United Methodist conferences petition denomination on behalf of LGBT rights

United Methodist conferences petition denomination on behalf of LGBT rights(RNS) An Upstate New York bishop has dismissed a 2013 complaint that accused a retired United Methodist pastor of breaking church law by officiating at several same-sex weddings, including his daughter’s.

Bishop Mark J. Webb’s May 26 decision to dismiss charges against the Rev. Steve Heiss eliminates a costly and controversial church trial, which in other cases has highlighted the denomination’s divisions over ministering to gays and lesbians.

The decision also points to growing momentum among U.S. Methodist bodies to change church law, which forbids the ordination of LGBT ministers and bars its pastors from officiating at same-sex weddings.

Late last month, members of the Upper New York Annual Conference approved eight resolutions calling for changes to the denomination’s guidebook, the Book of Discipline, regarding gays and lesbians. The resolutions will be presented to next year’s General Conference, the denomination’s highest legislative body.

Other Methodist conferences, or regional bodies, meeting across the country have taken similar votes:

  • Delegates at the Great Plains United Methodist Conference, which encompasses Kansas and Nebraska, approved a petition Saturday (June 13) calling on the denomination to allow gay marriage in the church and enable gay people to become ministers.
  • The Baltimore-Washington Conference voted on a resolution to remove from the Book of Discipline the sentence, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” It too will be sent to the General Conference.
  • The New York Annual Conference passed a resolution committing the conference to be “a place of safety, equality, and welcome for LGBTQI lay persons, clergy, candidates for ministry and their families.” The conference also passed a resolution to present a petition to the General Conference to remove from the Book of Discipline all language that would exclude LGB people from ministry in or with the church. New York’s late bishop, Martin D. McLee, in 2014 dropped a case against retired Yale Divinity School dean Thomas Ogletree, who had faced charges after officiating at the 2012 marriage of his son to another man.

Some conferences went in the opposite direction:

  • The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference — the same one that defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer after a contentious church trial — approved a resolution that urges the conference to demand clergy accountability to the Discipline’s “rules of our common covenant,” and to call upon clergy to challenge those rules only “through legitimate channels of holy conferencing, rather than breaking that covenant.” Last year, the denomination’s top court agreed to reinstate Schaefer’s ministerial credentials after an appeal.
  • The Alabama-West Florida Conference passed resolutions upholding the denomination’s rules on homosexuality.

Some expressed disappointment with the decision to dismiss the complaint against Heiss. John Lomperis, program director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said the decision shows the denomination’s lack of accountability.

“None of this changes the fact that the United Methodist Church affirms biblical standards for sexual self-control,” he said. “We expect our clergy to honor these boundaries God gave us for our own good.”

But on the whole, supporters of LGBT inclusion seemed to get a bigger boost.

Heiss, who retired last year as pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton, N.Y., in the Upper New York Conference, said he was not asked to stop performing gay marriages.

“I have four weddings scheduled this summer,” he said. “One is a gay couple. I’m not hiding anything.”

Supporters of LGBT rights scored another symbolic victory in Raleigh, N.C., when leaders of Fairmont United Methodist Church voted unanimously earlier this month to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, which is dedicated to the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Back in 1990, Fairmont expelled its pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Creech, for his work advocating on behalf of gays and lesbians. A church trial later defrocked him for presiding at the wedding of a lesbian couple at a Methodist church in Omaha, Neb.

Creech said he was delighted his old church had moved toward accepting LGBT people.

“It’s a marker of how history changes — how perceptions, attitudes and people’s comfort levels change over time,” said Creech, who lives in Raleigh. “It’s instructive and inspiring.”

YS/MG END GADOUA

Religion News Service

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Charles F. Jones
Guest
We, as Christians, should, as many of us do, love the so-called LGBT people as creatures of our God, but that certainly does NOT connote approval of their choice of lifestyles or their desire to join in holy matrimony. This part is anathema to those of us who consider the male – female bond the highest form of worship and obedience to God and to His teaching and direction as given by the writers of His word. As an afterthought, many of these calls for “marriage” are ideologically driven, promoted by the political – correctness movement, afraid someone will not… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Your use of the denigrating and sneering term “choice of lifestyles” is reprehensible. The rest of your post is incoherent rambling, attempts to tie unrelated issues together to link groups you don’t like. If you believe your position is informed out of faith, you are mistaken. If you don’t believe having a marriage or relationship with someone of the same sex is right, then, by all means, don’t have one, but your lack of respect for our LGBT Brothers and Sisters and willful expression of ignorance and bigotry are most unfortunate.

ryan
Guest

Petitions to GC are the way of the UMC. There have been similar petitions since the 1970s regarding issues of human sexuality. GC have consistently and patiently rejected any significant change to our position with regards to human sexuality. These conferences are well within their right to submit these petitions, but at the end of the day, they have very little if any chance of passing at GC. GC is increasingly more conservative theologically, and the voice of these conferences in the US decreasing in the size of their influence.

Tim
Guest

Nice try Ryan but some either do not understand the shift of Methodism toward the continent of Africa or choose to ignore it. The USA is having less influence at each GC. That is one reason why the GC has a difficult time acknowledging the membership shift to Africa. Liberals are having a more difficult time controlling the dialog, agenda and voting results. This may be their last/best chance. Their fall back plan – destroy the UMC than live within it. It’s their choice.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s what they said to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, etc.; even Jesus.

Sandy Wylie
Guest

Things are moving in the right direction. This has to happen.

Kevin
Guest

No they are not and no it doesn’t.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That’s not a persuasive argument.

Sandra Gerhardt
Guest

i saw no mention of the North Alabama Conference resolution that passed in early June regarding LGBTQ youth. Here is the link. Please publish it. Thanks!

http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2015/06/united_methodists_urge_familie.html#incart_email_mobile

DW
Guest

There is an entire post on it elsewhere on this site.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

thanks for mentioning that.

Kevin
Guest

Bishop Webb’s actions undermine the discipline and are clearly schismatic. No doubt he will be hailed as a prog hero.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

That depends upon how much people hate LGBTs. If they hate them enough to leave the church they are the one schisming. Of course the guy’s a hero – all fighters for justice are.

Great Plains in da House too, yo.

ryan
Guest

George,
I know we disagree upon this matter, and I am not here asking for us to agree. I know that you want to love and care for LGTBQ persons. I truly believe you desire what is best for them. But, could you consider that those who believe that homosexuality and/or the practice of homosexuality is a sin might actually love LGTBQ persons as well?

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
I’ll consider any proposition but this is a rather nasty rhetorical trick. Does an abusive spouse “love” his or her mate? Does a babysitter who sexually assaults a child “love” the child? Did the slaveowner, perhaps like the one portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie version of “Twelve Years A Slave,” who read the Bible to his slaves but also raped them and fathered children with them, murdered and whipped them, “love” them? Did the drunk driver who locked her car in a garage after hitting a homeless man and leaving him trapped stuck in the windshield slowly dying… Read more »
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