Clergy and faith leaders gather outside Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia in support of Richard Taylor and William Gatewood (at top of stairs in doorway) following their wedding in November 2013. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service

Methodists resolve gay marriage complaint against 36 pastors without a trial

Clergy and faith leaders gather outside Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia in support of  Richard Taylor and William Gatewood (at top of stairs in doorway) following their wedding. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service

Clergy and faith leaders gather outside Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia in support of Richard Taylor and William Gatewood (at top of stairs in doorway) following their wedding in November 2013. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service

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(RNS) United Methodists in Pennsylvania have agreed to resolve a complaint filed against three dozen clergy who blessed a gay wedding without taking the case to trial.

A complaint was filed against 36 United Methodist pastors who officiated at a Nov. 9, 2013 wedding for two men at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. On Friday (Oct. 3), Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson announced that the complaint had been resolved.

The resolution calls for the officiating clergy to acknowledge that they violated rules of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which includes the denomination's constitution. In return, the complaint will be withdrawn.

"Though I may sympathize with the pastoral concerns of the respondents, it is unacceptable to disregard and disobey the Book of Discipline," Johnson said. "I pledge that, in future cases where clergy within my jurisdiction officiate or host a same-gender ceremony, any complaints that I receive will be handled swiftly and with significant and appropriate consequences, which may include a trial, involuntary leave of absence without pay, or other significant consequences, in accordance with the Discipline and in consultation with the Board of Ordained ministry and the clergy session of the annual conference."

The pastors officiating at the Philadelphia ceremony stood in solidarity with the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who also faced a church trial in Johnson’s area. A church court reinstated Schaefer this summer after he was defrocked in November 2013 for officiating at his son’s gay wedding.

The Philadelphia ceremony was held before same-sex marriage was legalized in Pennsylvania earlier this year. Church law prohibits clergy from participating in, or churches from hosting, "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions."

Against the backdrop of a campaign to "Stop the Church Trials," some Methodist bishops have tried to sidestep the painful court proceedings. Saying "church trials produce no winners," a bishop in New York agreed to drop charges against the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a former dean of Yale Divinity School, who presided at his son's gay wedding.

The same-sex marriage debate has consumed America’s mainline Protestant denominations, with the outcome ranging from divisions to compromises.

The issue is especially divisive within Methodism, where holiness, an emphasis on Christian purity, is foundational. As Methodist membership grows in parts of Africa, overseas delegates have helped hold the line against growing pressure to liberalize church policy on gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

Amid a wave of open defiance over rules that prevent pastors from presiding at same-sex marriages and high-profile church trials that have largely upheld church policy, some UMC pastors previously said the 11.8 million-member church had reached an impasse.



  1. In sum, church authorities refuse to discipline rogue clergy because they just don’t feel like it.

  2. Doesn’t sound like anything was “resolved” at all, quite honestly.

  3. As a life long Methodist I am concerned and disappointed with the lack of resolve in the matter. The Book Of Discipline is the law. When bishops and clergy ignore the BOD, they violate the trust placed in them. The best way forward in the long run is clearly to enforce the BOD. If that defrocks clergy and bishops, then so be it. Watering down our faith is not the answer. Persons who choose to live the gay lifestyle do not have the right to hijack our denomination. Methodist accept all of God’s people. Having gay marriage performed in a church does not make it any less a sin.

  4. Jesus was clear about marriage, I think the two pastors need to be fired and not let back in to pastor.
    Matthew 19:1-8King James Version (KJV)
    19 And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;
    2 And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there.
    3 The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?
    4 And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
    5 And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?
    6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
    7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
    8 He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.

  5. last one out of UM turn out the lights, please, we don’t want empty shells causing global warming!

  6. So, when did so many United Methodist laity and clergy turn into Pharisees upholding the law (Book of Discipline) over love, compassion, and care for others?

    BTW, Sarah, Methodism was a holiness movement but also a mission (social) movement caring for all. John Wesley believe both in holiness of hearts and hands.

  7. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils”.

    – 1 Timothy 4;1

  8. When did God turn into a libertine unconcerned about whether anyone–especially those who claim to be disciples of his Son–observed the standards of behavior he expects?

  9. I would greatly appreciate it if someone would tell me just when one’s beliefs about homosexuality became the litmus test over who is or is not a Christian. I’ve never heard anyone question the validity of any heterosexual person’s Christian faith based on how they are intimate with a partner. I have heard the idea spoken that sexual relationships belong in committed relationships that we call “marriage.” I have heard us affirm that homosexuality is a reality in the lives of a small percentage of the population. But if two persons who are homosexual want to carry out any sexual relationships in committed relationships, like heterosexual persons do, we will not allow them to make their vows of commitment before God in the church. We tell them their practices are “contrary to Christian teachings.” We tell them that they are welcome to worship with us, in spite of their contrary practices—but if they feel a call from God like many of us have had, that call is invalid.
    Forgive me, but these kind of responses sound like nothing different from a line spoken by the character, Tonto, on the old TV show, “The Lone Ranger”: “Snake speak with forked tongue!”

  10. To My Former Family of Faith,
    It pains me to still see this happening, but that is why I (and many others) left the UMC. I took the blessings of the holiness sensibility with me and left behind the discriminatory use of that sensibility to denigrate persons who are not straight. I bless those who have stayed in the UMC to try to liberate the UMC from this cultural anxiety and painful prejudice. All those ready to move forward as Christians without the rancor and the exclusion may simply find an Open and Affirming United Church of Christ to join. We have and will continue to receive joyfully your talented clergy for whom you have no room.
    Good luck with the anti-gay thing. We just walked out of Egypt and are happy on the other side of the Reed Sea.

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