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Methodist court to consider growing opposition to gay ban

Bishop Melvin Talbert joined 13 other United Methodist bishops at a gathering on May 4 outside the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, where they showed their support for clergy in the denomination who choose to officiate at religious weddings of same-sex couples. Doing so is a violation of church rules, but Talbert said he preferred Biblical obedience even if it meant ecclesiasical disobedience. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/courteys UMNS
Rev. Steve Heiss, pastor at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton, N.Y., officiates at the July 2, 2002 commitment ceremony of his daughter, Nancy Heiss (blue dress) and Kim Willow (pink and white dress) in a field in Norwich, N.Y. Photo courtesy Steve Heiss

Rev. Steve Heiss, pastor at Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton, N.Y., officiates at the July 2, 2002 commitment ceremony of his daughter, Nancy Heiss (blue dress) and Kim Willow (pink and white dress) in a field in Norwich, N.Y. Photo courtesy Steve Heiss

(RNS) The United Methodist Church’s highest court gathers for its semiannual meeting in Baltimore on Wednesday, as the denomination confronts a growing movement of defiant clergy members opposed to church doctrine on gays and unwilling to back down.

They include:

  • The Rev. Steve Heiss, of Binghamton, N.Y. Heiss must promise by Thursday (Oct. 24), that he will never again preside at a same-sex wedding or face a church trial that could lead to his loss of clergy credentials. He said he will refuse.
  • The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa. He will be tried Nov. 18-19 for officiating at the 2007 same-sex wedding of his son.
  • The Rev. Gordon Hutchings of Tacoma, Wash. He faces a complaint for presiding at a same-sex marriage in his state.
  • The Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy of New York. She faces a complaint of being a practicing lesbian.

Those are just the rank-and-file clergy. To get a sense of the growing momentum opposed to the 1972 rule that says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” consider:

  • Retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, on Saturday (Oct. 26), will preside at the wedding of two men in Alabama. (The men legally married in Washington, D.C.)  He is the only bishop to publicly commit to such an action.
  •  The Rev. Thomas Ogletree, the former dean of Yale Divinity School and Drew Theological School and one of the authors of a section of the rulebook, known as the Book Discipline. Ogletree is awaiting details about a church trial for presiding at a wedding of his son to another man.
  • Bishop Melvin Talbert joined 13 other United Methodist bishops at a gathering on May 4 outside the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, where they showed their support for clergy in the denomination who choose to officiate at religious weddings of same-sex couples. Doing so is a violation of church rules, but Talbert said he preferred Biblical obedience even if it meant ecclesiasical disobedience. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/courteys UMNS

    Bishop Melvin Talbert joined 13 other United Methodist bishops at a gathering on May 4 outside the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida, where they showed their support for clergy in the denomination who choose to officiate at religious weddings of same-sex couples. Doing so is a violation of church rules, but Talbert said he preferred Biblical obedience even if it meant ecclesiasical disobedience. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/courteys UMNS

“Martin Luther King said there are risks when you stand up to unjust laws,” said Ogletree, 80, an ordained elder in the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The Book of Discipline, the denomination’s collection of law and doctrine, forbids the ordination of “avowed” homosexuals and bans clergy from officiating at same-sex marriages or holding such ceremonies in its churches.

The church law cannot change until the next quadrennial conference, in 2016. But at its meeting, the Judicial Council, the “Supreme Court” of the United Methodist Church, will consider a number of related resolutions. One asks the council to support a Western Jurisdiction 2012 resolution that says the church is in error on homosexuality and should ignore the Book of Discipline’s laws on it.

Also on the docket are a New York Conference resolution commending clergy, laity and congregations who “help to provide for the pastoral needs of same-sex couples” and a case involving the ordination eligibility of a Southwest Texas candidate who is a lesbian.

Tom Ogletree photo courtesy Yale Divinity School

Tom Ogletree photo courtesy Yale Divinity School

The Rev. William Lawrence, president of the Judicial Council and dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said he could not discuss specific cases.

“There are times when laws of the church that appear in the Book of Discipline are in conflict with other laws in the book,” he said. “In that case, we have to decide which case prevails.”

John Lomperis, United Methodist program director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said clergy cannot choose which church laws to follow, and he said bishops should hold them accountable for breaking laws.

