From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodist bishops urged to support same-sex unions

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 12 Oct 1998 14:33:50

Oct. 12, 1998 Contact: Thomas S. McAnally*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE:  The full, unedited text of the letter and a list of the signers
is at the close of this story.

By United Methodist News Service

An open letter, signed by 363 United Methodists, has been sent to all
bishops of the church urging them to "move beyond silence and inaction"
regarding the denomination's prohibition against the celebration of
homosexual unions.

In August, the church's nine-member Judicial Council ruled that a
statement on same-sex unions adopted by the 1996 General Conference has
the force of church law. "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions
shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in
our churches," according to the statement, included in the church's
Social Principles.

"Our church is adrift," the open letter states, "buffeted by forces that
seek to steer our course away from the prophetic, just and compassionate
course of Christ."  In a press release issued Oct. 11, the letter is
described as a "grassroots appeal" representing both lay and clergy

Listed as contact person on the news release is the Rev. Jimmy Creech of
Raleigh, N.C., who was narrowly acquitted in a church trial in March for
performing a service of union for two women while he was pastor of First
United Methodist church in Omaha, Neb. It was after that trial that the
Judicial Council was asked to rule on the legal status of the statement
in the Social Principles.

The letter calls on the bishops to:

* "receive the forgiveness of Christ" for "sins of omission" and "having
remained silent";
* teach the church so "misunderstandings about the nature of scriptural
authority can be addressed" and members can learn "how a non-condemning
acceptance of homosexuality is a legitimate position within our Wesleyan
* celebrate "holy unions."

Regarding the last point, the letter explains that some clergy will be
performing holy unions "directly and unapologetically, following the
example of integrity set by Jimmy Creech."  

Others, the letter says, will celebrate such unions "outside the context
of the appointment system and outside the role of 'minister' in the
United Methodist Church. Still others will do so within the letter of
the law but in such a way as to be a clear witness to the exclusive
stance of the church." As an example, the letter says laity will
"celebrate unions on church yards" and clergy will "stand in honor as
non-ministers read certain words within a ritual."

In conclusion, the letter observes that the recommendations are "radical
and risky steps" that "require the full measure of forgiveness to know
that Christ enables us all, even those in the episcopacy of the United
Methodist Church, to move beyond silence and inaction. . . . As bishops
. . . you possess unique responsibility coupled with exclusive authority
to make a powerful witness for Christ's love."

Contacted by United Methodist News Service, Bishop George Bashore of
Pittsburgh, president of the Council of Bishops, said: "I think the
council must stand by the pastoral statement we issued at our last
meeting in April, in which we said we would uphold the Book of
Discipline. That's our calling as bishops, and I think we pounded out an
agreement, a covenant.  That holds."

Aside from his role as president of the Council of Bishops, Bashore
said, "I have been one who has championed the current position of the
church on homosexuality. I've made it known in my area that anyone who
performs a same-sex union will be processed immediately if charges are
brought. I can't do otherwise."

#  #  #

412 South Boylan Avenue
Raleigh, North Carolina  27603-1910
October 6, 1998

An Open Letter to the Bishops of the United Methodist Church:

Fallout from the announcement of Judicial Council Decision 833 has only
begun. Constituencies around the denomination are lining up for the
power struggle that this decision precipitates. These are dark days for
our church and for those who seek to embody the prophetic justice of our
Christian tradition. We write to you now, imploring you to listen deeply
to this call for your guidance and leadership to help see us through
these days.

Even as we write, though, we are filled with trepidation that this call
may go unheard, because by and large we have missed your guidance and
leadership through the days leading to this moment. Our church is
adrift, buffeted by forces that seek to steer our course away from the
prophetic, just, and compassionate course of Christ. Our church is
inundated with a cacophony of voices that seek to make literal the
writings of John Wesley and use them as weapons, even as they do the
same with the living witness of our scripture.

Still, we write with hope that the Divine Spirit may speak through our
words, to your hearts, and that you will claim the authority of the
office you occupy.

