The Next Step

The Next Step in the UMC Same Sex Marriage Debate:.

Although more than 900 United Methodist Clergy across the United States have contacted their respective Bishops declaring their intention of officiating same sex marriages as an act of faith, as of this morning a group within the New York Annual Conference of the UMC has taken it to the next step.   In an act of defiance of the formal rules of the greater church, these clergy people have reached out, with names and contacts, to the LGBT community in their region, offering to act..     In the end, this is akin to saying “we will, and we will now.”

The group notes that this move is unprecedented and is already causing ripples across New York and Connecticut, mere hours after the announcement was released.

There is certainly a great many opinions on this subject, and is certain to raise the temperature of the debate inside and outside of the church.   Believing that our church can move beyond this issue if we implement and practice Holy Conversation and Patience, as well as prayer,  I am very interested in hearing your thoughts, on new chapter in both the debate and the life of the church.

  • Are you happy/angry by this move?
  • Are you scared/encouraged by this new direction?
  • Is this a good/bad/or indifferent thing for both the local and greater United Methodist Church.
  • Are we “Christian enough” to finally (or continue to)have this conversation as a church and a family?

The following is the press release issued this morning:

Methodist Group to Perform Gay Weddings (10/17/2011)

A group of 900 United Methodists in New York and Connecticut today announced their intention to make weddings available to all people, gay and straight, in spite of their denomination’s ban on gay marriage. The announcement marks the kick-off of a project called We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality. In an unprecedented move in any major religious denomination, We do! is not only bypassing the formal rules of the church, but also reaching out directly to LGBT groups in New York and Connecticut to let them know about the new network. This morning the group published a list of all its members: clergy members who will perform weddings for gay couples, lay members of the denomination who support them, and congregations who have adopted policies to formally make weddings available to all couples.

“We refuse to discriminate against any of God’s children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the New York Annual Conference, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression,” the group declared in statement called A Covenant of Conscience and signed by 164 clergy members, 732 lay people and six entire congregations. In all, 74 congregations within the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) are represented among the signers. NYAC is the regional church body representing United Methodist congregations from Long Island to the Catskills and in southern Connecticut. The full list of signers, as well as the text of the covenant is here:

“My ordination vows require me to minister to all people in my congregation,” said Rev. Sara Lamar-Sterling, the minister at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, CT. “This is about pastoral care, about welcoming all people, but especially the marginalized and the oppressed, like Jesus did.” Lamar-Sterling and her clergy colleagues are risking their jobs and their careers by taking this stand, but they say their integrity as pastors leaves them no choice but to refuse the church’s mandate to discriminate. Over the years, many individual United Methodist clergy have defied the church’s ban, but the We do! project marks the first time an organized network of clergy has done so, and done so with the support of many hundreds of lay members of the church.

“The recognition of the full humanity, sacred worth, and equal rights of gay and lesbian people is crucial to the civil rights struggle of our time. Gay, lesbian, and straight United Methodist laity and clergy are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” the Covenant of Conscience states, citing Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.  “The continuing denial of full access to all the rights and privileges of church membership in the United Methodist Church is causing deep spiritual harm to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and is a threat to us all.”

The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, the rulebook that governs the country’s third largest Christian denomination, states “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” It is one of several anti-gay provisions of the church, which since 1972 has declared “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The church General Conference meets quadrennially to revise the Discipline and the issue of LGBT exclusion has been hotly debated at each General Conference in the last 40 years. The next General Conference will be April 24 through May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Florida. 


