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The pastor of my northern Virginia church spends little time behind the pulpit, preferring instead to pace back and forth between the front pews. “Are you alive in the Spirit?” he shouts, drawing scattered amens. The music is mostly traditional hymns with organ and choir, but the occasional acoustic guitar-wielding young woman will belt out a folk-tinged contemporary tune.
At one recent service, the minister called those in attendance forward for intercessory prayer by reciting James 5:14: “Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” More than half the congregation streamed forward, some clutching Bibles.
These weren’t Pentecostals or worshippers at nondenominational megachurches. They were Methodists. Methodism was for much of its history known for evangelism, fiery preaching, camp revivals and deep personal piety. As it has atrophied, so has mainline Protestantism.
Today, even lifelong spiritual descendants of John Wesley are hard pressed to explain what is distinctive about their church. United Methodism has experienced flagging membership for decades. Some who have left cite theological drift, a lack of focus and the replacement of Biblical orthodoxy with cultural faddishness and social-gospel liberalism.
To bring worshippers back to the fold, the United Methodist Church launched a $2 million television advertising campaign at the end of August. As TAS reported at the time, it’s open to question whether the message — “The Journey” — will do much to counter the denomination’s generic reputation. As David Holman wrote, the ads emphasize a welcoming church, but to discover “that the church is Christian would require independent investigation.”
Some Methodists are striving to make this fact plain. By some estimates, the United Methodist Church is home to at least 2.5 million evangelicals. This is larger than the total membership of many thriving conservative denominations. It also greater than the U.S. membership of the Episcopal Church, as well as that of the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ combined.
SINCE THE MID-1960S, THERE have been organized efforts to reassert theological orthodoxy and reclaim the church’s denominational heritage. In 1966, a Methodist ministerial student named Charles Keysor responded to the leftward drift at his seminary by publishing an article laying out the evangelical convictions shared by many of his coreligionists.
Keysor received over 200 letters in response, many of them from pastors leading Methodist churches. The favorable reaction moved him to help found Good News magazine, a publication for traditionalist Methodists. Good News was the beginning of many evangelical ministries in the church. Currently, the largest is the Confessing Movement, with over 630,000 members in 1,400 churches. The movement’s mission statement asserts, “Our purpose is to contend for the apostolic faith within the United Methodist Church and seek to reclaim and reaffirm the church’s faith in Wesleyan terms.”
In recent years, these ministries have achieved some results. At the church’s 2000 General Conference in Cleveland, United Methodists voted to affirm traditional teachings about the Trinity and Jesus Christ as Savior and to require evangelism in the curriculum for ordination. Despite protests, traditional teachings on homosexuality were overwhelmingly upheld. The church also voted to oppose partial-birth abortion and support voluntary prayer in public schools.
At the 2004 United Methodist General Conference in Pittsburgh, the church again reaffirmed its opposition to homosexuality and rejected same-sex unions. United Methodists became the first mainline denomination to back political action against same-sex marriage when delegates voted to support “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” While strong dissenting voices remain within the church (often amplified by the media), the majority votes for these traditionalist positions ranged from 60 percent to 80 percent.
Eighty-five percent voted that clergy must remain celibate while single and monogamous if married. Adultery, premarital sex, homosexual behavior and performing same-sex ceremonies were included as chargeable offenses that could result in a church trial.
THE TRADITIONALIST RESURGENCE IS partly due to improved evangelical organization and partly attributable to demographics. Sociologists Rodney Stark and Roger Finke reported in 2000 that United Methodist congregations with evangelical pastors have rising attendance and revenues.
Even shrinking evangelical-led congregations, they found, were declining at half the rate of churches with less orthodox pastors. Many of the large congregations with more than 1,000 members, by contrast, have orthodox leadership. The conferences in the South and Southeast with the highest proportion of evangelical pastors and conservative churches are even experiencing growth.
Another change has been the absorption of Methodists from outside the United States into the denomination. The non-U.S. membership now represents 30 percent of the church. As denominations ranging from Anglicans to Catholics have found, African Christians in particular tend to be orthodox in faith and morals. In the United Methodist Church, they have proven reliable allies to traditionalists at General Conference. Their proportion is scheduled to grow at the next conference in 2008.
Theological liberals still dominate the boards and agencies that speak for the church between conferences, as well as the seminaries that educate its pastors. Traditionalists are still defeated on many votes and sometimes feel they have been ignored by church officials even when they prevail.
It’s also possible that demographic shifts have produced not renewal but a role-reversal: conservatives will grow in influence as liberals increasingly act as dissenters, leaving the net result on church unity — and the clarity of Methodism’s message — unchanged.