In this spirit of hope and covenant, we call out:

1) Receive the forgiveness of Christ!
Many of you are celebrating the opportunity this decision gives you to
exercise your episcopal power in authoritarian, punitive ways. Many more
of you are saddened and grieving over what this decision means for your
office and our denomination. You realize, all too late, that your
silence over this matter has made you complicit with the cynicism and
hopelessness expressed by Bishop Blake when he said, "The key to our
connection is authority, not agreement." (Dallas Morning News, 8/11/98)
This complicity will mean that theological exploration can no longer be
carried out with the civility of honest disagreement, for the specter of
legal action will loom over all our discussions. No longer can we be
true to our theological task which states, "we test various expressions
of faith...." We will become a denomination of "winners" and "losers"
where authority will be determined by the judgement of ecclesiastical

Yet we celebrate, with you, the reality of forgiveness in Christ! Sins
of omission are never easily acknowledged because they are so easily
overlooked and their consequences seem so far removed. But we are
certain that many of you are already striving earnestly with your
consciences over having remained silent. We, too, acknowledge that we
have done too little and left too much unsaid. We celebrate, though, the
power of Christ's forgiveness to free us from despair over our sins and
to empower us to redress the consequences of our sins. As we claim the
power of Christ to forgive for our failings and as we celebrate with you
your acknowledgement of Christ's forgiveness we can begin to move
forward, together.

2) Teach your church!
There is a crisis of authority in the United Methodist Church. Forces at
work in the church seek to supplant the Wesleyan understanding of a
dynamic sense of authority, in which scripture is primary but not
exclusive. These forces seek to impose a static understanding of
authority as wholly contained within the past through the decisions of
the seven ecumenical councils, the ancient creeds and the consensual
writings of the patristic period. They even go so far as to claim that
these "authorities" themselves developed under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit and are therefore free from error!

These forces want to use their non-Wesleyan understanding of "authority"
to straightjacket the church into a uniform way of reading and
understanding scripture. The current debate over the nature of
sexuality, then, is less a debate over the nature of sexuality as it is
a debate over the nature of authority.

Our denomination needs your teaching office to clarify the spectrum of
views on authority that are legitimately held within an authentic
understanding of the Wesleyan tradition. We need you to establish
"teaching days" where misunderstandings about the nature of scriptural
authority can be addressed and where both clergy and laity can learn how
a non-condemning acceptance of homosexuality is a legitimate position
within our Wesleyan tradition. 

But we implore you, do not refer this action to a sub-committee. Do not
ask for a "study" at the next General Conference. Do not defer your
involvement in this issue to your colleagues. Take the initiative of
your own office to gather those who can speak intelligently and
knowledgeably about these issues. Use the resources that currently exist
to create teaching opportunities for your areas and our entire
denomination. Use this opportunity to help our denomination return to a
common understanding of the broad boundaries of authority within the
church. Reclaim the teaching office of Bishop to help our church reclaim
a dynamic understanding of the power and authority of scripture as it
continues to speak today.

3) Claim your full authority!
It is commonly assumed that if episcopal power is exercised, it must be
exercised in a punitive manner. The context of Bishop Talbert's
statement that, "we have to hold people accountable," (UMNS 8/14/98)
seems to imply that the process of accountability is inherently negative
and adversarial. This is not the case. History provides more than enough
examples of civil disobedience within legal boundaries to enable a broad
range of options. Guide the steps that precede trials, searching for
processes that open up dialogue and are less adversarial than using
formal grievances or complaints. Develop fair hearings that lead local
United Methodists toward greater understanding of and appreciation for
our faith and procedures.

Work with the defendants to turn the trials into "teachable moments"
where the world can listen as the case for a broad, accepting view of
honest sexuality can be made. Do not call on your colleagues who you
know to hold narrow, condemnatory views on these matters, to assist in
the trial process. Let the potential jurors in your areas know that
there are no prescribed "sentencing guidelines" and they are free to
decide that the trouble and expense that the defendant has already
endured is sufficient "punishment" for the "crime." Let them know that
you believe such a decision is not only allowable but appropriate. Use
the power of the episcopacy to meet the bare minimum requirements of the
law, while opposing the unjust, non-Wesleyan, un-Christ-like spirit of
the law.

