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The United Methodist Church (UMC) & homosexuality

Activity by various UMC
groups: From 1996 to 1999


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1996:

  • Wisconsin Conference: The UMC is divided into conferences, which resemble a synod in the Lutheran Church or a diocese in Roman Catholicism. In 1996-JUN, the Wisconsin conference declared that it welcomes all people into its congregations, regardless of sexual orientation. They said "Only a public statement can begin to overcome [the] perceived reality" that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals "are not welcome in [our] churches," This statement was challenged and taken to the Church's Judicial Council. The council decided to not rule on the matter.

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1997:

  • "Affirmation" is an unofficial caucus of United Methodists for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender Concerns. 1 After their meeting in Nashville TN from 1997-OCT-11 to 13, their National Council of Affirmation issued a statement directed at the Council of Bishops. 2 It asked the Council to request a ruling from the church's Judicial Council on the "meaning, application and constitutionality" of the church-wide ban on homosexual unions ceremonies. That ban was established by the General Conference in 1996-APR. The National Council also:
    • applauded the "leadership and courage" of Rev. Creech for openly testing the 1996 ban;
    • called on all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, to celebrate their continuing commitments at United Methodist churches on Valentine's Day, 1998;
    • encouraged individuals to join the Covenant Relationships Network (CORNET). This is a UMC group that supports gay and lesbian union rituals.
    • called on all churches to make their facilities available for covenant services;
    • defined the celebration of covenantal relationships to be an "essential form of pastoral support." They called on UMC clergy to offer "full pastoral ministries" to all members;
    • asked all United Methodists to "speak and act forthrightly with the Rev. Jimmy Creech against the present injustice".

  • The Edgehill United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN had decided to discontinue all marriage services in their chapel there until the denomination changes its policy on gay and lesbian services of union.

  • "In All Things Charity" is a new movement within the United Methodist Church formed by 15 pastors who are calling for an end to the United Methodist Church's discrimination in the areas of same-sex union services and in the area or ordination. 3 They issued a letter in 1997-JAN-1 called "In All Things Charity." Included were commitments to support within the denomination of: "appropriate liturgical covenantal commitments between same-gendered couples" and to "work and pray for the ordination of gay men and lesbians who are otherwise called to and qualified for ordinary ministry." One month later, 651 clergy from 48 states indicated their support.

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1998:

  • The Council of Bishops met in Lincoln Nebraska from 1998-APR-27 to MAY-1. It consists of 67 voting bishops (50 from the U.S.) and 60 retired bishops. The latter can debate but have no vote. They decided that Methodist ministers should follow the UMC Social Principles and not perform gay marriages. Council president, Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of the Philippines said that ministers who did this in the future could face prosecution in the same way as Jimmy Creech. "The same procedures available in our discipline will be followed..." 4,5 Bishop George Bashore of Pittsburgh, PA has become  the new president of the council. He said: "The intensity of this issue is greater than any I have seen in my 40 years of ministry. The potential for schism and hemorrhaging is greater now than at any time I have ever seen in the life of the church." Probably the previous ethical debate of similar in intensity to the present struggle over gay union ceremonies was a dispute in the late 1930's. That concerned the ordination of women

    The bishops issued unanimously adopted a pastoral statement on APR-30. It pledged to uphold the Book of Discipline, "including the statements on homosexuality and all specified issues contained in the Social Principles, including the prohibition of ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions by our ministers and in our churches." The bishops also affirmed their "pastoral responsibility to all peoples, including those who feel excluded from the church." 6

    The executive members of Good News praised with the statement but regretted that the bishops did not call a special session of the General Conference. They were also concerned that the statement did not condemn clergy who have recently declared their intent to perform same-sex covenants. "The growing number of pastors who are saying publicly that they will not be bound by General Conference action threatens the unity of our connection."

    Officers of the Confessing Movement had similar views in their statement released on MAY-4. "We are grateful that the Council of Bishops has recognized the pain inflicted upon the membership of the United Methodist Church as caused by the performing of a same-sex union...and the verdict which failed to find the pastor guilty for violation of the order and discipline of the church." They expressed concern that if the Judicial Council does not issue a clear decision concerning the homosexual issue. "We are fearful that there will be a radical hemorrhage of members leaving the denomination, and a significant loss in financial support for the general structures of our church." On MAY-6 release, Morris Floyd, a spokesperson for Affirmation and CORNET, said the pastoral statement "is another illustration of the problem of losing sight of Biblical commandments for justice and love...Despite its appropriate pastoral tone, the statement satisfied very few...It simply reiterated the administrative status quo." George D. McClain, executive director of The Methodist Federation for Social Action, commented that the bishops' statement "in no way diminishes the reality that the Creech verdict is a sign of the direction in which God is leading us...We are pleased that they acknowledged those excluded from the church - obviously, lesbians and gay men...Aware that the bishops themselves are deeply divided around issues of sexual identity, biblical interpretation and doctrinal emphases, we celebrate the bishops' commitment to prayerful study and dialogue about such issues, thus enabling them to model for the church how we can be a mutually supportive and forgiving family despite our differences."