But there is good reason to hope that United Methodists are indeed on a journey — one that will lead back to the faith of our fathers.
W. James Antle III is an assistant editor of the American Conservative.
In a potentially far-reaching verdict, the top court of the United Methodist Church ruled last week that individual pastors have the authority to choose who can be a member of the local church.
The rulings involved the Rev. Ed Johnson, the senior pastor of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church, who was placed on an involuntary leave by Virginia Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer for denying membership to an openly homosexual man.
Johnson allowed the man to attend worship services and take part in the church’s activities, but had not extended the rights to membership. The pastor was in the process of counseling the gay man before he was placed on the leave.
The two rulings overturned the Bishop’s decision and reinstated Johnson.
According to Mark Tooley, director of the Methodist Action in the Institute for Religion and Democracy, the rulings marked a victory for orthodoxy within the 8-million-member denomination.
“All of the decisions that the Judicial Council made upheld the church’s official standards on marriage and sex, and it gives the church a clearer direction now,” said Tooley.
The following is the full text of a Nov. 1 interview with Mark Tooley:
What are the implications of the ruling for local United Methodist churches? Will pastors now have the authority to turn away current members?
Well, it’s very unusual for a Methodist pastor to be reluctant at all to a church member, so I would not be overly concerned that many people will be turned away.
In this particular case, the Rev. Ed. Johnson would argue that the United Methodist standards say that the homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teachings.
Theoretically, a layperson can be charged with violating those standards, just as a pastor would, so someone could be immediately removed.
What about people who are divorced?
The church currently does not have any clear standards on divorce and it does not declare divorce to be incompatible with the Christian lifestyle. So the ruling would apply only to homosexual behavior.
Historically speaking, were pastors always allowed to deny membership?
Historically, at least in Methodism, pastors were not required to accept anybody. In Ed Johnson’s situation, he was counseling the homosexual man about church membership and he felt the man was moving in the right direction. However, the pastor did not feel the man was quite where he needed to be. That’s when the Bishop intervened and placed him on leave.
Doesn’t this ruling contradict the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” slogan of the Methodist church?
That motto is an advertising slogan, and it’s not an official doctrine. It has not been helpful in terms of the church keeping it members though. The UMC continues to lose 50 to 60 thousand people a year, and it is not an accurate portrayal of Christian doctrine. I don’t think any Christian has a completely open mind. So yes, this ruling does not seem to fit into what the advertising slogan says about the church, but overall, the ruling is positive.
Doesn’t the UMC advocate opening its doors to all people who wish to worship?
The pastor has the discretion over church membership. Anyone can attend the church. The homosexual man was active in the choir, and he had been attending the church for some months, but membership is something different. You don’t have to be a member to worship at the church, but you need to be a member to vote on the policies of the congregation.
Between Ed Johnson’s case and the case of Beth Stroud, the lesbian pastor who was again defrocked, which would you say has a bigger impact on the life of the church?
Ed Johnson’s is probably more significant in that it was an issue not addressed before. It was ground breaking for that reason.
Any last comments?
All of the decisions that the Judicial Council made upheld the church’s official standards on marriage and sex, and it gives the church a clearer direction now.
[comments by Kwing Hung: He is “Liberal” not “Moderate”]
WASHINGTON – In a potentially far-reaching verdict, the top court of the United Methodist Church ruled last week that individual pastors have the authority to choose who can be a member of the local church.
The rulings involved the Rev. Ed Johnson, the senior pastor of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church, who was placed on an involuntary leave by Virginia Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer for denying membership to an openly homosexual man.
Johnson allowed the man to attend worship services and take part in the church’s activities, but had not extended the rights to membership. The pastor was in the process of counseling the gay man before he was placed on the leave.
The two rulings overturned the Bishop’s decision and reinstated Johnson.
According to Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the denomination’s Board of Church and Society, the impact of the ruling stretches far beyond Johnson and his congregation.
“Given the present climate in the United Methodist Church, you would have to be blind to say this ruling has no impact,” Winkler said.
Winkler, whose board has tried unsuccessfully in the past to overturn the denomination’s current standards on homosexuality (the UMC considers the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible to the gospel and does not allow active homosexuals to serve as a minister), also said the ruling is biased in its singling out the sin of homosexuality.
“The United Methodist Church says two things are incompatible with Christian teachings: war and homosexuality. But I don’t hear anybody saying that people who started wars are ineligible,” said Winkler. “Nobody has said to President Bush that he is not allowed to be a Methodist because of the war.”
Rev. Johnson’s case was heard on Thursday, Oct. 27, and the rulings were handed down on Saturday.
The following is the full text of a Nov. 1 interview with Rev. Jim Winkler.