4) Celebrate holy unions!
The newest phrase that has caused such pain in our church reads,
"Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by
our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." Many UM
clergy have pledged to celebrate such unions and we know that some will
do so directly and unapologetically, following the example of integrity
set by Jimmy Creech. Others will do so outside the context of the
appointment system and outside the role of "minister" in the United
Methodist Church.  Still others will do so within the letter of the law
but in such a way as to be a clear witness to the exclusive stance of
the church. Laity will celebrate unions on church yards. Clergy will
stand in honor as "non-ministers" read certain words within a ritual.
Clergy colleagues will stand together, supporting one another, in the
celebration of these unions.

We urge you to become aware of where and when such unions are being
celebrated, within the letter of the church law, and to join the
celebration of those unions. Stand with those who will witness to the
church that the current state of our church law is condemnatory and
exclusionary. Be a witness, with us, to the God who comes to us in the
integrity of a particular human relationship and is celebrated within
the integrity of human relationships. Let the world know that those who
lead the United Methodist Church are as courageously caring as those who
worship within it.

These are radical and risky steps. They require the full measure of
forgiveness to know that Christ enables us all, even those in the
episcopacy of the United Methodist Church, to move beyond silence and
inaction. We know that all of you will not be able or willing to engage
in each of these actions. Just as we are on our own journeys of faith,
so are you. However we expect that some of you will show, through the
exercise of your episcopal authority, evidence of having claimed
Christ's forgiveness and power in this most difficult time of our
denomination's history. Many UM clergy have taken a radical, risky step
by committing to celebrate "homosexual unions" within a context of
condemnation and judgment. We expect that our leaders will find the
courage to take similarly risky steps. As Bishops within the United
Methodist Church you possess unique responsibility coupled with
exclusive authority to make a powerful witness for Christ's love. We
celebrate the positive potential of that unique responsibility and look
forward to celebrating the more faith-full, loving denomination that you
will lead.

