From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Compliant filed against Chicago pastor for same-sex service

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 21 Oct 1998 13:52:50

Oct. 21 1998 Contact: Linda Green(615)742-5470,Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

The first formal complaint since the United Methodist Judicial Council
ruled that pastors shall not perform same-sex ceremonies has been filed
against a Chicago pastor who conducted a union service for two men.

Chicago Bishop Joseph Sprague filed a formal complaint against the Rev.
Gregory R. Dell, pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church, on Oct. 12,
citing "failure to uphold the Order and The Discipline of the United
Methodist Church." Dell performed a union service for two men at the
church on Sept. 19. 

Besides serving as pastor, Dell is coordinator for the "In All Things
Charity" effort, a movement of clergy who disagree with the
denomination's position that "the practice of homosexuality is
incompatible with Christian teaching." The movement supports covenantal
commitments between same-gendered couples and ordination of gay men and

Nearly one-third of the 185 members at Broadway United Methodist Church
identify themselves as gay or lesbian. 

Dell conducted the ceremony two days shy of the anniversary of a similar
service that the Rev. Jimmy Creech performed for two women at First
United Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb., on Sept. 17, 1997. That service
set off a firestorm of divisiveness and debate in the denomination, and
led to a clergy trial for Creech. He was acquitted on March 13 of being
disobedient to church law.

Creech's acquittal led to calls for a ruling by the Judicial Council,
the denomination's supreme court, on whether a prohibition against
same-sex ceremonies was enforceable as church law. The prohibition
states that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be
conducted by our pastors and shall not be conducted in our churches."
The statement was in the Social Principles, a section of the
denomination's Book of Discipline that is considered largely advisory.
In August, the nine-member Judicial Council ruled that the statement has
the effect of church law regardless of its placement in the Discipline,
and therefore governs the conduct of the ministerial office.

Because Dell "knowingly, as a stated act of conscience and pastoral
ministry, failed to uphold the Order and Discipline of the United
Methodist Church," his actions are a "chargeable offense," Sprague said.
Disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church
is one of 10 offenses for which a clergy member may be tried in a church

The complaint will be processed by the appropriate investigative bodies
in the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference to determine if
the case should lead to charges requiring a church trial. A conviction
under church trial could result in penalties ranging from withdrawal of
Dell's clergy credentials to suspension or a "lesser penalty."

In an Oct. 12 statement, Sprague admitted that he has "my own
theological and pastoral disagreement with this component of church
law."  The bishop said he filed the complaint despite his high regard
for Dell as a faithful and effective pastor.

In response, Dell said he did what "I understood faithfulness to Christ
and my ordination vows require. I extended ministry to two men who love
each other, love God and love the church." 

According to a statement by Dell, Sprague has "assured" him that he
would not be suspended as pastor while the matter is under
investigation. In contrast, Creech was suspended while the charges
against him were being investigated. His suspension was lifted upon his
acquittal. He has since taken a leave of absence from the ministry and
is living in North Carolina.

Dell said he has conducted services of holy union for same-gendered
couples for nearly 30 years, and the Judicial Council's decision didn't
cause him to hesitate in performing the most recent ceremony. He and the
men had prepared for the celebration for almost a year.

The same-sex service was a faithful expression of his ministerial office
as a United Methodist pastor, Dell said. He could not "conceive of
excluding people from the ministry of the church because of their
identity," he said. "When an expression of someone's identity involves
the making of holy vows for faithfulness and ministry, the church should
understand itself to be privileged in offering a blessing."

The church, he said, is not of a common mind on issues related to
homosexuality. But he "celebrates our denominational diversity as an
opportunity for all of us to grow."

In a news release from Broadway United Methodist Church, Dell said a
potential trial raises the issue of whether the understanding of
faithful ministry can be tolerated. He said a trial could be held as
early as January, depending on the outcome of deliberations by the
Northern Illinois Annual Conference Committee on Investigation.

United Methodist News Service
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