For Additional Information/Sources:

Just a note on the organization of the United Methodist Church:

Each year—usually in May or June—all clergy members and an equal number of lay members selected from the local churches attend their conference’s Annual Conference. Churches in New Hampshire are part of the New England Annual Conference, for example.   These conference sessions meet together to worship, fellowship, and conduct the business of the conference, which may last 3-5 days. During these sessions, members of the conference hear reports of past and ongoing work; adopt future goals, programs and budgets; ordain clergy members as deacons and elders; and elect delegates to Jurisdictional (Which exist to elect new Bishops, Select members of Boards and Agencies, and provide training and leadership foundations) and General Conferences (Which serve as the voice for the entire congregation). The bishop presides over these meetings. (edited from originals found at -Rainbow Image CCL Lic. Tamara Reed)

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  1. Roger Colins

     /  October 18, 2011

    Each minister in the Methodist church enters into a covenant with the church to follow and uphold the UM Book of Discipline. If that covenant is broken, then the church’s foundations are broken. I say that if they do not agree with the sentiments of the UMC, then membershirp is voluntary. This is an act that angers me immemsly.

  2. pastorscott2007

     /  October 18, 2011

    Let me start by stressing caution and patience. Anger has no place in this discussion.

    Maybe I can help with your take on this…Folks on both sides of this protest are eager to throw around the word “covenant” and the Book of Discipline. The Discipline outlnes some very solid definitions of what it means to be a Methodist, what it means to operate as Methodist Church, and what those expectations/doctrine/teachings of that ministry should be. It provides solid consequences should that we miss that mark. Any time one steps away from this, there are some real consequences.

    To assume that these clergy are breaking their covenant in this act, is not accurate. I have had a recent debate with a rather outspoken proponent of stripping clergy credentials from those who take actions like this.

    In that discussion, I used a classic ethics illustration. Let me abridge and share it here; A doctor is walking down one side of the street blissfully unaware of the world around him, until his bliss is interupted by the wails of a dying child across the street. Seeing the seriously injured child slowing dying on the other side of the street, the doctor chooses to do nothing but watch her die. Obviously when the authorities arrive they arrest the man. But the doctor claims innocence. He claims that he could not cross the street legally for their was no cross walk in site. His defense fails and he is punished.

    Now the question remains, why was he punished? He was punished because he had a duty and a responsibility to cross the street regardless of the presence or absence of a crosswalk.

    As Methodist Clergy we have the same ethical responsibilities. Some would argue, that on one side of the street are God’s children seperated from the full ministry, and life, of the church. They struggle and hurt. The argument continues and points out that we, as clergy, stand across the street and see the situation. We, like the doctor, can assess the situation correctly, but do nothing. We do nothing because tof a lack of a crosswalk (or in real life the Discipline prevents it).

    There are some that believe the covenant represents the clergy responsibility of living out our mission as United Methodists (“To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”), and that our full covenant is expressed only when it complies with the Gospel and that mission. If the restriction on Clergy, or any other Discipline provision or requirement, prevents them from fully living out the Gospel and mission of the church, shouldnt they challenge it? (Just as was done when the issue of Racism, and Women’s Clergy arose in the middle part of the last century?)

    Additionally, they are doing so within the covenant itself. In the way of a second illustration: You and I enter into a legally binding covenant or contract. If one or both of us, break the terms of that covenant or contract, it doesnt nullify the covenant. In the end, we go to court and deal with the reprecussions of the broken contract. At the same time, the court gets a chance to verify that the covenant or contract, and all its terms are legal and true. I see these dissenting clergy as living out their dissention within the covenant itself.

    Many believe that the scriptural support for any condemnation of the modern understanding of homosexuality is unfounded (in fact, most point out that the word wasnt in the Bible before 1958), and there is a plethora of data that would support this. Sadly, from the foundation of our puritan roots we have focused on this issue so completely that when you here the word “christian” one of the first few associations that many make is “homophobe”. I would prefer the conversation move to this arena, rather than that of the clergy covenant, for two reasons 1.) the clergy is not the church and 2.) when people in the church took an honest assesment, walkthrough, study, or discussion of the issue of homosexuality and the church, most would realize that what we think we know, we dont… and what we believe the church should be about… is, in many aspects, an understanding that we may have or are capable of moving beyond.

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