The region in the United Methodist Church that appointed as bishop a woman who is married to another woman is facing "unprecedented financial challenges."
Bishop Karen Oliveto was appointed over the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area last September. In the last several months, the Yellowstone Conference, which is under her leadership, reported an "unprecedented level of deficit that could end normal operations of the conference." Officials cited Oliveto's election as "only one of many factors" leading to the decline in giving.
Jeff Walton with The Institute on Religion & Democracy agrees that the appointment didn't solely cause this financial problem, but says it certainly has exacerbated it.
"She was obviously picked expressly for the purposes of the fact that she was a self-avowed, practicing lesbian," he tells OneNewsNow. "And the Western Jurisdiction, which is very radicalized within the Methodist Church, chose her for that reason."
Walton contends that officials within the jurisdiction wanted to make a strong statement to send to the denomination as a whole – and that, he points out, has consequences.
"And part of that is that in the area of the church in which she has been appointed to be bishop, evangelical congregations have been pulling back in this giving – and that financial dry-up has been hurting the church," he explains.
Walton believes the financial difficulties will accelerate a process by which the Yellowstone Conference will dissolve and merge with the Rocky Mountain Conference.
Meanwhile, the status of Oliveto as bishop remains up in the air. In April, the United Methodist Judicial Council ruled 6-3 that Oliveto's election had violated UMC law. But the Western Jurisdiction has asked the Judicial Council to reconsider their decision.