“If there are meaningful consequences, there could be a meaningful healing,” he said. “If you end up getting suspended or losing your clergy credentials, it might not be so attractive.”

Lomperis said church law should not change simply to reflect the growing support for gays in American society.

“We’re not a weather vane,” he said. “We are actually a global church. We are not seeing these social, secular shifts in global Africa. I would see it as ethnocentric for the church to take its cues from just the American culture.”

Those who support changing the laws say those parts of the Book of Discipline contradict sections that call for clergy to treat all people with dignity.

“The tide is turning,” said Jimmy Creech, a former ordained elder in Nebraska who lost his clergy credentials after a 1999 church trial found him guilty of presiding at gay weddings. “If all the clergy who clearly understood this to be a violation of the humanity of lesbian and gay people stood up, the church would have no choice but to back down.”

Creech, 69, is pleased with the public defiance of what he calls “completely bigoted” church law.

Ogletree, who grew up in Alabama and was involved with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, points out that the denomination formerly supported slavery and racial segregation and denied a full role for women. When those policies were found to be wrong, the church changed, Ogletree said.

He’s convinced now is the time for action, adding: “I don’t think we can bring about change without more of us stepping forward boldly.”


About the author

Renee K. Gadoua


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  • The United Methodist Church and other denominations have been struggling with this for decades or maybe longer. It is difficult for people to give up their prejudices. A change in our churches laws on homosexuality is long overdue. The front to back contradictions that was placed in our church’s Social Principles in the 1980s does not cut it. Our church must start respecting all of God’s people of all sexual orientations and stop limiting anyone’s relationship with the church because of their sexual orientation.

  • I still don’t get it. God, the purposeful creator of all things who had a reason in mind when he did it, created them compatible in a male-female form which reflected his image. Even a cursory look at the male-female body should give any reasonable person an idea of the intentions. Per God’s design, these modern day notions of love were never meant to trump his intentions, even in a fallen world where things are corrupted, including human sexuality. But giving into clearly prohibited biblical practices is not the high road, nor more loving nor more tolerant, but is simply endorsing behavior that does not reflect our love for God because it is not in obedience to his truth in scripture.

  • The truth of the matter is, the Gay rights movement in the UMC is losing badly, and this attempt at flooding the court with these cases is a last gasp measure at being relevant.

    The UMC’s position on gay clergy and marriage has become more solidified over the last 3 General conferences….wit the vote at the last Gen Conf. being so resounding that the Reconciling Movement and their cohorts pulled the rest of their resolutions from the floor.

    Most people in the US fail to realize that the UMC is a World Church, where people from other nations have a real say into what the policies are for the whole church.

  • How sad it is that UMC clergy are given a green light to offer such safe celebration and ceremonial services for the blessing of a fleet of boats, pet animals, or the opening of a new building. But there remains a cruel and inhumane roadblock for the blessing of a committed love between two devoted same-sex persons. This is one of the greatest incompatibilities and violations of the
    Biblical principles of equality, fairness, love, and justice.

  • God’s Word is clear about this (when not misinterpreted or skewed due to social pressure) the Book of Discipline is also quite clear about this. Those who dissent and enter into direct violations of both the Word of God and the BOD should have their credentials pulled immediately whether they are a Bishop (retired or active) or clergy (active or retired). Follow the rules or get out!

  • Biblical issues of equality, fairness, love and justice are built upon and flow from the nature and character of God and no other. That which is contrary to his nature and character, and likewise expressed through the truth of scripture, is sin and misses the mark of his intended purposes and design. Once again, the Christian gay marriage acceptance movement places love as the highest ideal that allows for and approves of anything placed under its label. This is simply biblically untrue. The only way around this is a creative (erroneous) hermeneutic that reinterprets all scriptural references to homosexuality as outdated, misinterpreted or not applicable in today’s context. Ultimately this leads to a disbelief in objective truth and the authority of scripture, and thus man becomes his own interpreter of morality and what is good.

  • While the church argues, people are leaving; and not just those who happen to be gay, bi-sexual or transgendered. People who love them are leaving as well. People who love understand that God does love all of us. Jesus’s example is what they are following. It must pain Jesus to know that we are shutting people out and sending them away.

  • From a moral/ethical standpoint, I find it wrong to prevent someone from marrying someone they love.