What are the implications of the two rulings?
I think the rulings are potentially very far reaching and disastrous for the United Methodist Church.
The way our denomination operates at present is that you don’t have to measure up to membership. Rather, it is through the grace of God that you qualify to be a member of the UMC – not by meeting the standards of the pastor in a local church. That’s an important distinction because really in this case, the pastor can exercise any standard he or she wishes.
For instance, if a pastor decides that blue-eyed people are not sincere, he or she can deny membership to them. It has the potential to set up each local church as a private club and it really turns the membership of the UMC completely upside down.
But doesn’t the decision apply because the UMC’s laws say the practice of homosexuality is a sin?
Those who profess Christ and who pledge to uphold the UMC with their services, givings, talents and time, and who pledge to do good and resist evil, are eligible to join the UMC. We have not disqualified people who are guilty of this or that sin.
We believe gambling is a menace to society, so if you go to Vegas, will you be kicked out of the church? We say war is incompatible to the teachings of Christ, but we have United Methodists who have started a war. Will they no longer be eligible for membership? There is also the instance of the rich man and the camel going through the eye of a needle. So where do you draw the line?
Frankly, I think it is purely a political ruling. The judicial division is similar to what is happening in the Supreme Court, and I think this is purely a simple abuse of power.
Some have said this ruling does not change anything in terms of the UMC’s disciplines and laws, and that it would not impact the local church.
Given the present climate in the United Methodist Church, you would have to be blind to say this ruling has no impact. Everyone is completely aware of what this decision is about. It is about denying membership to the gay and lesbian people in the United Methodist Church.
The Church has said for many years that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings, but the same discipline states that says we do not condone the practice also states that we will seek to live together in Christian communities. It says churches are not to reject nor condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. Therefore, the judicial council stands in complete opposition to the current disciplines.
As the head of the Global Board of Church and Society, what power – if any – do you have to change the ruling?
Zero. This is something that can only be dealt with by the General Conference.
What about the Council of Bishops?
They can ask, just as anybody can ask. But it won’t be settled until the General Conference.
So you believe the ruling does impact the local church?
Definitely. I think already there are United Methodists who have contacted their pastors to say they think someone is gay or lesbian, and that they should be removed from membership.
The United Methodist slogan is Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. What is the difference between opening the door to membership and opening the door to the church through attendance?
Membership is the formal process of joining a church and pledging that you will support and uphold the church. There is a distinction between that and just attending the worship services.
People may say gay and lesbian persons are not eligible for membership but they can always attend, but honestly, who would want to go to a church where they where they tell you that you are not going to be allowed to join fully?
The United Methodist Church says two things are incompatible with Christian teachings: war and homosexuality. But I don’t hear anybody saying that people who started wars are ineligible. Nobody has said to President Bush that he is not allowed to be a Methodist because of the war. No one has said that to Methodists who are serving in the military.
That’s why this is ridiculous. It clearly is.
There was another case that same day about the lesbian pastor, Elizabeth Stroud. Is the ruling on Ed Johnson more far reaching than that of Stroud?
Yes, it is. It has a far more reaching impact. If we don’t address what the Judicial Council has done, we will be heading down the wrong road – we will be on the road down to the take-over of our denomination similar to that of the Southern Baptist Convention 30 years ago.
[comments by Kwing Hung: Winkler misrepresented the position of the United Methodist Church. From the website of the church, it is clear that war is not defined as sin and that war will be accepted as the last resort which is what all Christians can subscribe to. Here are the official position of the church:
We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as a usual instrument of national foreign policy and insist that the first moral duty of all nations is to resolve by peaceful means every dispute that arises between or among them; that human values must outweigh military claims as governments determine their priorities; that the militarization of society must be challenged and stopped; that the manufacture, sale, and deployment of armaments must be reduced and controlled; and that the production, possession, or use of nuclear weapons be condemned. Consequently, we endorse general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.
Some of us believe that war, and other acts of violence, are never acceptable to Christians. We also acknowledge that most Christians regretfully realize that, when peaceful alternatives have failed, the force of arms may be preferable to unchecked aggression, tyranny and genocide.]
In a ruling that critics say will have “disastrous” implications, the top court of the United Methodist Church decided that individual ministers do have the power to decide who becomes a member of the local church.
The United Methodist Judicial Council, at its regular fall meeting in Houston, Texas, on Oct. 26-29, issued two decisions related to the case of Rev. Ed Johnson – a Virginia pastor who was placed on an involuntary leave of absence for refusing membership to an openly gay man.
In the first decision, the council dealt with the problems in how Johnson was disciplined.
