Bishop Oliveto inspires justice event


Bishop Karen Oliveto, recently elected bishop of the Western Jurisdiction and presiding bishop of the Mountain Sky Area, was the opening keynote speaker for the Western Methodist Justice Movement (WMJM) conference meeting in Portland, Oregon February 17-20.

Karen Oliveto

Bishop Karen Oliveto (Robin Ridenour photos)

Oliveto’s keynote inspired the 150 in attendance as she explored the nature of the divide that currently exists in society and in churches. She described one symptom of the divide as the process of “othering” quoting sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s example that, “Woman is the other of man, animal is the other of human, stranger is the other of native, abnormality the other of norm, deviation the other of law-abiding, illness the other of health, insanity the other of reason, lay public the other of the expert, foreigner the other of state subject, enemy the other of friend.” She went on to say, “This othering is most evident in a refugee ban and the building of a wall. The darker the skin, the more to be feared. The more unlike our speech or religion, the more suspect. So we build a wall to keep us in and them out. We close borders, again to keep some in and others out. Even though the apostle Paul learned that God keeps pushing borders wider, not to keep some out, but to include them in, we fail to live this out in church and society. The essential divine oneness of creation and humanity is broken into a thousand sharp shards.”

In response to this trend, she observed that there is an empathy deficit in this country. “While the global village is shrinking through social media and travel, there is a new provincialism emerging, resulting in the inability to understand another’s experience and therefore give it validity. As a result, injustice increases and communication breaks down.”

Oliveto went on to share from her own experiences and learning about “othering” and discrimination in the world – of experiences she has witnessed and been subjected to. She called on conference attendees to recognize and celebrate diversity, not mistaking uniformity for unity. She concluded by extoling the conference to rise up. “It is time for us to rise up, my friends. Rise up to embrace love’s power! Rise up to create beloved community! Rise up and proclaim the vision of that human connection. Rise up to proclaim the truth that our wellbeing is intimately tied to the wellbeing of others Rise up and live in justice and in joy!”

The conference, “Rise Up! Uniting to Act for a More Just World”, continued for three days with participants learning about the intersections of diverse populations in justice seeking. For example, they explored how a world seeing justice for those oppressed by colonialism has elements in common with those seeking human rights and acceptance for LGBTQI communities. The intersections become apparent when the focus of messaging is on shared common values. Beth Zemsky provided training on intercultural organizational development, and WMJM leaders guided the participants into the formation of action teams that will continue to work on justice issues both inside and outside The United Methodist Church.

The Western Methodist Justice Movement was created out of a call to action at the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church. After guiding the conference members through a process of identifying values and actions that the Western Jurisdiction of the church supported, Bishop Grant Hagiya told those in attendance that the jurisdiction, with no staff and a vast geographic region, was not capable of following up on the items identified. Therefore those present would need to seek ways to move the agenda forward. The WMJM formed to do that and has continued to work since then. Most work by action teams is done via teleconferencing and email. In 2015 they held a gathering at Zephyr Point, Lake Tahoe. The Portland gathering was the second conference and was supported by a grant from the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and the Collins Foundation. The grant provided over $15,000 in scholarship funds to allow for a diverse representation at the event and a high level of participation by ethnic persons from around the conference and jurisdiction.