The United Methodist Church consecrated an openly lesbian bishop this summer for the first time in history. Pause and consider that. Some of us will say it should have happened sooner, but before we rush to critique, is this not cause for thanksgiving? In the church’s calendar, it is Epiphany—the manifestation of God, of justice, and of healing to the whole world; a reminder that God is real and that no matter what, God is with us.
For so many of us, the election of Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto to the office of bishop signals hope, it reminds us of God’s presence and the providential smile that leads us all toward universal shalom and well-being.
Imagine. Somewhere there is a young woman with a silent longing who, for the first time, sees herself in Bishop Oliveto. Her heart whispers inwardly, “someday I’m going be ordained too,” and the operation of grace manifests—an epiphany of courage. Somewhere an older man rocks in his chair with lines on his face that tell a thousand stories of pain and joy. His gay son always wanted to be a pastor, but it wasn’t even safe to ‘come-out’ until he finally left home. The older man’s eyes fill with tears as he sees Bishop Oliveto’s smiling face and the operation of grace manifests—an epiphany of healing. Somewhere there is a trans woman who yet remains invisible, whose true self has yet to appear, and the resilience to believe that God loves her too comes in like a sharp intake of air when she hears of an openly lesbian bishop elected to her church—an epiphany to save a life.
For many of us on the margins, Bishop Oliveto’s election is an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s very presence in the world—the one needful thing. LGBTQ persons now see themselves at the highest levels of leadership in one of the world’s largest Christian denominations.
Yet, there is much work to be done. The discriminatory and sinful anti-LGBTQ policies of The United Methodist Church continue to create a web of injustice and pain while some leaders cry “peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). What’s more, the hardheartedness of many people in the pews in parts of the US and abroad determines not simply whether we can go to church but if we actually live in peace or at all. Further, there are not enough diverse representatives from the queer community on the Bishops’ Commission on Human Sexuality that is set to shape proposals for a more inclusive church in 2019 in The UMC. So yes, there is much work to be done and yet we dare not work without hope.
There are epiphanies all around us—of courage, healing, and salvation—and there will be more and more, for God is real and God is in this struggle with us all.
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