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Methodist Crisis

Church's liberal Western division defies rules, consecrates partnered lesbian as bishop

The Western Division of the United Methodist Church gave the middle finger to the rest of the church by electing the Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly gay woman, as its bishop:

“I think at this moment I have a glimpse of the realm of God,” 58-year-old Oliveto said after her election, according to a news story from the church. “Today we took a step closer to embody beloved community and while we may be moving there, we are not there yet. We are moving on to perfection.”

On to perfection! More:

The United Methodist Church, which has more than 7 million members in the United States, is divided over the issue of homosexuality. “This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity,” Bruce R. Ough, president of the Church’s Council of Bishops, said in a statement after the vote.

As Ough wrote, “we find ourselves in a place where we have never been.” He highlighted the divisions on the issue:

“There are those in the church who will view this election as a violation of church law and a significant step toward a split, while there are others who will celebrate the election as a milestone toward being a more inclusive church. …Our differences are real and cannot be glossed over, but they are also reconcilable.”

Nonsense. They are not reconcilable. What does it mean to be a Methodist if an entire division of the church can defy the international body on such an important theological issue?

The folks at Juicy Ecumenism are all over this story. Here’s a reprint of a 2005 piece John Lomperis wrote reporting on a presentation that Oliveto gave at a gay United Methodist gathering. Excerpt:

In her sermon during the closing worship, she criticized St. Paul for casting a demon out of the slave girl in Acts 16:16-18. Oliveto encouraged her audience to question the traditional interpretation that this exorcism was “an act of liberation” for the girl. Negatively comparing Paul’s response to the slave girl to his subsequent saving of the jailer, Oliveto asserted that Paul was not motivated by compassion for the slave girl and noted that the text does not say that she found salvation.

The RMN leader went on to defend the demon’s possession of the slave, as this demon helped enrich her owners by giving her fortune-telling abilities. Oliveto declared that by casting the demon out of the girl, Paul did nothing to make the girl’s life better and “probably made it worse” as she was now “damaged goods.” Oliveto was very concerned by “questions about the imposition of religious values, in this case religious values,” such as if the exorcism was really good for the slave girl and whether she wanted to be exorcised. However, she did not explore the possibility of demon possession having had any detrimental effect upon the girl.

So there you have it: the newest United Methodist bishop once denounced St. Paul for casting a demon out of a slave girl. What else do you need to know about the Western Division of the United Methodist Church for having elected such a heretic as its bishop?

Lomperis points out separately that the Western Division of the UMC is tiny, and though it encompasses one-third of the United States geographically, it has about as many Methodists as northern Georgia. The South Central Division, five times larger than the Western Division (which is the fastest declining division in the US), immediately filed a complaint with the church’s governing body.

What does a pastor (a bishop, a division) have to say or do to get kicked out of the United Methodist Church? Seriously, are there special rules that let gay-rights advocates defy the church without sanction? If they can get away with it, who’s to stop anybody from doing whatever they want to?