As a gay member of the United Methodist Church, after learning of the predictable but nonetheless frustrating outcome of Rev. Karen Oliveto’s church court trial, I’m finding it difficult to contain my temper and have any semblance of a filter on the angry words that I’m aching to speak.
Rev. Oliveto’s status as a bishop in the UMC has been officially declared as against our church’s law. At this moment, while her status hasn’t been revoked, that stands as a high likelihood that is bound to occur soon.
God grant me the patience I need here to say what I need to say without being cruel and malicious about it.
Harmful Methodist Legalism
While I am certainly heartbroken, I’m more disgusted than anything else, because this is the church denomination that I’ve grown up in my whole life. And now, as I’m sure so many other LGBTQ UMC members and allies feel at this moment, I feel that the court failed us all today.
I have no intention of acting like I have respect for the nonsense in my denomination’s Book of Discipline that refers to people like me as “self-avowing homosexuals”, and bans on us from attaining any form of clergy status within the UMC. The instant that language was set into our denomination’s rule book, we were declared unworthy of becoming clergy because “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.
Incompatible with Christian teaching, huh? By that same standard, one could argue that any person, regardless of sexuality, who gets divorced outside of Biblical grounds (such as adultery) should be thusly disqualified from clergy status just the same.
There’s also the issue of what “self-avowing homosexual” means. This could essentially be read as a legalistic version of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. It also could be interpreted as demanding that all homosexuals who want to become clergy members must be celibate and abstain from any same-sex relationships. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, demanding that all of us be celibate and single forever is an unfair requirement, when heterosexuals are allowed to be ordained regardless of their marital status.
I really don’t appreciate my church pulling such a double standard on its gay and lesbian children who just want to serve God.
The Career Path of the Past
Oh, speaking of. My original career idea was, perhaps as a shock to a few people who know how much of a nervous wreck I am in public speaking, to become a pastor in the UMC.
That was before I realized and accepted that I’m gay. In all honesty, I very much freaked out about my then-potential future as a gay clergy member in the UMC. Eventually, more due in part to changing career interests more than my sexuality, I lost interest in pursuing that path.
My anxiety about the future was actually so bad at one point that I considered leaving the UMC for another denomination, such as the Episcopalian or UCC denominations. However, thanks to God showing me daily how much sincere love my fellow Methodists have for me, both in my hometown and college town churches, I’ve chosen to stay, at least for a while longer.
Without any attempt on my part to come across as spiteful, after today’s decision against Rev. Oliveto, I don’t regret my decision to ditch the idea of becoming a clergy member in the UMC. If my sexuality alone is enough to disqualify me from becoming a leader for God, then I’d rather avoid the notion entirely.
This denomination will now, as a whole, have to face the real consequences that are bound to come from this reaffirmation of extraneous church law that has caused so much harm since its creation in 1972. It’s likely that the LGBTQ youth in this church will see little reason to stay in the denomination, when time and time again, we’ve been told that we are essentially “incompatible” with the teachings of God.
Rev. Karen Oliveto is a hero in my eyes for bravely facing the severe opposition to her ordination as bishop, opposition that apparently began the same day she was ordained. She refused to crumble under the constant legalistic furor that surrounded her daily, which was and still is centered around the love she has for another God-fearing woman.
I admire her for her apparent ability to treat Dixie Brewster (the woman who initially started the complaint against Rev. Oliveto’s ordination) and her opponents with love and grace in this situation. In her, I see Christian maturity and compassion that I struggle to show when I’m faced with disdainful individuals who look down on me because of my sexuality.
For the sake of true Christian integrity and mercy towards one’s opponents following this outcome, I sincerely hope that Mrs. Brewster, along with all those who pushed for Rev. Oliveto to be disqualified as a bishop, will be kept safe from any and all hateful responses that others might wish to take against them. Clearly, I don’t respect the choice they made, nor do I have any respect for their apparent stance on gay clergy in the UMC, but none of that warrants hatred.
That being said, my patience with this denomination’s archaic perceptions of LGBTQ people has withered away, and I will continue to pray for justice to be done. I know that there are sincere talks about a schism occurring in the UMC, just as other denominations have suffered already. Truly, it would be bitter irony if the United Methodist Church eventually splits over LGBTQ issues. Then again, it happened once in the past, over slavery. Perhaps it’s meant to happen one more time. Only God knows.
My heart and prayers go out to Rev. Oliveto and her partner, Robin Ridenour as they struggle to process the court’s decision.