In the second, more sweeping ruling, the Council found that the denomination’s Book of Discipline “invests discretion in the pastor-in-charge to make determination of a person’s readiness to affirm the vows of membership” and that pastors are not mandated to accept all persons into membership “regardless of their willingness to affirm membership vows.”
In both rulings, the Council sided with Johnson and immediately reinstated him to the status he held before he was placed on leave by Virginia bishop Charlene P. Kammerer.
Conservatives generally applauded the rulings, calling them victories for denominational orthodoxy.
“All of the decisions the judicial council made upheld the church’s official standards on marriage and sex and gave the church a clearer direction,” said Mark Tooley, director of the Methodist Action within the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy.
Liberals meanwhile scorned the decisions.
“The ruling handed down by the Judicial Council today is chilling in its implications,” said Kathryn Johnson, executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. “Should this ruling stand, there will be no limits as to who might be refused membership.”
Saturday’s rulings mark the latest developments in what has become the thorniest issue facing modern day Christianity. Conservative and liberal factions within the United Methodist Church, like in most mainline protestant denominations, have been battling over the various “biblical interpretations” of homosexuality – conservatives say homosexuality is a sin that can be forgiven through repentance; liberals call it a natural lifestyle that cannot be changed.
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors?
At the last UMC general assembly in 2004, delegates affirmed that the denomination condemns the homosexual lifestyle but accepts homosexual individuals as “persons of sacred worth” that should be welcomed into the church. The denomination’s motto, “open hearts, open minds, open doors,” also alludes to this inclusive philosophy.
The Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, one of nine council members, referenced this theme in her dissent.
“[The decision] compromises the historic understanding that the church is open to all,” she wrote. “Nothing in the Discipline gives pastors discretion to exclude persons presenting themselves for membership in the church.”
Council members Beth Capen and Jon R. Gray also filed their intent to write dissenting opinions to the decision.
[comments by Kwing Hung: so the vote is 6-3; dissenters include two women.]
According to Jim Winkler, General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the rulings are all about homosexuality and politics.
“Given the present climate in the United Methodist Church, everyone is completely aware of what this decision is about,” said Winkler, whose organization has tried unsuccessfully to change the denominational policies on homosexuality. “This decision is about denying membership to the gay and lesbian people in the UMC.”
However, according to Johnson, whose group has also attempted to change the denomination’s current policies, the issue “goes way beyond” the single topic of homosexuality.
“We are an organization that advocates for change in the disciplines around homosexuality,” said Johnson. “But that’s not the issue here. This is about changing the bedrock of our foundational tradition of opening membership to all.”
[comments by Kwing Hung: of course NOT!]
A Solid Decision
Judicial Council decisions are final, and can only be overturned at the denomination’s General Assembly – the highest legislative authority, which meets once every four years. In unusual cases, the Council may decide to change its writing.
Johnson said her group is urging the United Methodist Council of Bishops to appeal to the Judicial Council to reconsider its decision.
“My hope is that we won’t have a period of time where this ruling is implemented,” said Johnson. “If it is implemented, any local pastor can make the determination of who is not able to join the church, and that has never been our tradition.”
The Bishops, who are currently meeting at their semi-annual conference in North Carolina, are scheduled to release an official statement on the rulings soon.
Meanwhile, the Bishops’ spokesperson, Stephen Drachler, said he feels the rulings will not directly affect the local church in any immediate way.
“Everyone who is a member of the church remains a member of the church, and it doesn’t have a significant impact,” said Drachler. “It doesn’t change anything in the local church because local churches are still open to all those who profess their love in Jesus Christ.”
“It is very unusual for a Methodist pastor to be reluctant to any church member that wants to join, so I would not be overly concerned that many people will be turned away,” said Tooley.
The United Methodist Church’s highest court defrocked a lesbian minister, overturning a lower panel’s ruling that had reversed the penalty, and reinstated a pastor who was placed on involuntary leave for refusing to admit a homosexual person into membership, the church announced on Monday.
Elizabeth Stroud “was accorded all fair and due process rights” and the “regulation of the practice of homosexuality” does not violate the provisions of the denomination’s constitution, the ruling read.
Conservatives within the Methodist Church applauded the ruling and said it is proof that the denomination’s systems and processes are working correctly.
“We were pleased to see the Judicial Council action though we were not surprised,” said James V. Heidinger II, President of the conservative Good News United Methodist magazine and group. “I think the church’s processes have worked as they should have and so we are grateful.”
The decision by the nine-member Judicial Council finalizes Stroud’s case and marks the latest development over an issue that has divided some of the largest Christian denominations.