    I base this on reason. If God is so set against same gender sex–which same gender marriage would entail–then why did he instill such behavior in feral animals and even tame ones? We find such behavior all through nature.

    Too, why does He allow children to be born with ambiguous genitalia–both male and female sex organs?

    This becomes a special tragedy when the parents of such a baby decide which gender THEY WANT the child to be and order the surgery. As the child grows, he/she finds that the parents picked the wrong gender. The church would then deny that person from seeking happiness in marriage.

    Exactly how does the church address these questions?

  • From the beginning to the end of the Bible, God says repeatedly and uniformly that homosexual activity is wrong and not acceptable to Him. As followers of Christ, the New Testament is explicit that we are expected to remain obedient and live a live that pleases Him, not engage in and promote sexual immorality.

    If people want to live and promote the homosexual lifestyle that is their right, but they should not pretend it is in conformance with the Gospel or the Word of God. It’s not, it’s of the Enemy.

  • John,
    Your comments address the very essence of this divide. No matter what man comes up with, God’s plan prevails. Thomas Jefferson wrote his own Bible, omitting those things with which he disagreed. However, the great man Thomas Jefferson and the many others over history have not changed God and caused Him to conform to their desires. Just because a number of people in our church assume the self appointed role of deciding what is just and unjust does not redefine God’s justice. And, holding love up as the justification for the gay agenda has no basis in Scripture. Paul saw all this in his day. When he defined Christian love in I Corinthians 13, he inserted verse 6 as a significant caution and warning when he said that love does not delight in evil.

  • You’re echoing the claim of John Lomperis that “We are not seeing these social, secular shifts in global Africa.” Why pretend that the rise of homophobia in Africa is taking place in a vacuum, Carl, when we know for a fact American anti-gay “ministers” like Scott Lively have gone to African nations to incite anti-gay hate Laws like Uganda’s “Kill the gays” proposed law that he himself proposed to Ugandans?

  • Let me help you, John, your suggestion about “compatible in a male-female form,” which seems to be claiming only heterosexuality is a naturally occurring sexual orientation has been tested–and debunked–by science. Sexual orientation, whether gay, bisexual or non-gay, has been shown by science to be inborn and unchangeable, and psychologists have shown being gay or lesbian is just as healthy and “normal” as being non-gay. A quick look on any search engine on the phrase “Physiological Basis of Homosexuality” turns up over 26,000 articles, the vast majority supporting the biological basis of same sex attraction, but NONE of them have any PROOF for the wild claim anti-gays make that “it’s a choice.”

    Please also remember that your religious views are rejected by these denominations that will marry same gender couples in 15 US States and the District of Columbia:

    Affirming Pentecostal Church International
    Alliance of Christian Churches
    The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
    Conservative Judaism
    Disciples Of Christ
    The Episcopal Church
    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals
    Metropolitan Community Church
    Reconstructionist Judaism
    Reform Judaism
    Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
    Unitarian Universalist Church
    United Church of Christ

    Sad to say, these denominations are denied THEIR RIGHT to practice their religion fully in 35 US States.

  • Once again, John pretends that his anti-gay interpretation of Scriptures is the only interpretation, and we know that is simply not true.

  • If anti-gays want to hate and fear LGBT Americans, that is their right, but it’s time they stopped pretending their interpretation of the Bible is the one and only, “correct” interpretation. Modern Biblical scholars have proven the Bible was intentionally mistranslated relatively recently in order to provide “Biblical cover” for then-rising levels of homophobia. For example, the word “homosexual” didn’t even exist until 1870. Many major Christian and Jewish denominations condemn misusing the hate-based mistranslations to attack their fellow Americans and are marrying same gender American couples now. About 400 years ago, a group of religious authorities (sanctioned by King James I of England), secretly manipulated the English version of the Bible to reflect their own heterosexual attitude; they opposed the King kissing other men in public. But in revised versions, religious authorities re-defined the Greek word “arsenokoites” of 1 Corinthians 6:9. The most accurate translation, abusers of themselves with mankind [KJV], was pretty vague. Nevertheless, they replaced this vague 5-worded text with the not so vague and purposely targeted 1-word text, “homosexual(s).” Either way you cut it, this text does not describe loving, committed same gender couples. This campaign gave those who were looking for a reason to justify their own homophobia a license to openly express their bigotry.