In Christ's Peace,

363 signers whose names appear on the accompanying list

    Patricia Dobbins - Juneau 
    Bill Hurr - Juneau 
    Cassandra E. Fraley - Tucson 
    Robert D. Fraley - Show Low 
    Ruth S. Fraley - Show Low 
    Richard E. Lyddon - Phoenix 
    Tom Atkin - San Rafael 
    Jacob Auer - San Rafael 
    Jeffery Auer - San Rafael 
    John Auer - San Rafael 
    Julie Auer - San Rafael 
    Patti Bartlebaugh - Brentwood 
    Diana Bethel - Santa Rosa 
    David Braaten - San Francisco 
    Barb Braithwaite - San Rafael 
    Charlene Bunas - Santa Rosa 
    Linda Carroll - Santa Rosa 
    Shirley Claire - Santa Rosa 
    Ona Coburn - San Rafael 
    Rolfe Conrad - Petaluma 
    Kristine Crawford - Santa Rosa 
    Dirk & Carol Damonte - Los Altos 
    John Davenport - Santa Rosa 
    Donna Morrow DeCamp - San Jose 
    Dolores Fitz - Santa Rosa 
    Kent Fossgreen - Santa Rosa 
    Jane Fossgreen - Santa Rosa 
    Myra Gaiser - Santa Rosa 
    Alice Ann Glenn - Monterey 
    Jeff Gunderson - San Rafael 
    Geneva Sansom Hadley - Santa Rosa 
    David Hansen - San Rafael 
    Sharyn Hansen - San Rafael 
    Carol L. Hasenick - Santa Rosa 
    Louis Nilsson - Santa Rosa 
    Margo Hoagland - Santa Rosa 
    Douglas G. Hogin - San Francisco 
    Cara Vincent Houck - Santa Rosa 
    Rebecca J. Irelan - Oakland 
    Alice Jann - Santa Rosa 
    R. Loren Jenks - Brentwood 
    Allen B. Jones - Santa Rosa 
    Rose Marie Leonard - Santa Rosa 
    Cheryl Longinotti - San Rafael 
    Susan Shipley Mason - Santa Rosa 
    Marilyn Mauck - San Rafael 
    I. Lee McClendon, Sr. - Yorba Linda 
    Olive McGinnis - San Rafael 
    R. J. Moriconi - Modesto 
    Esther Leatherwood - San Rafael 
    David Leeper Moss - Chester 
    Meg Linden - San Rafael 
    J. Lawrence Pearson - Napa 
    Linda Pearson - San Rafael 
    Bruce D. Pettit - San Francisco 
    Gayle Pickrell - Santa Rosa 
    Jessica Powell - San Rafael 
    Nancy Jim Poxon - Sacramento 
    Delia Pratt - Santa Rosa 
    John Reynolds - San Rafael 
    Sterling Rainey - San Rafael 
    Ellen Randall - San Rafael 
    Jo Anne Sanders - San Rafael 
    Rick Sapp - San Rafael 
    Richard A. Schlosser - Berkeley 
    Jim Scurlock - Albany 
    Judy Simpson - Santa Rosa 
    Carol Summers - San Rafael 
    Ginger Sylla-Egan - San Rafael 
    Else Tamayo - San Rafael 
    Elaine Walter - Santa Rosa 
    Joseph Waters - Santa Rosa 
    Glo Wellman - Santa Rosa 
    Joy Winters - San Rafael 
    Judy Wismer - Santa Rosa 
    Riley S. Grant - Lakewood 
    Jeanne Hoeft - Arvada 
    Bill Kirton - Denver 
    Ben Roe - Denver 
    Denise Whitesel - Denver 
    Sandy Young - Lakewood 
    Martha Rutland-Wallis 
    Robert & Rose Thomason 
    Carrie LaGree - Atlanta 
    Cliff Richards - Atlanta 
    Eileen Barthel - Urbana
    Deirdre Breeding - Champaign
    Randy Estes - Chicago
    Miriam Foster - Urbana
    Bruce Gladstone - Champaign
    Arne Gullerud - Urbana
    Ernest Gullerud - Champaign
    Lois Gullerud - Champaign
    Kerry B. Heimann - Champaign
    Mary C. Hruska - Monticello
    Diane Jeffers - Urbana
    Linda A. Linke - Champaign
    Tim Lowe - Chicago 
    Lynette L. Marshall - Champaign 
    Jean Peters - Champaign
    Eric A. Stone - Champaign 
    Pat Tymchyshyn - Champaign
    Barbara Zachow - Urbana
    Bev Zollinger - Champaign 
    Linda Van Horn - South Bend 
    Mike Buckman - Cedar Rapids 
    John Cairns - Cedar Rapids 
    Robert Crandall - Des Moines 
    Chester Gunn - Des Moines 
    Allan B. Jones 
    Linda L. McGrew - Cedar Rapids 
    Mary Lou McGrew - Cedar Rapids 
    Ashley Super - Cedar Rapids 
    Joseph H. Coachman - Lyndon 