Stroud’s case began in early 2004 when she revealed during a sermon at the First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Penn., that she is living in a sexually active relationship with a female partner. She was stripped of her ministerial credentials in December 2004 by a lower court that found her guilty of violating the church’s Book of Discipline, which forbids the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Stroud appealed the ruling, and in April the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals reversed and set aside the verdict, nullifying the penalty on “technical” matters. The Judicial Council decision, which was made Saturday, upholds the initial lower court ruling.
According to Heidinger, the entire process was handled in a “compassionate and caring” manner.
“The church’s standards have been worked out with an effort to be compassionate with persons that were dealing with the issue of homosexuality,” said Heidinger. “We acknowledged that they are persons of sacred worth, but the focus is on the practice, and the church has said for two thousand years that the practice is incompatible with Christian teachings.”
Accordingly, in its decision, the Judicial Council included a paragraph acknowledging the sensitivities involved in the case.
“The Church continues to struggle with the issue of homosexuality,” the ruling stated. “While the Judicial Council must be faithful to its charge from the Church we are also sensitive to the hurt, pain and brokenness of the family of God.”
Meanwhile, in a separate ruling that same day, the Judicial Council reinstated a Virginia minister who refused church membership to a homosexual person, overturning a decision by a bishop who had placed the minister in an involuntary leave of absence.
“The decision of law of Bishop Charlene P. Kammerer is reversed,” the Council ruled. “This case is remanded to the Virginia Annual Conference to terminate forthwith the involuntary leave of absence of the Elder.”
The case involves the Rev. Edward Johnson of South Hill United Methodist Church, who had been on an involuntary yearlong leave since July 1, 2005.
The Judicial Council did not review the ethics of the Rev. Johnson’s actions, but instead nullified Bishop Kammerer’s decision on the basis that the bishop had “no authority to consider a judicial complaint.”
Heidinger said he believed the Judicial Council had done the right thing in considering the rights of the minister.
“We expected this ruling to happen as well,” said Heidinger. “In the case of Ed Johnson, the board of ministry put him on involuntary leave of absence and they removed him from the ministry as if he was guilty of that charge, but there was never a trial. So he was given a verdict, a judgment, a penalty without the right to a trial, which is due all pastors.
“We believe the judicial council has helped the church be just and righteous in its administration.”
Viewers of “The Congregation,” recently broadcast nationwide on PBS, were promised an unprecedented look into the life of a mainstream Protestant congregation. While the view was certainly unprecedented, the picture was hardly mainstream. When the issue of homosexuality unexpectedly entered the picture, this documentary exploded into a debate over the deepest issues of faith.
Several years ago, WETA, the Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Washington, D.C, commissioned Alan and Susan Raymond, producers of well known “cinema verite” documentaries to produce a film that would focus on the inner life and dynamic of an older Protestant congregation. Dalton Delan, WETA’s chief programming officer, explained that the station wanted a look within the life of a liberal congregation, not a church “on some new fringe, not a born-again church in a movie theater, not a snake-charming one.” Well, if they were looking for a liberal church, they certainly found one.
The producers settled on one of the nation’s oldest Methodist congregations, the First United Methodist Church of Germantown in suburban Philadelphia. The production team spent two years filming various events within the life of the congregation and included hours of interviews with church members, leaders, ministers, and others. The church certainly qualifies as liberal, having adopted “social justice” programs as a major theme years ago and identifying in recent times as a “reconciling” congregation that is committed to the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons in the church.
The church meets in a beautiful old stone building, but there is nothing conservative about the congregation itself. As the Raymonds explained, “Though outwardly very traditional in appearance, the church has actually been quite liberal in its theology and the causes it embraced. We thought that the contrast between the congregation’s liberal heritage against the backdrop of the historic and traditional setting would add a dramatic element.” The documentary, though painful to watch, certainly does not lack for drama.
The First United Methodist Church of Germantown [FUMCOG] was a deeply troubled congregation when the Raymonds and their documentary team arrived. A liberal pastor who had served the church for 37 years had recently retired, and he was followed by the Reverend Fred Day, whose style of leadership was less charismatic and whose leadership in worship was considered too conventional by many church members.
“The Congregation” focuses first on the excruciating level of conflict, described by church members as a “disconnect,” between the church and its pastor. The early parts of the documentary present a troubling picture of a pastor whose liberalism apparently leads him to tolerate even the most graphic dissent against his ministry, with no apparent defense of his leadership to be offered. The church members—priding themselves on being even more liberal than their pastor—make various complaints against the church’s minister. Nevertheless, the film never makes clear exactly what stands as the focal point of the controversy. Reverend Fred Day certainly seems nice enough—it is hard to see how he could be threatening to anyone. Even teenagers in the church felt free to hurl criticisms at their pastor. For the most part, the complaints came down to whining and vacuous emotional outbursts.