  • Tens of thousands are leaving the UMC, not because we refuse to endorse diviant behavior and call deplorable lifestyles holy, but because on many local and Annual Conference levels, we do. Most Christian people do not wish to support an apostate church.

  • John, I’m not sure what you definition of “clearly prohibited biblical practices” may be, but a couple of questions I pose for you:
    1) If you are going to use terms like “purposeful creator” then wouldn’t it then be hypocritical for you to deny that a homosexual was created by God with His purpose for them to be homosexual? After all, there is evidence of homosexuality not only throughout all of recorded time, but also in multiple species of animal.
    2) You should really be careful in what are trying to quote from the bible as “clearly prohibited biblical practices.” For when you start to quote Leviticus about one man lying with another man you probably should consider other points of Leviticus which you may be overlooking.
    Leviticus 25:44-46 – How many slaves have you taken?
    Leviticus 11:10 – Do you eat shellfish?
    Leviticus 11:1-47 – Bacon anyone?
    Leviticus 19:19 – How many cotton/poly blend shirts do you own?
    Leviticus 19:27 – Do you shave?
    Leviticus 1:9 – Have you given many entrails to your priest lately?

    …and lets not forget this one in Exodus.
    Exodus 35:2 – Even if you have not personally worked on a Sunday I’m sure you’ve either went to a store or went to a restaurant after church making someone else have to break this one.

    The long and the short of all of this is this; as a Christian we are bound to the teaching of Jesus Christ. What he had to say was simply put in the Book of Matthew…
    22:37 …Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
    22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
    22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    Jesus had a lot to say about a LOT of different topics and did not mention once the topic of homosexuality. To turn things around and try to put words in his mouth are, in itself, an abomination.

  • “God’s Word is clear about this (when not misinterpreted or skewed due to social pressure)”

    REALLY??? This coming from someone who obviously picks and chooses which verses he is going to follow or believe in like it’s some kind of buffet line?

    As far as I can tell someone needs to take a history lesson before they read the Pentateuch again. Trying to frame the entire bible in a position of current life is not possible.

  • Can you tell me ONE instance where Chirst Himself ever said anything about homosexuality?


    I didn’t think so…know your Bible, know your Lord

  • Yes, Carl, we are a worldwide church. Opening the doors to the churches in the Cote d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo allowed a very diverse group of believers into the fold. We should not be held hostage by their numbers. There are universal truths that defy popularity. Human rights need to be respected, even in the middle of their civil wars. Even in the midst of African governments making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. We are a worldwide church, but must we be conformed to the hate and the violence of the world even when it is disguised as Biblical? It is not about being a worldwide church. It is about loving your neighbor as yourself. In America or in Africa.

  • So, if I follow this line of reasoning to its conclusion, then the Bible comes under suspicion and is, therefore, to be taken as no longer the inspired word of God but merely the manupilated work of man to suit the whims of man. Therefore, if that’s the case, then why is your position and conclusion regarding homosexuality and the Bible not just another example of that?

  • Well, why would Jesus have to say anything more about homosexuality, when He said it in the Old Testament, or don’t you believe that the God who was, who is, and who will be, is also God the Father, God the Son, Jesus, and God, the Holy Spirit.

  • So, how does your interpretation of the Scriptures deal with the subject of sin and repentance? Isn’t it just possible that those who promote homosexuality as the “new norm” are trying to do so to deny very clear biblical teachings Against it? So many who promote this agenda are very quick to call those who disagree “haters”, when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it could be argued that it is love that compels those who disagree with you to attempt to show the truth as revealed in Scripture so as to allow for repentance and salvation.

  • Well stated! It is love that causes me to push back against unbiblical agendas. God not only loves us, He also desires true repentance. One simply cannot repent of something they hold as being their right. I pray that by welcoming everyone into our church and showing them that all sin needs repentance we may be able to lead some to the point where they are willing to accept God’s definition of sin and not one which caters to a humanistic point of view.

  • Try
    Mark 10:7
    New International Version (NIV)
    7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife’ (Jesus)

  • The highest law… is the law of love…time the UMC adheres to that above all ecclesiastical mandates.

