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UMC reacts as most women ever elected bishop, plus first lesbian bishop

UMC reacts as most women ever elected bishop, plus first lesbian bishop
Photo by Matt Brodie.

By Jessica Brodie

The United Methodist Church has elected the most women ever to serve as bishops—including the election of four African Americans and, by the Western Jurisdiction, the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto, a self-avowed, practicing homosexual.

Seven women were elected from four of the UMC’s five jurisdictions in the United States July 13-16. Fifteen bishops were elected total.

The Southeastern Jurisdiction, which includes South Carolina, elected the Rev. Sharma Lewis, who is also the jurisdiction’s first African-American female bishop, and the Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson. The Northeastern Jurisdiction elected the Revs. Cynthia Moore-Koikoi and LaTrelle Miller Easterling. The North Central Jurisdiction elected the Revs. Tracy Smith Malone and Laurie Haller. The Western Jurisdiction elected Oliveto. The South Central Jurisdiction was the only jurisdiction not to elect a female this year.

Many are applauding the election of so many women (and women of color) into a position that once had none, especially during a year that also marks 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women in the UMC.

However, Oliveto’s election is prompting much debate, and the South Central Jurisdiction voted July 15 to ask the UMC’s top court for a declaratory decision regarding same-sex church leaders. Currently, the UMC’s Book of Discipline (which constitutes the law and doctrine of the UMC) bans self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordination, but many in the church are staunchly advocating for full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and intersex people, including being able to serve as clergy. The 2016 General Conference was set to address 56 legislative items on sexuality but voted 428-405 to shift sexuality discussion and all legislation to a study commission, plus possibly call a special General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to handle any proposals. The plan put forth by the Council of Bishops, “An Offering for a Way Forward,” means the UMC maintains its current stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching while the commission takes a deeper look at the issues.

Since then, several annual conferences have passed resolutions not to conform with non-inclusive church laws.

Some in the church view Oliveto’s election as a violation of church law, while others see it as the first step toward the UMC being a more inclusive church.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, issued a statement noting Oliveto’s election raises much concern and that the COB is “monitoring this situation very closely,” even though he said the COB does not have the constitutional authority to intervene in the election.

“As a council, we continue to maintain that the proposal for a way forward and the formation of the commission is the best path,” Ough’s statement reads in part (click here for Ough’s full statement).

In South Carolina, Bishop Jonathan Holston issued a pastoral letter to South Carolina United Methodists about Oliveto’s election, noting that the SEJ College of Bishops issued a letter at the beginning of the SEJ Conference calling for unity and prayer about deep divisions in the UMC over human sexuality and other issues.

“We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change. We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive. As a College of Bishops, we are fully committed to keeping the promises we made at our ordinations and consecrations,” the SEJ COB statement reads in part.

Holston called for compassionate listening, gentle speech and prayerful discernment during this process as the UMC continues its work to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“Let us remember that God is with us in the midst of our deep divisions and will guide and direct us into a preferred future as we earnestly seek God’s will for God’s church going forward,” Holston said. (Read his full statement here.)


  • […] The SEJ elections were notably fast; the body elected all five of its bishops before many other jurisdictions had elected a one. Other jurisdictions also made history on several fronts. The UMC this year elected the most women as bishop ever (seven total), including the election of four African Americans and, by the Western Jurisdiction, the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto, a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. Oliveto’s election has prompted controversy in the UMC, whose law currently bans self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordination. (See related article here.) […]

    • Why can’t we stand for what the word of God saids about homosexual and stop playing around with it. Just take a stand for what is right! Just do what the Bible tells us! We are sending out the wrong messagae about the United Methodist Church and that we have no plans on following our own UMC’s Book of Discipline! Why do we have one? If we are not going to go by it! We should be the ones to stand up for the world to see that we live by the word of God, and not man! God didn’t make Adam and Adam to live together as one!!! He made a woman not another man, for Adam!!! He didn’t make another for woman Eva!! We need to be very careful as Christian and as leaders the type of messages we are sending out for the world today! Take a Stand and stop playing around! Take a Stand for the word of God! Take a Stand if we have to Stand Alone for what is right! Stand firm on the word of God! Take a Stand! Let’s stop playing around with the word of God!

  • I see that Dr. Karen Oliveto, a self-avowed, practicing homosexual and the Western Jurisdiction have elected to spend eternity in HELL for the sake of political correctness. If political correctness is going to override BIBICAL correctness and this is where the Southeastern Jurisdiction is headed, then I need to look elsewhere where the WORD OF GOD has top billing. If political correctness is going to drive the church then we have a problem.

  • I agree with Mr Higgins and Ms. Ann in the previous emails. Having been a Methodist my whole life I have seen changes in the church for the better but to elect a homosexual to this high position is an endorsement of this life style. That directly opposes the teachings in the bible. I do not hate homosexuals or fornicators for that matter ,though both life styles are highly advocated in today’s society, I just don’t think this behavior should be rewarded. No wonder our young people are confused and lost when even our spiritual leaders are at odds and do not follow their own Book of Discipline!

  • Unfortunately, there are quite a few SC pastors in our conference that embrace such political correctness while discarding biblical foundations. They will be driving this train straight to Hell. Phillip and Ann, above, you are 100% correct and I hope that others like you both come forward and speak the truth about this grevious social movement that is threatening to destroy the United Methodist Church.