At the same time, the Raymonds clearly intended for the portrait of conflict within FUMCOG to represent larger trends in liberal Protestantism. As their press release explained, “‘The Congregation’ presents a microcosm of those mainline Protestant churches which have historically supported such causes as civil rights, racial and economic equality, anti-war movements and full inclusion of homosexuals. Churches like the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, itself a long-time standard bearer for such causes, are challenged by declining membership and by more conservative voices from both inside and outside of their denomination. This is a congregation that must persistently fight for both its liberal heritage and its financial stability.”
They are certainly not fighting for biblical fidelity and theological orthodoxy. This becomes painfully clear when the Raymonds got more than they bargained for, and the church’s associate pastor and youth minister declared from the pulpit that she is a practicing homosexual and effectively dared the denomination to defrock her.
The associate pastor, Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud was in the nation’s headlines just last December when a jury of United Methodist clergy convicted her of violating the church’s discipline, which forbids the participation of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in the ordained ministry.
The Raymonds went to FUMCOG looking for conflict, but they claim to have had no idea that one of the church’s ministers was about to come out of the closet.
The Raymonds are not strangers to controversy, as some of their previous projects have also landed them in the spotlight. But when Beth Stroud announced her homosexuality and challenged the church to either accept her homosexuality or remove her credentials, the Raymonds found themselves filming what would become a milestone event as the United Methodist Church deals with the issue of homosexuality.
As the documentary reveals, Beth Stroud had to admit that she had been dishonest in the process that led to her ordination. She would later explain that she had come to terms with her homosexuality as a student at Bryn Mawr College. Nevertheless, she went through the ordination process in the United Methodist Church knowing full well that the denomination’s official policy precluded self-avowed practicing homosexuals from the ministry. “I have not been fully honest or done full disclosure throughout the ordination process,” she acknowledged. “I was never really sure how I would handle a direct question about my sexual orientation in the ordination process. I figured if someone came out and said, ‘Are you a lesbian?,’ I was going to say ‘yes’ and that would be the end of the process.”
In her now famous “coming out” sermon, Stroud cloaked her declaration of homosexuality in the language of liberation and Christian enlightenment. “I want to take my experience of the risen Christ out of the locked room, out of the closet, and into the world where everyone can see it. I want to walk and the lights of Christ will be revealed in my life.”
That statement—and Beth Stroud’s defense throughout the process—indicates something of what passes for serious theological argument in what is left of liberal Protestantism. A vague but highly useful concept of liberation is really all that remains. Jesus is transformed into an agent of gay liberation and a declaration of homosexuality becomes an exercise in personal “authenticity.”
“I have realized that not telling the truth about myself has been holding me back in my faith,” Stroud asserted. “I have come to a place where my discipleship, my walk with Christ, required telling the whole truth and paying whatever price truthfulness requires.”
In the course of her sermon, Stroud identified her partner, with whom she had been living in a “covenant relationship” for the last two and a half years. “More than anyone in my life,” Stroud stated, “Kris embodies grace and love and discipleship for me.”
Stating her challenge to the church in boldest form, Beth Stroud declared: “Despite all of the rules and locked doors and prohibitions, here I am for this Sunday at least, and perhaps for many months to come, your openly lesbian, fully credentialed, United Methodist pastor.”
Interestingly, the web site for “The Congregation” includes an essay by Jamie Stroud, Beth’s mother, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Jamie Stroud is herself an advocate for the inclusion of homosexuals within the United Methodist Church. In her essay, she congratulated her daughter because “I know she is doing the right thing and I am amazed and proud of her way of handling the entire situation.” Jamie Stroud unleashed her fury on the United Methodist Church. In her words, “I feel betrayed by my church. I am deeply hurt by this denomination that raised me, that taught me Jesus’ and God’s love and acceptance of each of us as individuals, that taught me about unconditional love, that taught me to be accepting of all persons, and that now tells me that my beloved daughter is unacceptable as a minister?” She asserted that Beth “is much more qualified than many other pastors who are filling pulpits and taking no stands.”
Occasionally, the focus of the documentary returns to Fred Day, who appears at some points in the film as little more than a passive bystander. Nevertheless, this senior minister, considered by some church members to be too “conservative,” celebrated Beth Stroud’s coming out and employed the most unsettling references to Scripture in making his excitement clear. “This is like the verse in Luke that says, ‘Rejoice and be glad, for this one who was lost is found,’ this one who had to ‘hide out’ now can be completely and openly and honestly who God made them to be.” In other words, Fred Day argues that God made Beth Stroud to be a homosexual, and that her “coming out of the closet” is tantamount to what Jesus used as a metaphor for salvation.
