By Rev. Jasper Peters, Associate Pastor
I recently had an opportunity to hear Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto, the new resident Bishop of the Mountain Sky area, present on the state of the church at a conference. I wasn't sure what to expect, as I'd only heard her speak in passing before. I found her to be charismatic, inspiring and challenging. (This is to say nothing of the fact that she is also an amateur magician. Literally. Imagine the possibilities!) I'm excited for our new Bishop, and for the things that will be possible with such a qualified and visionary leader.
Yet, my excitement is put in check because I realize that not everyone shares my excitement. There are some who grieve the election of Bishop Oliveto, not because she is not intellectually, spiritually or practically unqualified for the position, but because of her sexual orientation. When I was listening to her speak, the gender of her spouse was far from my mind, but I know this is not the case for all of us. So, how do we move forward? Should I flaunt my excitement in the faces of all those who are grieving? Should I pretend that nothing has changed at all, forcing my head into the cool, dark sand where I can peacefully ignore the world around me? Though many may choose to do these things, I feel I would be remiss to do so as a follower of Jesus. Here are a few things, however, I think we can consider as we choose a response to our new Bishop.
Jesus didn't offer his followers a special secret handshake. There is no salute taught to each of us when we become a part of the church. In fact, there are shockingly few ways to recognize other believers. The one thing scripture emphasizes (John 13:35) as a mark of Christ's presence in our lives is by our love. Do we love each other? Do we love those who aren't one of "us?" Are our lives marked by our ability to love and care for one another? If so, then there is a good change that we know Jesus well.
In fact, there is another way of discerning Christians. In Matthew 7, Jesus talks about judging people (long story short, don't...), trusting God to provide and identifying false prophets. Here is the wisdom scripture gives us when measuring the fitness of a prophet: "By their fruit you will recognize them...a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." (Matthew 7:15-18)
So what then are we to do with a new bishop? One way of engaging scripture to guide our steps would be to ask whether she exhibits the marks of being a loving person and whether she has produced good fruit. Those who know her best, who have worked with her at Glide Memorial UMC and in other settings have resoundingly said yes!
If this is not enough for you, then let us remember that one of the distinguishing marks of a Methodist historically has been our big-tent style of coming together. In a denomination that contains both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush, perhaps agreeing on every aspect of our faith and policy is not something we can expect. Rather, is it possible for us to bear with one another in love, whether we are celebrating, mourning or simply confused? Can we find a way of creating space to discern a future and a way forward together? This is my prayer for us all.