From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Opposing United Methodist groups react to charges against pastor

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 28 Oct 1998 12:43:39

Oct. 28 1998	Contact: Tim Tanton·(615) 742-5470·Nashville     {633}

By United Methodist News Service

A complaint filed against a United Methodist pastor in Chicago for
performing a same-sex ceremony has drawn strong reactions from two
unofficial church groups that oppose each other on issues involving

The Rev. Gregory Dell, pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church, has
been charged by Chicago Bishop Joseph Sprague with disobeying the order
and discipline of the denomination. Dell performed a same-sex covenant
ceremony for two men in his church on Sept. 19.

The filing of the charges was hailed by Good News, which describes
itself as an unofficial renewal movement in the denomination. However,
Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns
expressed disappointment at the news.

"We are grateful that Bishop Sprague has brought charges against Rev.
Dell, even though the bishop himself performed two 'holy union services'
while serving as pastor in Columbus," Good News' executive committee
said in an Oct. 27 statement. "We trust the conference will provide a
fair trial and a sentence commensurate with the gravity of the violation
that has been committed."

In its own Oct. 27 statement, Affirmation noted that Sprague had
expressed his "high regard" for Dell and his "theological and pastoral
disagreement" with the law the bishop is enforcing.

"No matter how well intentioned Bishop Sprague is in his attempt to
affirm Rev. Dell's integrity and faithfulness, the world at large hears
only the simple message: The United Methodist Church seeks to bring one
more gay-friendly pastor to trial," Affirmation said. "This is the
stony, rejecting face the church presents to the unchurched world."

Sprague said he disagrees with the church's position regarding
homosexuality and same-sex unions. However, he felt dutybound as a
bishop to file the complaint against Dell, he said. The complaint was
filed on Oct. 12 and will be forwarded to the appropriate investigative
bodies in the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference. 

The action represented the first formal complaint filed since the United
Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination's supreme court, ruled in
August that performing a same-sex union service was a chargeable
offense. The council said that a statement in the Book of Discipline
prohibiting United Methodist pastors from performing such services in
the denomination's churches was enforceable as church law.

The ruling followed the March clergy trial and acquittal of the Rev.
Jimmy Creech for performing such a ceremony for two women in Omaha,
Neb., last year. Creech, then pastor of First United Methodist Church in
Omaha, had been charged with disobeying the order and discipline of the
denomination. During the clergy trial, his defense hinged in part on
whether or not the denomination's prohibition against such services
carried the weight of law. Creech's counsel argued that because the
prohibition was contained in the Social Principles, a separate section
of the Book of Discipline, it was not enforceable as church law. Since
his acquittal, Creech has taken a leave of absence and is living in
North Carolina.

A few days after the charges were filed against Dell, two leaders in the
California-Nevada Annual Conference announced their plans to unite in a
holy union service. Jeanne Barnett, the conference lay leader, and Ellie
Charlton, a member of the conference board of trustees, said they plan
to unite early next year in a service that will be co-led by a group of
clergy. The service is being organized by their pastor, the Rev. Don
Fado, of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, Calif. So
far, 67 clergy members have said they are ready to co-celebrate the
union with Fado.

The Rev. James V. Heidinger II, president and publisher of Good News,
said the plans for the holy union "help the rest of us understand why
pastors and laity in that conference believe they face 'irreconcilable
differences' with their conference leadership."

The Good News leaders stated their "deep distress" at the news that the
Rev. John Christie, pastor of the Mission City United Methodist Church
in Santa Clara, Calif., has announced he is withdrawing from the
California-Nevada conference. Christie was president of the Evangelical
Renewal Fellowship, which tried unsuccessfully this year to get
conference leaders to permit its 74 members to separate from the
conference but remain United Methodists.  

Christie plans to withdraw from the conference as of Nov. 2, according
to Good News. Two other Evangelical Renewal Fellowship pastors, the Rev.
Kevin Clancey and the Rev. Ed Ezaki, have already left the denomination.

"I would urge (California-Nevada) Bishop Melvin Talbert to announce
immediately his plans to appoint an evangelical as district
superintendent at the next annual conference," Heidinger said. Such a
superintendent could serve "as shepherd to and cabinet representative
for the evangelicals all across the conference."

Meanwhile, Affirmation is urging United Methodists to dissent from the
denomination's prohibition against same-sex covenant services. At its
Oct. 10-12 meeting in Portland, Ore., the organization's national
council said the prohibition is "discriminatory, unjust and
unconstitutional." The council urged Affirmation members to dissent
"thoughtfully and creatively."

"It is time for the church to decide: does it support discrimination or
not?" said the Rev. Jeanne Knepper, spokesperson for Affirmation. "The
church cannot have it both ways, claiming not to discriminate while it
labels our lives 'incompatible with Christian teaching,' refuses to
celebrate our relationships and does not recognize our calls into

Affirmation's national council also adopted a platform of legislative
changes and resolutions for the 2000 United Methodist General
Conference, the denomination's top legislative body. The platform
removes discriminatory passages, such as prohibitions on ordination,
covenant services and funding, from the denomination's Book of
Discipline. It also proposes adding to the church's Social Principles a
paragraph affirming the rights of all people to enter into covenants.

United Methodist News Service
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