The United Methodist Church says that being gay is “incompatible” with Christian teachings. Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto will stand in defiance as the globe-spanning church’s first openly gay bishop – and she’ll do it in Colorado.
The church has 66 bishops for its 7 million members, each one leading a different area. Oliveto was elected earlier this month to be one of several bishops serving the western U.S. division.
As it turns out, she’ll specifically be the resident bishop of the Mountain Sky Area, which combines the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone conferences to cover Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and a bit of Idaho.
She said upon her election:
“Today we took a step closer to embodying beloved community … As long as there are people who walk past our churches and wonder because of their race, ethnicity, because they’re documented or undocumented, homeless or housed, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or class, or ability – if they wonder if that church can be their sanctuary, we still have work to do.”
About 62,000 people worship across Mountain Sky.
It’s one of the smaller UMC populations, but Oliveto’s arrival on Sept. 1 will put it at the center of a debate that is dividing the church and the broader Methodist faith.
Her election immediately raised questions from other church leaders, including some who said that ignoring the rules about sexuality could divide the church. The pastors of a large group of churches responded with a statement of support for the new bishop.
Oliveto, of New York, gave her first sermon at age 16. She’s currently a pastor at GLIDE in San Francisco, the largest congregation in the Western Jurisdiction, where she preaches unconditional love and acceptance for a diverse community.
“I’ve learned how to live into our differences and see that as a gift even when it’s hard,” she said in an interview with the California-Nevada Conference. “These are gifts and help us to understand God is greater than any one of us.”