From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodists praise, criticize Supreme Court ruling

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Fri, 27 Jun 2003 15:31:55 -0500

June 27, 2003  News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 

By United Methodist News Service

The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that struck down a Texas law banning gay sex
is being greeted by some in the United Methodist Church as a move forward for
society and criticized by others as another sign of a culture out of step
with Christ.

"We think the court made the right decision" based on principles of privacy
and equal treatment, which are supported in the United Methodist Church's
Social Principles, said Kenrick Fealing, program director for civil and human
rights at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington. The
law should be applied evenly to all people, regardless of sexual preferences,
and that wasn't the case with the Texas law that the Supreme Court struck
down, he said.

"In the context of dialogue, I would hope that our church and our members
would see it as a movement toward equality for all persons and endorse it
from that standpoint," Fealing said. The ruling doesn't endorse homosexuality
or sexual preference, but it supports people's right to privacy in their own
household and the equal treatment of people with different sexual
preferences, he said. 

Bishop Jack Tuell of Des Moines, Wash., who is recognized as a leading
authority in the church on legal matters, said the June 26 decision was
"I think it is an illustration of the fact that as people acquire a greater
knowledge of the nature of homosexuality that it often changes their
viewpoint and opinion about it," he said. "And I think the Supreme Court
decision is simply an example of that kind of process happening. They
reversed their own decision that they'd made (17) years ago, I think ... and
to me that is a signal that they and people in general are coming to a
different understanding of the nature of homosexuality." 

The Rev. William Hinson of Houston, president of the Confessing Movement,
said the ruling reflects the divide between the culture and the church. The
Confessing Movement, with offices in Indianapolis, is an unofficial United
Methodist group that supports adherence to church law and the apostolic

The "vast majority of United Methodist people agree that Jesus got it right,
that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said.

"I don't see that (ruling) changing any Christian mind about Jesus'
definition of marriage, and I don't believe the United Methodist Church will
ever change its position," he said.

The United Methodist Church, in its Book of Discipline, holds that
homosexuals are people of sacred worth but that the practice of homosexuality
is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Hinson said he expects the church's position to get even stronger on that
point, as the denomination's central conferences get more votes at General
Conference, the top lawmaking assembly of the church. "It's going to get
stronger each time, so I don't ever see that issue changing for us."

The temptation is to become a cultural religion, but "we can't let our
culture dictate what we believe," he said.

The justices confirmed the reality that what two people do in the privacy of
their own home is a privacy issue, Hinson said. "I can see the point (about)
the privacy, but at the same time, it saddens me concerning the morality of
our culture."

What the church does is more important than what the culture does, he added.
"We should be a guide for the culture and not a reflector of the culture."

The court's decision "righted a wrong" that had been done by an earlier
Supreme Court ruling, said Deen Thompson, a member of Edgehill United
Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., a congregation that openly welcomes all
people, regardless of sexual orientation. In that 1986 ruling, the court had
upheld a Georgia sodomy law similar to the one in Texas.

The court's ruling is "a step toward equal rights for all people," not just
for gays, said Thompson, who belongs to Affirmation, an unofficial church
group that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender concerns.
"It's a step forward in how we live together as human beings. ... We'll be a
better people because of this."

Another unofficial group, Reconciling Ministries Network, had filed a
friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs in the Texas case, said
Susan Laurie, Northern outreach coordinator in Chicago.

"We are excited to have this recognition of who we are as citizens," she
said. "In the United Methodist Church, we appreciate that our place at
baptism and at the Communion table is granted. Unfortunately, the welcome in
other aspects of participation has been limited.  We hope that this decision
allows our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, their families and
friends to step a little more boldly towards the invitations that Christ
gives to each of us."
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United Methodist News Service
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