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Same-sex ceremony complaint against Oliveto dismissed

 


Same-sex ceremony complaint against Oliveto resolved

October 8, 2004

By Chuck Myer*

Rev. Karen Oliveto

UMNS photo by Terry Schmitt

The Rev. Karen Oliveto

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. (UMNS) -- A complaint against a United Methodist pastor for performing a gay marriage ceremony in a church sanctuary has been resolved by Bishop Beverly Shamana of the denomination’s California-Nevada Conference.

The Rev. Karen Oliveto officiated at a Feb. 15 ceremony for Bethany United Methodist Church parishioners Bill Hinson and Dan Johnson after they received a marriage license at San Francisco City Hall.  A complaint was filed against her shortly thereafter, and has been in the “supervisory” resolution process in the seven months since.

“It was a challenging process, and I’m glad there is resolution,” Oliveto said. “It was done respectfully, and it was carried out in a prayerful manner that was mindful of the church, The Book of Discipline and the dignity of all persons involved.”

Bishop Shamana referred reporters to a press release issued by Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, where Oliveto now serves as assistant dean for academic affairs and director of contextual education.  The bishop’s statement said: “The complaint has been resolved in a manner consistent with the 2000 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The goal of the Book of Discipline is reconciliation and resolution, and this goal has been achieved.”

The 2004 United Methodist General Conference in Pittsburgh in May officially made performing gay and lesbian marriages a chargeable offense that could result in loss of ministerial credentials. The 2000 Book of Discipline was in force at the time of the February 2004 complaint. The book forbids the performance of same-sex unions by United Methodist clergy and in United Methodist sanctuaries.

Oliveto said the bishop met with her four times during the confidential supervisory process.  She would not divulge whether the complaint against her was filed by an outside party or by her own supervisory cabinet. 

“For me,” she added, “this resolution reflects that day that God broke into the world in San Francisco.”  Some 4,000 same-sex couples were issued marriage licenses in San Francisco in February, but the California State Supreme Court voided the licenses in August.

In June, Oliveto left her position as pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco after being hired by the seminary.  She says that the move was not related to the complaint, and that it was difficult for her to leave the church, which was experiencing growth and renewed support in the wake of a building expansion program.

“The call came suddenly, at a time I didn’t expect it to,” she says.  “God’s time is not our time.” She added that she sees the move as the next part of her vocation, and that she knew her ministry would eventually move to the seminary, where she has served for the past decade as a field education mentor to Pacific School of Religion divinity students. 

In the press release, William McKinney, the seminary’s president, said, "We are delighted that Karen has returned to PSR and look forward to her role in preparing the next generation of courageous leaders for The United Methodist Church and its partner denominations. Karen's actions throughout the year have embodied PSR's core values, including compassion and justice for people of all genders, sexual orientations and races, and mutual respect in our partnerships with faith communities. She has practiced the kind of leadership we aim to develop in our students."

However, not all California-Nevada pastors supported Oliveto’s actions.  In February, Rev. Jim Garrison, president of the Conference’s Evangelical Renewal Fellowship, expressed concern that her actions “threatened the unity of our whole connection.”

Garrison said he is glad that the complaint against Oliveto has been resolved.  “I trust that Bishop Shamana was able to do this in a way that both was pastorally sensitive, and still required accountability to the rules in our Book of Discipline.

“The 2004 General Conference gave increased clarity to some of those rules that were in question in this case.  With Karen, I am also appreciative that our process of dealing with complaints puts a priority on accountability as a means to reconciliation, rather than being strictly punitive.”

Bethany church has traditionally offered strong support to gay and lesbian United Methodists in San Francisco’s Noe Valley area.  “We at Bethany are greatly relieved, but not surprised, that the complaint was favorably resolved by Bishop Shamana,” said Jeff Friant, Bethany lay leader. “The weddings were declared legal, they were not prohibited at that time by the Book of Discipline, and were an act of equal justice.  Bethany and I believe that God's love and justice will prevail in the long run.”

*Chuck Myer is a freelance writer based in California.

News media contact: Linda Bloom·(646)369-3759·New York· E-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org

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