-sex partners. The Council also decreed that Boards of Ordained Ministry must now explicitly consider sexual orientation of prospective clergy. However, the court also decided that Bishop Oliveto will remain in good standing with the Methodist Church until further review by her own region, the Western Jurisdiction.

“We celebrated Bishop Oliveto’s election and consecration, seeing it as a sign of a more inclusive stance for the United Methodist Church that recognized her decades of faithful, justice-focused ministry,” said Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy, President of Pacific School of Religion. “Now, we grieve the Council’s decision to reprimand Bishop Oliveto for who she is and whom she loves. ”

“We are deeply concerned about the implications of this ruling on current and future clergy,” remarked Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis, Managing Director of PSR’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion. “This ruling seeks to prevent gay, lesbian and bisexual people from following God’s call by blocking their route to ordination. It will certainly discourage LGBTQ and allied seminarians from the path to ministry in the United Methodist Church.”

This March, Pacific School of Religion recognized Bishop Oliveto’s ministry with a Distinguished Alumna Award, and the seminary’s Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion recently launched a “To Bishop Karen Oliveto, With Love” campaign leading up to Bishop Oliveto’s hearing. Bishop Oliveto earned her Master of Divinity at Pacific School of Religion, and has served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and an adjunct faculty member.

Compelled by the Scripture’s consistent witness and call to inclusion and justice, Pacific School of Religion has been committed to resourcing the church, families, and communities as we seek to live out the Gospel. With her consecration as Bishop in the United Methodist Church, Bishop Oliveto joined other Pacific School of Religion alumni/ae who have broken barriers for the LGBTQ community in the church. Other trailblazing alumni/ae include and Rev. William R. Johnson, who became the first openly gay minister in a mainline Protestant denomination with his ordination in the United Church of Christ in 1973, and Rev. Debra Peevey, who became the first ordained lesbian pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1981.