Bishop Sally Dyck of the UMC’s Northern Illinois Conference announced her support Jan. 10 for legislation to allow same-sex marriage in Illinois.
“While the United Methodist Church holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” she wrote to conference members, “it also holds the teaching and a long tradition (albeit a struggle every inch of the way) of civil rights. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue; it provides for all what is afforded to some.”
Bishop Dyck noted that she’s not able to perform such a ceremony, or allow clergy under her supervision to do so, because of restrictions in the UMC’s Book of Discipline, or law book.
“But just because I can’t provide the service of marriage to same-sex couples doesn’t mean that I should prevent people from being able to commit their lives to each other in the State of Illinois,” she said.
Bishop Dyck’s statement yielded quick reaction within the UMC.
“She and other bishops, pastors and lay persons in the United Methodist Church who today support marriage equality for same sex-couples are to be congratulated rather than condemned.” said the Rev. Gil Caldwell, a retired UM pastor and longtime civil rights advocate, now living in New Jersey. “Why do we in our denomination continue to believe that exclusion of some rather than inclusion of all is an appropriate response to the inclusive love we have seen in Jesus?”
The Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus within the UMC supporting gay rights, also praised Bishop Dyck.
“Reconciling Ministries Network applauds Bishop Dyck’s brave decision to support the rights of same-sex couples to get married,” said Randall Miller, interim executive director.
He added that the group wished she had also offered support for having same-sex marriage ceremonies in UM churches.
“We understand she’s trying in good faith to maintain her oaths to the United Methodist Book of Discipline,” Dr. Miller said. ”We’re encouraged by her recent statements and actions.”
Good News, an unofficial caucus within the UMC that supports the church’s position on homosexuality, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Bishop Dyck. The group’s statement said in part:
“We respect Bishop Dyck and have worked well with her in the past in relating to the Unity Task Force of the Council of Bishops which she led. However, we believe that for Bishop Dyck to advocate a minority position that is at odds with the stated position of the church fosters disunity and deepens the sense of disconnect felt by many United Methodist members. . . . We share Bishop Dyck’s commitment to ensure the protection of the civil rights of all persons. However, there are other ways to ensure the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons without redefining the bedrock institution of marriage. We see no reason why the church should allow a secular, anthropocentric, hyper-sexualized Western culture to tell us what marriage is, rather than looking to the Scriptures and, with real concern for the rights of all, maintaining what God has revealed.”
The UMC has, for four decades, had language in its Book of Discipline declaring that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Efforts to change that language, including at the 2012 General Conference, have all failed.
But many UM clergy have announced their support for same-sex unions, including more than 1,100 who signed pledges saying they would officiate at such ceremonies, despite church law prohibitions on that. Others in the church have urged the bishops to enforce the Book of Discipline against such clergy.
The Northern Illinois Conference petitioned the General Conference in 2011 to remove all discriminatory language about homosexuality from the Book of Discipline and to offer equal rights for all.
To date, nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.
Here is Bishop Dyck’s statement in full:
To the Clergy and Members of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.
January 10, 2013
Today the new General Assembly of the State of Illinois is expected to discuss and soon vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. It is expected that it will pass into law. I want to express my views on it and my support of it as law.
I believe in the institution of marriage as the source of emotional and legal stability and security for families and communities.
In May I will have been married for 37 years. I have many friends who are not presently married and have never married, but I believe most of them have wanted to find a lifelong relationship to which they are committed for spiritual, physical and emotional comfort and support.
And I have friends, acquaintances and former parishioners who have been in lifelong relationships with someone but have not been able to have their relationships recognized by the state or the church because they are in a same-sex relationship. In spite of all the same pressures and stresses that heterosexual couples face, they have managed to stay faithful and true to each other, providing stability and strength not only for their families but for their communities and churches.
Marriage also provides stability and security for me in a way that I usually take for granted, especially as both my husband and I grow older. We just assume that we can be with each other in the emergency room or that if, God forbid, something happens to the other that we will be provided for through our combined resources. After all, we’ve built those resources together over the last almost 37 years.
But same-sex couples can’t assume the same benefits, not even the benefit of being with each other should there be an emergency or in critical last moments to hold the other’s hand . . . No one should have to be getting permission to be by a loved one’s side at a time like that, but that is the reality for same-sex couples.
I believe in marriage because it also is the institution that best provides for the well-being of children. I believe that children need to have parents who have the emotional and legal benefits of marriage as well as parents who are active in their lives.
In addition to the benefits of marriage that I have described above, I also believe that the State of Illinois needs to be on the forefront (if #10 of 50 is the forefront) of providing for marriage equality in order to promote economic growth. People look for places to work and start businesses that will attract as many good workers, entrepreneurs and business people as possible and a marriage equality state can provide that added edge to the competitive economic market.
While the United Methodist Church holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, it also holds the teaching and a long tradition (albeit a struggle every inch of the way) of civil rights. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue; it provides for all what is afforded to some.
The marriage equality act in Illinois does not bind anyone who is licensed by the state to perform marriages to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple (as no one can bind us to perform a marriage for a heterosexual couple). In fact, even though I support this legislation, I can’t perform a same-sex marriage as a United Methodist clergy person and as the bishop I can’t give permission to any other clergy to do the same. But just because I can’t provide the service of marriage to same-sex couples doesn’t mean that I should prevent people from being able to commit their lives to each other in the State of Illinois.
Therefore, I believe it is to the benefit of our families, communities and the state of Illinois for the Marriage Equality Bill to become law in our state. Not all United Methodists will agree with my belief on marriage and they are entitled to their own belief. Because I believe in marriage, it’s my belief it will be a benefit for this law to pass.
Bishop Sally Dyck