Northaven UMC takes historic vote to celebrate same-sex weddings

Photo Courtesy of Northaven UMC

Photo Courtesy of Northaven UMC

by Christy Thomas

“I cried in church today. I cried because something deep within me felt like my church is standing with me, taking risks for me. They told me that I wasn’t disposable.”

This statement was made by Cody McMahan, a member of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX. The Rev. Eric Folkerth has served as pastor there since 2001. On June 26, 2016, Northaven UMC voted by a margin of 98% to permit the celebration of all marriages, including same-sex marriages, at their church.

Rev. Mike House, a retired clergy from the North Texas Annual Conference, calls Northaven his home church, having placed his Charge Conference membership there. House “came out to himself” as a gay men in 1972 while a student a Perkins School of Theology. Ironically, that is the year that the restrictive language pertaining to “self-proclaimed” homosexuals entered the Book of Discipline.

House served multiple churches, both as Associate and as Senior Pastor, during his 40 years of service in the NTAC. He never married. He also never lived during that time as a “self-proclaimed” homosexual, and so worked within the law of the Discipline. As a matter of integrity and faithfulness to his own soul, he took early retirement–and the financial hit that came with it. He now works as a sales associate at a Dallas-area Barnes and Noble bookstore.

No staff or lay leadership would comment for this story. House, who stated clearly that he is not speaking officially for Northaven and holds no official position there, offered his description of the June 26 vote at the church. It came as a result of a two-year, lay-driven process. Every single person was asked to participate in the work of discernment. They took their time, examining carefully both their ministry setting and at the Constitution of The United Methodist Church.

As they studied, the members of the congregation became aware that the Constitution and the restrictions on full membership privileges, particularly the privilege of marriage for same-sex couples at their own church facility, were in conflict.

In the official resolution, they noted:

The Constitution of The United Methodist Church states that “The United Methodist Church is  a part  of  the  church  universal,  which  is  one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges  that  all  persons  are  of  sacred  worth. All  persons  without  regard  to race, color, national origin, status,  or  economic  condition,  shall  be  eligible  to attend  its  worship  services,  participate  in  its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring  the  Christian  faith,  become  professing  members  in  any  local  church  in  the  connection.  In  The United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition.” (Emphasis added.)

According to House, congregational leaders cautiously prepared the vote to ensure its legitimacy. Each member was mailed a numbered ballot. Only one ballot per number could be cast. No visitors or regular attendees who had not taken formal membership vows were permitted to vote.

Northaven-UMC-event-Jan25

The Northaven UMC congregation recently hosted an interfaith event. Photo courtesy of the North Texas Conference.

Northaven generally sees about 180 in worship on any given Sunday. On June 26, the numbers were in the mid-200’s. And the vote was decisive.

The e-newsletter sent to the congregation after the vote included this statement:

The decision by the Northaven congregation is in full alignment with the ministry of the church, its mission field, its commitment to social justice and inclusion, and to the core precepts of The United Methodist Church. The Northaven vote empowers the church to extend pastoral care to all of its members in the important area of marriage.

Northaven UMC is known in the Central Dallas area for its longstanding and effective ministry to the local gay and lesbian communities. The church lost a significant number of members after the 2012 General Conference. The direction of the 2016 General Conference, with all legislative proposals seeking to soften the restrictive language in the BOD being routinely defeated in the Legislative Committees, would probably have led to even greater membership losses. Instead, the congregation took this decisive step to clarify their willingness to ministry fully to those in their cultural context.

As House noted, this decision finally gives him and other gay and lesbian members in the community full membership. He sees this as a difference between being welcomed, which many churches do, and being a member with all the same rights and privileges.

Where actual marriages are concerned, the church newsletter also stated:

The celebration of marriage within a church community is for any couple an intensely personal and pastoral event. Decisions about marriage are appropriately made by a couple, with the benefit of consultation with their pastor or the clergy of their choice.  Northaven will fully respect the personal and pastoral nature of marriage ceremonies at Northaven.

 

Read a Personal Response by Mike House: Being Welcomed In Action, Not Just Words

 

I’m a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church, the place I finally discovered grace after a lifelong search. I love writing, gardening, reading, asking questions and making connections between political and religious practices.

My husband and I jointly claim eleven children (as he says, “mostly by mergers and acquisitions!”) and twelve grandchildren. In between our own travels, we love to have them and many others come and stay with us a bit. We see so much of the heavenly grace in the offering of earthly hospitality.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Marc
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Marc

Three men went for a job interview. The business man asked them “What is 2+2?” The scientist answered 4. The engineer answered 4. The accountant asked the business man, “What do you want it to be?” He got the job! The people asked, “What is marriage?” The historical orthodox Church answered the sacramental union of man and woman. The traditional Methodist and their Book of Discipline answered the sacramental union of man and woman. The progressive Methodist answered, “What do you want marriage to be?” And many progressive people answered, “Let us build a golden calf in our image according… Read more »

Richard F Hicks
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Richard F Hicks

At seminary I earned an A in Methodist Polity class. I missed the part about the local congregation being the deciding body regarding Methodist theology, Methodist history, and Methodist polity. I didn’t miss any of the classes and I read all the required texts including every word of The Discipline. Now the question will be whether or not the annual conference in question has read The Discipline. The frustrating part about this other incidents like this is that these anyone who takes the decision to be congregational and/or independent can make it up as they go along without penalty. I… Read more »

eric pone
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eric pone

Really? I remember taking that same class in Seminary and I clearly recall reading sermon after sermon of Wesley placing the ultimate power of the church at the local level. It was made his holiness movement so effective. Frankly, its missing today and that is what is hurting the church. Maybe we don’t need GC in its current form or the General Church. Less big org and more small org.