Day’s statement about the lost sheep coming home completely reverses the logic of Jesus’ parable, but he was able to top that ludicrous statement with an even more over-the-top celebration of Stroud’s disclosure of homosexuality. “But it’s part and parcel the meaning of the Gospel,” Day declared. “It is Easter applied; the Gospel applied.”
The documentary concludes with Beth Stroud’s trial and conviction, and the failure of the reconciliation process that had been intended to establish peace between the church’s senior minister and the congregation. The documentary’s web site reveals that Day has asked not to be reassigned to the church in the coming year, and his term as pastor will end in early summer.
In the end, “The Congregation” succeeds in offering a unique perspective into the life of a very liberal, very troubled congregation. The film is painful to watch, but important to see. Throughout the entire project, no one seems to see any need to consult the Bible about the issues of controversy—certainly about the issue of homosexuality. The congregation of FUMCOG is clearly held together by a passionate commitment to liberal causes combined with an emotive and affective style of worship. In one sense, the film reveals to viewers everything they need to know to understand the paralyzing accommodationism that marks so many liberal denominations.
Conservatives within the United Methodist Church, organized into what is now known as the “Confessing Movement,” are seeking to call the denomination back to its biblical commitment and theological heritage. “The Congregation” offers a sobering reminder of just what these evangelicals are up against.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.
The United Methodist Church convenes its General Conference on April 27th in Pittsburgh.
What will happen there will be one more chapter in a long-running war between church liberals and conservatives. So far, it’s 30 years and counting.
The recent decision by a church jury in a Washington state controversy has heightened interest in the denomination and its inner conflicts.
On Valentine’s Day 2001, Rev. Karen Dammann, a United Methodist Church minister, sent a letter to her bishop, informing him that she was “living in a partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship,” raising a young son together with her partner.
Rev. Dammann was acquitted of the charges in March despite her openness in flouting the church’s policies. The decision came after a three day trial, with eleven jurors voting “not guilty” and two undecided, because it lacked “clear and convincing evidence” that she had been engaged in “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings.” Conviction, which would have required nine “guilty” votes, could have meant permanent removal from her ministerial position with the United Methodist Church or a lesser penalty.
The old saying that for every action there is an equal reaction held true in this case.
James D. Berkley, Issues Ministry Director for Presbyterians for Renewal in Bellvue, Washington had a commentary posted by Christianity Today claiming the United Methodist Church’s law was “mugged” by the jury and warning that members of other denominations should not get too smug because “[t]his kind of mob justice may be coming soon to a church near you.”
The Confessing Movement, a renewal organization that advocates traditional interpretations of Scripture, went so far as to call the decision an “indefensible and schismatic action.”
The issue of homosexuality has been tearing apart the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. No doubt the embrace of modernism by these two mainline Protestant churches over the last four decades had helped to dwindle their membership as many Christians seeking churches with more strongly held views joined non-denominational evangelical churches.
However, as in the Presbyterian and Episcopal denominations, there exists in the United Methodist Church, a contingent that would rather fight the trends of modernism within their church than switch to another church.
One of the leaders of the effort is Mark Tooley, executive director of United Methodist Action, a project of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, having been established to combat the left-wing influence within the denomination.
IRD’s president, Diane L. Knippers, asserts in a statement on the institute’s webpage: “In particular, the ‘mainline’ Protestant churches in our country have suffered shocking membership losses in recent decades. Once America’s premier churches, the mainliners are now only one-third of US church members. This decline shows that something is seriously wrong.”
IRD runs action projects similar to United Methodist Action that contend with the theological battles taking place within the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches.
In the view of Knippers and Tooley, the leading ailment of the mainline churches is the presence of ideological activists in key positions within the churches, including the United Methodists, who have diverted the church away from its traditional teachings.
Renewal movements within mainline Protestant Churches, including the United Methodists, have been formed to combat the drift toward theological liberalism. In a Christianity Today article on “Turning the Mainline Around,” Michael S. Hamilton and Jennifer McKinney wrote:
“[T]he renewal movements see liberalism as a deviation from — and denial of — their denominations’ traditional orthodox theologies. So, at their core, the renewal movements want their denominations to foreswear trendy theologies of the moment and realign themselves with the longer history of Christian orthodoxy. They all affirm the authority of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ, and the importance of returning to each denomination’s unique theological heritage.”
Tooley’s commitment to reforming and renewing the Methodist Church is driven by his family’s history of nearly 200 years of membership and his own loyalty to his local congregation.