  • Then stop eating shrimp, bacon or wearing mixed fabrics or risk being executed for it!

    Christians are the most dishonest pieces of crap when it comes to how they treat the OT. They only pick the bits which make them sound tough in public (and directly contradict the more socially passive and loving messages of Jesus). Its also telling that somehow God shares the same prejudices as you. How coincidental.

  • WAD, there is really no reason for me to comment when all of your responses are excellent. I’ve always said the same thing, one claims the bible has been changed, [which in my eyes renders it obsolete], then one goes on to say this new correct version of the bible supports your lifestyle. We as the church holding firm on this have to pray.

  • So i should live a lie not be authentic, a lesbian attracted to A women and be denied the expression of love. Isn’t living a lie a sin? This is not a life of hope, faith or love. In fact this is a life of despair, hopelessness and pain because if I am truthful I am an abomination. Was i being honest to my husband when i lived a lie of not wanting him completely. Was i being fair to him and others close to us in our lives? My church loved me despite my disgust and hatred for him. To be true to myself even if I were single and celibate is broadly judged and I am an outcast. Wesleyan theology, the Quadrilateral, states we are to use reason and experience and well as scripture and tradition in our translation. I just don’t believe the youth kicked out of their homes for even suggesting they might be gay is loving. Trying to change them will not work because that is how God created them “in His image”. The largest percentage of homeless or runaway youth are defined as LGBTQ, they are abominations, really? These are valuable people, but according to the anti-gay, abominations and sinners. These very same people may hold the cure for cancer, MS, ALS or a plethora of illnesses. Yet they also are the highest percentage of youth committing suicide, oh is that a sin too? To suggest that the LGBTQ are sinners also suggests heterosexuals are not sinners. What will you say when you are asked at judgment, why did you hate my brother, why did you let him go without shelter or food. This is what we will be judged by and I will take my chances on the concept of love.

  • I do believe the Bible is inspired by God, and as a person inspired by God, i know i don’t always get it right. The stories in the Bible are the personal experiences with our Triune God and because the authors are writing their perspectives (or a friends) it s true. True does not mean moral or absolute because even divinely inspired still has a human element. I also believe i can live a sanctified live based on scripture without absolute translation. Writers seldom refrain from poetic license when writing so i would give way for embellishment as well.

  • Western liberal Christianity is doing a masterful job of self-destruction. Whether it is embracing sterility in its gay or contraceptive forms or its killing inconvenient unborn life. One can only hope the papacy doesn’t also get dragged down into the West’s death spiral. So far the popes have held firm as those churches without a “St.Peter” –without a Rock-have begun morally disintegrating.

  • Dear Vicky,

    If people leave the church that is their prerogative. Just because the church does not swing with the rest of the populace does not mean the church is wrong. Christianity was established at a time when Romans and Greeks were believing in false gods. Did that mean the Christians (including Paul) should have gone along with those beliefs, when they were introducing something completely different? Men and women fit together and have progeny, men and men don’t. Similarly women and women don’t.

    Susan is absolutely right when she quotes Mark 10:7

    By the way, we Christians do not hate gays, we are simply very sad they have chosen that particular path. When two men together, or two women together, WITH NO OTHER HELP, can make a baby – then the gay world may be worth considering.

  • Hello Jeremy,

    We must understand that all of Scripture is from Christ. He IS “the Word” (John 1:1). The whole of God’s Word is Christ revealed.
    The Old Testament was the word of Christ inspired to its writers (1 Peter 1:11), and the New Testament was the word of Christ inspired to its writers (Revelation 1:1-2). Just because a verse of the Bible doesn’t appear in the red letters doesn’t mean it carries any less divine authority.

  • You ask for change but God doesn’t change his mind on HIS word regarding the sins of homosexuality. This you know full well but you chose to act ignorant to keep the lifestyle you chose which you clearly understand goes against God’s will. Your change is is your very own validation that you do not know God, nor does he know you as you have chosen your own god. Create your own god, that is your’s also the choice you make that will pave the way to Hell and it is your very own choice indeed. But do not claim that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob goes back against his word, because you’re calling God a liar. If you want God’s opinion, search the scripture not our fallen churches who follow man’s lusts instead of being holy as God is holy. It’s your choice Donna; your choice against God seals your eternal fate.

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