    Gilbert Schroerlucke - Louisville 
    S. Graham DeCoster 
    Liz Vernon - Easton 
    Magon Boykin - Silver Spring 
    Harry C. Kiely - Silver Spring 
    Thomas Starnes - Gaithersburg 
    Bruce Angus - Lawrence 
    Arlene Bodge - Edgartown 
    Judy Jenkins Kohatsu - Andover 
    Sharon L. Link - Amesbury 
    Kenneth Dunstone - Hermansville 
    Jonathan Gardner - Dearborn 
    Carol C. Godwin - Farmington Hills 
    Doug Little - Novi 
    Steven M. Smith - Mt. Pleasant 
    Jean Beck - Minneapolis 
    Kenn Beck - Minneapolis 
    Faith M. Buss - Minneapolis 
    Ray W. Cabaniss - Golden Valley 
    Mae Belle Doty - Minneapolis 
    Vera Engle - Minneapolis 
    Gayle Englund - Minneapolis 
    Sara M. Evans - Minneapolis 
    Marjorie Chan Goebel - Minneapolis 
    Jack Fithian - Minneapolis 
    Marylee Fithian - Minneapolis 
    Morris Floyd - Minneapolis 
    Fred Husky - Minneapolis 
    Phyllis Husky - Minneapolis 
    Walter Lockhart - St. Paul 
    Larry Nielsen - Minneapolis 
    Mary Ellen Nielsen - Minneapolis 
    Clarence Schadegg - Minneapolis 
    Steve Schultz - Minneapolis 
    Mark Sobotka - Woodbury 
    Janet M. Westlee - Minneapolis 
    Judith J. Westlee - Minneapolis 
    J. Philip Cox-Johnson - Columbia 
    Gerald Heckel - Kansas City 
    Russ & Helma Hawkins - Kansas City 
    Winifred B. Keefer - Billings 
    Carol Beaty - Omaha 
    Richard & Phyllis Burroughs - Omaha 
    Roberta Coss - Omaha 
    Tom & Donna Dobson - Omaha 
    Betty Dorr - Omaha 
    Dave & Kathy England - Omaha 
    Ray & Sally Farqhur - Omaha 
    Tim Fickenscher - Omaha 
    R. Benjamin Garrison 
    J. Michael Herrington - Omaha 
    William Jenks - Omaha 
    Diane & Larry Jensen - Omaha 
    Don & Eileen Johnson - Omaha 
    Mark Kemling - Lincoln 
    Dwight W. Kemling - Lincoln 
    Ruthie Lees - Omaha 
    Elna Peirce - Omaha 
    Ivan D. Richardson - Omaha 
    Sue Rood - Omaha 
    Alice Rushton - Omaha 
    Orv & Arlene Sherman - Omaha 
    Judy Torrens - Omaha 
    Douglas J. Williamson - Omaha 
    Emily Joan Zetterman - Omaha 
    Richard W. Smith - Boulder City 
New Hampshire
    Mark Henderson - Sandwich 
New Jersey
    Anne Carey - Lawrenceville 
    Lisanne Finston - Monmouth Jct. 
    Frieda Hamer - Haddonfield 
    Kirk Kinkade - Jersey City 
    Mary-Edna Krutchkoff - Fair Lawn 
    Claudia Perry - Jersey City 
    David Roberts - Jersey City 
    Duncan Smythe - Westfield 
    Jeffrey R. Spelman 
    Tim Tyler - Morristown 
New York
    Crystal Minugh Brutsch - Waverly 
    Peggy R. Gaylord - Windsor 
    Amy Gregory 
    Bob Hitchcock - Binghampton 
    Donald Robert Hoff 
    Elsie Lewis - Oneonta 
    Charlotte Patton - New York 
    Brian Rotach - Amherst 
    Tom Schmid - New York 
    William W. Schnippert - Elmira 
North Carolina
    James F. Allen - Flat Rock 
    Jimmy Creech - Raleigh 
    David J. Irvine - Henderson 
    Nancy Mamlin - Boone 
    Mary Ann Carlson - Cleveland 
    David A. Kappenhagen - Cleveland 
    Jan Kappenhagen - Cleveland 
    Jean Kappenhagen - Cleveland 
    Sherri Kinkade - Cleveland 
    Jessica Lee - Cleveland 
    Bonnie K. McMahon 
    Mark Poole 
    Robert Robinette - Cincinnati 
    Walter G. Schlosser - Cleveland 
    Rick & Dr. Kandi Stinson - Cincinnati 
    Marge Townsend - Windsor 
    Robin Anderson - Oklahoma City 
    Karen L. Beard - Oklahoma City 
    Robert C. Bjorklund - Oklahoma City 
    Kathy Brown - Norman 
    John R. Calhoun - Oklahoma City 
    Jeni Markham Clewell - Edmond 
    Donna Cloud - Norman 
    Bob Danielson - Oklahoma City 
    Alan Dobbs - Oklahoma City 
    Russell Dyer - Brookline 