    Rev. Gregory Dell of Chicago, spokesperson for "In All Things Charity," said that the bishops' statement preempts the Judicial Council's ruling, and changes "the historic nature of our church from a faith-motivated community to a doctrinal denomination. For that reason, it puts increased numbers of faith-motivated clergy at risk of ecclesiastical trial on all kinds of issues. It also leaves the church further divided and more adamant in its exclusion of many of its members."

  • "Good News," is a magazine for the evangelical wing of the United Methodist Church. They showed in its 1998-MAY issue a drawing of the Titanic sinking as a lifeboat pulls away from the disaster. The headline reads: "Will homosexuality sink United Methodism?''

  • California-Nevada UMC Conference: 18 out of 325 ministers asked to detach and form a separate conference for evangelicals. They said that they were "divided beyond reconciliation.'' The conference decided to take no action on this request at their 1998 meeting.

  • Confessing Movement: Many groups and individuals, including bishops and cabinets from Georgia and North Carolina and the conservative Confessing Movement are calling for a special church-wide General Conference as soon as possible. The next regularly scheduled meeting will be held in the year 2000. They are asking for a vote that would make the Social Principles binding on all pastors, or that would move the section concerning homosexual unions into the section that serves as a legal code. The Council of Bishops opposed a special conference. They said, "as we respond to the crisis in the world, especially among children and the impoverished...a special session might further distract us from our central mission."

  • The Progressive Religious Alliance, a Los Angeles group, perhaps inspired by Rev. Creech's trial, circulated a declaration concerning same-sex marriages. The deadline for declaration has passed We have added it to our web site for historical purposes.

  • Annual Conferences: During 1998, halfway between the 1996 and 2000 General Conferences, 39 annual UMC conferences passed a variety of resolutions related to homosexuality. These included a wide range of statements:
    • affirmations of the Book of Discipline and Social Principles.
    • requests to the Judicial Council to rule that Social Principles are binding to all pastors.
    • affirming the APR-30 pastoral letter.
    • calling on the 2000 General Conference to make an unambiguous prohibition of same-sex union ceremonies.
    • Reconciling groups accept members of all sexual orientations as full participants
    • Transforming groups support gays and lesbians who want to become heterosexual
    • Confessing groups support "Jesus Christ and the doctrinal position of the United Methodist Church" 7
    • Welcoming groups may accept or reject homosexuality, but accept all gays and lesbians as members

  • Readiness to conduct same-sex unions: An unidentified conservative UMC leader said that 240 UMC ministers had signed a statement confirming that they would conduct same-sex unions if asked. By 1999-JAN, this has grown to 360.

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1999:

  • Jimmy Creech: Rev. Creech performed another same-sex union ceremony. It was for two men at a church in chapel Hill NC on 1999-APR-24. Complaints have been filed with his bishop. The process starts again. 8 More information.

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This topic continues with groups' decisions from the year 2000 to 2005

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Affirmation (United Methodists for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender Concerns) is a support group within the denomination. See: http://www.umaffirm.org/
  2. "Affirmation leaders ask for judicial decision on ban against homosexual union ceremonies," United Methodist News Service, 1997-OCT-14, at: http://www.umc.org/
  3. In All Things Charity has a web page at: http://homepage.interaccess.com/
  4. "Methodist bishops issue statement against gay marriages," CNN Interactive, at: http://www.cnn.com/US/9805/01/lesbian.marriage.ap/
  5. Ann Rodgers-Melnick, "Schism over homosexuals feared," Toledo Blade, Toledo,OH, 1988-APR-30
  6. Thomas S. McAnally, "Bishops' statement draws guarded praise, criticism," United Methodist News Service, 1988-MAY-11. See: http://www.wfn.org/conferences/
  7. Linda Green, "Annual conference sessions address same-sex unions, children and poverty," UMC NewsDesk, 1998-JUL-7. See: http://www.wfn.org/conferences/
  8. "Methodist pastor in trouble again for same-sex ceremony," NewsRoom, 1999-MAY-27, at: http://www.newsroom.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2010-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson
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