  • I’m reminded of a previous post by Karen Ayers which puts perspective into the self righteous, “going to hell”, and condemning “political correctness” posts above. When I read of Dr Oliveto’s election, it was a thrill to see UMC denominational progress being made against the hatefulness that permeates so many “Christian churches”. I’m reposting Karen’s remarks and my response to her insightful and knowledgeable observations.

    “The WORD of God is Jesus according to the gospel of John. He summarized ALL of the law with 2 commands to his followers: Love God and Love Your Neighbor. All other scripture is a testimony to Jesus and these 2 commands, and if it is not, i.e. stoning your children for misbehaving, stoning a woman for a heterosexual affair, or throwing someone guilty of heresy off a cliff, then it is no longer valid. Scripture, although God inspired, was written and translated by humans, many with their own personal agendas, i.e. Matthew to convince Jews that Jesus was Messiah or those hired by King James to present the cultural bias of his day as the Word of God, and therefore is not without error. Current research in language and archaeology have provided new ways of interpreting original texts in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek, which most of us do not read and understand; contrary to the opinions of some Christians, Jesus did not speak in King James English. In addition, some original words are so obscure or lost, that their meaning can only be determined through context, and many mistakes by scribes during the copying process have been discovered accounting for more human error in the recording process. If the United Methodist Church, which has survived previous divisions and additions, does NOT change its policies, I will be leaving after 66 + years of membership.”

    My previous post: June 20, 2016
    i read a wise man’s perspective on the LBGT situation in the UMC and other denominations and agree that so often we cannot see the erroneous “biblical” interpretations and historically conservative inerrant views on slavery, the subordinate role of women, biracial marriage, etc., were just in error nor can we see the love that the Christ had for the least of people whom we consider sinners for who they are.

    At the Florence GC I went into a civic center rest room and when I was leaving, the Bishop walked in and I greeted him. When I was a teenager in the 1950’s, the Bishop would not have been elevated to any role in the church nor would we be using the same restroom. If the UMC doesn’t reconcile the love of the Christ and and the love for all our neighbors, we will follow the screwed up path that the Southern Baptist Convention took in the late ’70s and continues today.

    Let me share this wise man’s perspective. “For many Christians today, particularly young adults, the handful of Bible verses related to same sex intimacy seem more like the 100 plus verses on slavery than they do the teachings of Jesus and his great commandments to love God and neighbor. Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community. I believe that in the years ahead an increasing number of Christians, not only progressives, but also conservatives, will read the Bible’s passages regarding homosexuality as all Christians today read the Bible’s passages on slavery. And the sermons preached from America’s pulpits decrying the rights of homosexuals today will sound to future generations much like the pro-slavery sermons sound to us today.”
    Confessing Movement take notice. Though a word to the wise is usually deficient.
    Karen thanks for your post.

  • I’m writing in response to Lee Johns comments above. I’m amazed that the position that has been taken. I agree that we should follow the two “Great Commands”. The first being to Love the Lord with “All” your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. It is amazing to me how people can use these two verses of scripture to cover what God considers sinful acts. Somehow people want to believe that God laws and commands change with time. However, I have never read in the Bible where that is the case. If your foundation for this was/is true, what other laws/commands are also not correct in the Bible? Does this include the 10 commands that we are suppose to live by? Didn’t Jesus tell the woman at the well to go and sin no more (John 8:11)? The question really becomes, does God approve of same sex marriages? The answer is “NO”! To God it is a sinful act. Why would scripture tell us over and over that it is wrong. This is both in the Old testament and the New. I find it ironic that on one hand you state that the Bible (God inspired) has been translated and written with an agenda by man. Then you turn right around and quote how man will do a better job (without being God inspired) in the future with translating the Bible. Why do you believe that you have read a wise man’s perspective? Based on your comments, man’s perspective was wrong in the past. Why would it be good now. I’ll place my faith in God and Jesus alone. As to you leaving, I’ll be leaving too if the Methodist Church passes anything that approves same sex marriage. I would welcome a debate on this. Two last questions to consider. Do you consider this to be a sin in Gods view and did you pray about this before coming to your decision? I know I have.

  • OMG, this is way to much. You guys are condemning that fact that there is a Bishop, who happens to be African-American and is a homosexual. Lets be reminded and very clear that we are not to stand in Judgement. Think about it, how many DL pastors do we have in the UMC church? How many Gay’s/ Lesbians do we encounter on a daily basis? sit next to at church? We sometimes don’t even know that we are sitting next to them, so, lets not judge. I’m a gay, proud African-american that has been in the United Methodist Church all my life. so, lets just support one another and move on.

  • Do people really listen to what the Lord says. I am not going to judge you, but that will not make sin any less a sin, sin is not black or white, it is just sin. When you, the bishop, or anyone else who thinks it makes no difference stand before the Lord, then try and explain it to God that he has it all wrong. But I will pray for all and hope to see all in heaven.

  • Looks like a lot of Methodists will be leaving the UMC. Maybe there will be enough liberal free thinkers to take our places and keep it afloat, but that isn’t really what Satan wants. He wants it to fall, and when people start explaining away God’s inspired word, then that’s what happens. Rewriting the Bible to be politically correct isn’t ours to do.

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