    Tim Fields - Oklahoma City 
    Tony Francis - Oklahoma City 
    Valerie Gutherie - Oklahoma City 
    Charla B. Gwartney - Oklahoma City 
    Kurt Gwartney - Oklahoma City 
    Howard Harris - Oklahoma City 
    Shelly E. Hart - Tulsa 
    Sue Hill - Oklahoma City 
    Jim Houk - Oklahoma City 
    Bill James - Edmond 
    Monte Kesterson - Moore 
    Eursey Lenoir - Bethany 
    Linda Malcolm - Oklahoma City 
    Beatrice Martin - Oklahoma City 
    William Martin - Oklahoma City 
    Ron Miser - Oklahoma City 
    Barbara Mitchell - Oklahoma City 
    Marla Olson - Oklahoma City 
    Edgar Rueda - Oklahoma City 
    Ralph Shafer - Oklahoma City 
    Harold Swink - Oklahoma City 
    Kent Taylor - Oklahoma City 
    Wendell Vandever - Oklahoma City 
    Eddie Walker - Oklahoma City 
    Kem Norman Wallace - Oklahoma City 
    Jerry Watson - Oklahoma City 
    Randall Yates - Oklahoma City 
    Carla Young - Oklahoma City 
    Richard Burdon 
    Don Frueh - Portland 
    Paul & Ruth LaRue - Salem 
    Larry Monk - Oregon City 
    Mary Ann Sanford - Portland 
    R. Craig Bennett - Pittsburgh 
    Arthur Brandenburg 
    J. Howard Cherry - Pittsburgh 
    Robert G. Coombe - Havertown 
    Jean Kozul - Jermyn 
    Jim Palmquist - Allentown 
    Laura Montgomery Rutt 
    Pat Williams - Lancaster 
    Mary Ann Williard - Mifflinburg 
Rhode Island
    Nancy C. Hetherington 
South Carolina
    Elizabeth Collier 
    Margery Mayer - Brentwood 
    Charles H. Lippy - Chattanooga 
    M. Michael Bledsoe 
    Bob Fisher - Houston 
    L. Annette Jones - Houston 
    Kathy Massey - Denton 
    Lynn McCreary - Denton 
    Julie Murphy - Arlington 
    Margaret Nunley - Coleman 
    Gary M. Shephard 
    Deborah Robinson - Essex Junction 
    Wesley Sheffield - Hubbardton 
    Chip Aldridge - Alexandria 
    Richard Hilshman - Woodbridge 
    Scott Hopping - Arlington 
    Randy S. Shannon - Vienna 
    Richard Wager - Falls Church 
    Dorothy Baker - Edmonds 
    Paul Binneboese - Seattle 
    William Blake - Seattle 
    Marlene A. Boone - Seattle 
    Nellie Briggs - Seattle 
    Linda K. Condit - Seattle 
    Stephen H. Condit - Shoreline 
    Helen Finch - Seattle 
    Lewis Finch - Seattle 
    Linda Gasparovic - Seattle 
    Charles R. & Dora M. Haight - Ellensburg 
    Sonja J. Ingebritsen - Seattle 
    Larry & Betty Lowther - Ellensburg 
    Deborah L. Martin - Seattle 
    Kathleen M. MCowan - Seattle 
    Sharon Moe - Seattle 
    Patricia Naumann - Seattle 
    Pat Noonan - Seattle 
    Sherry Pangborn - Bremerton 
    Janice A. Perry - Seattle 
    Chuck S. Richards - Seattle 
    George Sell - Seattle 
    Jane Soder - Seattle 
Washington DC
    Michael K Beard 
    Rachel A. Cornwell 
    Banton Creaser 
    William S. Foling 
    Laura J. Folkwein 
    Greggery Garlen 
    Ray M. Goodrows 
    Susan Gundling 
    Rick Huskey 
    Alan McLain Ivy 
    Rachel Kesfer 
    Preston Lap 
    Jody McPherson 
    Phillip H. Miller 
    Ron Ragland 
    Scott Robinson 
    Thomas Russell 
    James H. Williams 
    Ralph Williams 
West Virginia
    Lynda Ann Ewen 
    Diann Hoffman 
    Michael A. Ragland - Charleston 
    David E. Shumate - Charleston 
    H. John Taylor 
    Robert Millner Adams - Milwaukee 
    Greg Baer - Kenosha 
    Shannon Donnally - Madison 
    Doug Dowling 
    Cecil Findley - Madison 
    Walter Earl Jackson - Madison 
    Brian Rice McCarthy - Madison 
    Steven Earl Webster - Madison 
    Jan Anderson 
    Karen Anderson 
    Elizabeth Collier 
    James Conn 
    George Gay 
    Gerry Hill 
    Doug Monroe 
    Brian Soper 

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