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

eric, you are Richard are talking apples and oranges. Current polity is big org, and Wesley was small org, but he did have central control and authority.

A point in which you and I might find lots of agreement is that each church should be able to choose. If any church or pastor does not wish to be “methodist” as defined by the BOD of the UMC they should be encouraged to go their own way… and with the title to their property happily in hand. (They will never choose or be forced to conform).

Scott
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Scott

And maybe we no longer need a United Methodist Church, if its churches are no longer going to take seriously scripture or church Discipline.

Curtiss Floyd
Guest

The punishment for adultery and homosexuality in Jesus’s time was stoning. Jesus didn’t condone the action of the accused, he didn’t condone the punishment either. What he did was to still call it what it was, and is, a sin. He admonished the sinner to “Go and sin no more”.

James Ballard
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Northaven UMC voting to take this action is nothing new. As a seminary student at Perkins School of Theology in 1994, I was taking a class on human sexuality. After the mandated reading of Bishop Spong on the subject of premarital sex. He argues for the “biblical acceptance?” of gay, lesbian, and premarital sex among youth and adults. Then we viewed gay, lesbian, and heterosexual pornography which, by the way, had very little to do with love. After writing a couple of papers defending my stance against Bishop Spong’s book and the professors ideas on the subject, then we were… Read more »

Licensed Local Pastor
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Licensed Local Pastor

So the split has already started and nothing will be done by any leadership in the UMC as the denomination descends into congregationalism. Every conference will do what they want, and the Bishops will stand by and do nothing.

Wes Andrews
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Wes Andrews

Not sure what the Bishop can do based on the BOD other than put the pastor up on charge and sanction the church in some way. The Bishop should be able to allow the congregation to leave the UMC with their property. They don’t want to be part of the UMC as defined by the BOD.

Wes Andrews

James Ballard
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Wes, this Bishop has been violently supporting the gay and lesbian inclusion for a long time. I was the recipient of his threats on the subject for years. This church has the full support of this Bishop.

Robert
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Robert

This decision by Northaven UMC is actually part of a much larger movement in the UMC, by both progressives and evangelicals, toward congregationalism. At Northaven the assertion of congregational rights is with regard to same-sex marriage. In other churches it is the rejection of UMC approved Sunday School materials, practices and preaching contrary to other aspects of the social principles creed, and most commonly rejection of the appointment system in favor of having the congregation choose its pastor. Whatever the eventual division of the UMC, and it seems certain, it will be into two essentially congregationalist polities in which bishops,… Read more »

Richard F Hicks
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Richard F Hicks

I also earned As in Methodist history and theology.

Kevin
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Kevin

I guess no one can file charges until they actually perform such a ceremony. Until then no rules have been broken.

Joseph
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Joseph

At the heart of all of this discussion is a very strong question. Do we follow the word of God, or do we follow the Book Of Discipline? In following the word of God, we follow our understanding of the biblical passages. We sit at the feet of scholars who tell us what passages mean, and we discover that passages (as understood when placed contextually and historically) mean very different things than how many have chosen to interpret them. Leviticus is full of rules that we no longer follow because we have a better hygiene and food handling process. Christ… Read more »

Marc
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Marc

The message of Christ is not the specific words or the absence thereof in the Scriptures, but his life and his very self. He is the Word. His life is his message. We see from his life that he was born into a Holy Family with Mary the woman and Joseph the adoptive father. This is the ideal. Then at the marriage of Cana we see Jesus’s relationship with his mother changing to woman. Then at the foot of the cross we have a marriage taking place. Jesus is the bridegroom and Mary is the bride and John the disciple… Read more »

Paul W.
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Paul W.

I have never heard or read anything similar to the marriage interpretation of John 19:26-27 that you stated here. Can you point to a commentary or other source that defends your interpretation? The standard Protestant interpretation is that Jesus was simply telling John to take care of his mother Mary. I think we need to be extremely careful to not base doctrine on speculative interpretations. There is ample Scriptural support for the marriage covenant being one man and one woman for life with all other sexual expression outside of this covenant failing into the category of sexual immorality. Speculative interpretations… Read more »

Marc
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Marc

Hello Paul! The doctrine of Christ as the new Adam and Mary as the new Eve is Scriptural. However, you are correct that it is not a standard Protestant interpretation, it is Catholic. Most Protestants give Mary little thought other than at Christmas. Bishop Fulton Sheen has done an excellent job describing this. “http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/2482473/posts” I only bring it up because so many arguing for LGBTQIAP rights (whatever the acronym is because Methodists keep adding more and more) find slippery ways to say, “Christ never even spoke a word about homosexuality” in order to justify their reasoning. These people look at… Read more »

Kevin
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Kevin

Candidates for ordination are asked a series of questions. Among them are;
Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
Will you preach and maintain them?
In the minds of our ordained leaders there is no conflict between the Discipline and Scripture unless they are falsely responding to these questions. That could never happen among men and women of integrity.

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