By Tom Mustin
LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– Bishop Karen Oliveto is breaking new ground.
“There are times when I feel people are judging me without knowing me.” she told CBS4’s Tom Mustin at the Loretto Center in Lakewood.
Last year Oliveto was elected as the first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church. She presides over 400 churches in four states, including Colorado.
“I really believe diversity is a sign of God’s divinity. God is so creative, so imaginative. We’re not all the same. That’s something to embrace and celebrate,” said Oliveto.
Bishop Karen, as she is known to parishioners, has been married to her partner, Robin Ridenour, for three years. Ridenour is a Deaconess in the church. In April, the UMC high court ruled that Oliveto’s lesbian status violated church policies, a view echoed by many hard-line Methodists.
“They need to renounce the election and the consecration of Reverend Oliveto as bishop,” said Reverend Rob Renfroe, from Woodlawn (Texas) United Methodist Church. “Secondly,they need to call on her to resign her position.”
The court allowed Oliveto to keep her title, but left open the door for a possible trial or suspension- a move Bishop Karen says would send the wrong message.
“We’ve pretty much silenced the voice of LGBTQ people. In the United Methodist Church we’re saying that actually excludes you from parts of the church. I don’t know if Jesus would ever exclude in that way,” she told Mustin.
Oliveto says in her 10 months as bishop, the response from parishioners has been overwhelmingly positive. She has no intention of resigning.
She also welcomes an open discussion with anyone who has questions about her.
Meanwhile, Bishop Karen is hoping, eventually, the church will see diversity in a different light, “Unity is not the same thing as uniformity. It’s in the tension of our differences that we all grow more.”
Oliveto has three more years left on her term as Bishop. She has received no indication that she will be suspended or tried by the church.
The United Methodist Church will hold a meeting in 2019 to discuss the future of the church. Bishop Karen believes after that meeting, a new, more tolerant church will emerge.