A Message from Bishop Karen Oliveto

November 21, 2022
As a United Methodist, this has been a somber weekend. On Saturday, I watched my newsfeed fill up with announcements of disaffiliating churches that had been approved in special annual conference sessions across the connection. These churches were departing under a paragraph in the Book of Discipline that allowed churches to leave because of their conscience around the issue of human sexuality. However, the departures are not around human sexuality in general, but specifically regarding the “practice” of “homosexuality or the ordination or marriage of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

Then, early Sunday, my phone began to buzz with texts: another mass shooting, this one in Colorado Springs at Club Q, a gay bar. Five people dead, at least 18 wounded. The venue has been described as “a place to escape discrimination and harm.” The irony is sadly tangible and painful.

There is a blood red thread that runs through all this, that eventually gives rise to violence and death.

The United Methodist Church, in 1972, turned a paragraph on pastoral care (“Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth…”) to one of condemnation with the addition of one short sentence (“…though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”). Ever since that time, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church has built its stance on lgbtq+ people on that one line of condemnation rather than lean into the complexities of another’s life as revealed through pastoral care.
The fact is, lgbtq+ people have always been a part of the Methodist movement from its very beginning. Wesley himself befriended and urged a class meeting to support a man who had been imprisoned after being accused of sodomy. Every church in our connection has had lgbtq+ people as faithful members, most living out their discipleship in silence because of the church’s stated and implicit rejection of their lives. Yet, something in the Wesleyan way has kept us in The United Methodist Church. Something in our strangely warmed hearts have been unable to find another spiritual home, and so we stay in hostile churches and conferences because Jesus asks us to do no other.

Today, as lgbtq+ people everywhere feel even less safe, as mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and children of lgbtq+ kin hold a sharp pain in their hearts, as youth group kids and choir members feel deep fear, I wonder which churches will make space for them, for there must be room to grieve and lament. There must be time for truth telling. The burden of this moment must not be carried by lgbtq+ members alone in silence.

Will the churches that have chosen to leave The United Methodist Church recognize as their kin those who lost their lives in Colorado Springs? Will they be moved to learn their stories? Will they catch the tears of their lgbtq+ members who are hurting this day?

If lgbtq+ persons are truly of sacred worth, there can be only one answer. But this demands drawing close to people who have been branded “incompatible” with Christian teaching. It means that perhaps God has been at work in the lives and loves of lgbtq+ persons after all. It necessitates open hearts to listen deeply to stories you might never have heard before. It requires us to see lgbtq+ people not as less-than, not as morally flawed, but as children of God, possessing the same image of God as yourself, and discovering long lost kin.

Today, I lament over lives lost. I mourn with my lgbtq+ siblings as we continue to be under attack in church and society. I grieve for the ways the church has contributed to harmful rhetoric that has made us second class citizens in the household of faith. I bemoan the reality that gay bars are more of a welcoming sanctuary for lgbtq+ people than some churches.

I give thanks for the pastors and laity of our Colorado Springs churches, who are providing pastoral support, healing presence, and deep care for those impacted by the Club Q shooting. I give thanks for churches across the Mountain Sky Conference who are standing with lgbtq+ people in their communities, providing prayers, care, and a safe place to grieve.

I pray for the day when every child of God, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, class, and ability will be recognized as a vital and necessary part of the Body of Christ and will find welcome in our United Methodist Churches.