“I still believe that our church’s history, its organizational structure, settled doctrine, and liturgy is something more stable and lasting than what a non-denominational church can offer,” he says.
No swashbuckler in temperament in the interview, Tooley admits that the non-denominational churches have captured the energy and dynamism of the moment as their congregations have increased over the last several decades. However, his own United Methodist Action project has helped to invigorate the effort to reform and renew the denomination.
A quarterly newsletter, UM Action Briefing, has a circulation of 315,000 and Tooley is quoted quite frequently in newspapers, and does talk radio interviews. The week the trial of Rev. Dammann started, he had provided interviews to Salem Radio News, Focus on the Family, American Family Radio. He’s also appeared on the nationally syndicated talk show, Janet Parshall’s America and his writing has been published in Good News Magazine, Human Events, Touchstone, The Wanderer, the New York Post, The Washington Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
UM Action recently worked to inform United Methodists about the left-leanings of Bishop Joseph Sprague of Chicago who had declared “Jesus was not born the Christ, rather by the confluence of grace with faith he became the Christ…His divinity was derived.” Now, UMC is fighting Sprague’s desire to serve as a UMC chaplain on Capitol Hill after he retires.
UM Action is not the only organization involved in the fight to renew United Methodism. It concentrates on the political dimension of the fight. The Good News movement is an evangelical caucus that concentrates on evangelical mobilization within the church. A Confessing Movement is working to reach out to theological students and ministers.
Tooley, discussing the current division within the church, asserts: “The main dividing line between conservatives and liberals is the issue of homosexuality.”
The key battle in the upcoming General Conference will be the fight over the church’s stated belief that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The vote at the 1996 General Conference in Denver was closer than others — the resolution passing by a 60% - 40% margin. At that conference, fifteen dissident bishops asserted their disagreement with the church’s ban on allowing practicing homosexuals to be ministers. Then-First Lady Hillary Clinton addressed the conference right before the debate over the key homosexual resolutions. She urged delegates to “Throw open the doors of our churches,” essentially repeating the slogan of the pro-homosexuality groups.
Four years later, the General Conference meeting in Cleveland was disrupted by the civil disobedience tactics employed by the pro-homosexual lobby “Soulforce” which led to the arrest of two bishops.
The margins, however, in favor on resolutions supporting traditional stances on homosexuality were more decisive.
Bishop Arthur Kulah of the Ivory Coast had explained the importance of the traditional view of marriage in a talk to the black clergy at the conference.
Raised by two mothers in a polygamous culture, Bishop Kulah recalled the influential message delivered by missionaries who explained that the Bible stipulates that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. Bishop Kulah made clear that the African church would never accept the jettisoning of the traditional interpretation of marriage.
The United Methodists officially are on record as favoring legalized abortion, with even church officials registering support for President Clinton’s veto of a ban of partial birth abortion. However, the Cleveland General Conference produced a resounding 70% vote in favor of a ban on partial birth abortion.
The decision by the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society to lend its name to the list of co-sponsors for the pro-abortion March for Women’s Lives that will take place on April 25th adds fuel to the fire. The march is sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood and its long A-Z list of co-sponsors include the Alliance for Justice and Young Democratic Socialists.
The IRD’s United Methodist page includes a copy of the resolution from the Texas Conference Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church protesting the national General Board’s decision. “It has come to our attention that this act of co-sponsoring the march was done by GBCS staff and without the knowledge or consent of the Board,” the letter states, noting that the Board voted down a resolution to the upcoming General Conference to remove the Partial Birth Abortion ban. “This is an extraordinary example of a staff going beyond their authority.”
Tooley has stated that he expects the issue of homosexuality to be a front-and-center issue within the United Methodist Church for perhaps as long as two more decades. Yet, he is optimistic about the Church’s ability to maintain its bearings despite events such as the Dammann decision that would strike many United Methodists as representing an ominous trend.
Reapportionment of the church conferences that send delegations to the General Conference will be weighted more accurately to reflect the United Methodist Church’s membership.
The UMC’s west coast voting strength will shrink, a change that is welcomed by the church’s more conservative factions, because the west coast is considered to be the most left-wing region, in the past exerting disproportionate influence, despite its comprising only 4% of the church’s membership.
The relatively liberal Northeast and North Central states have also seen their delegations diminished while the more conservative Southeast and South Central regions are gaining.
This trend was noted in a book, Acts of Faith, by Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, that Hamilton and McKinney, cite as having shown that “United Methodist congregations with evangelical pastors had rapidly rising attendance and expenditures. Although some congregations with evangelical pastors did decline, the rate was half that of congregations without evangelical pastors. The Methodist conferences with the largest proportion of evangelical pastors — those in the South and Southeast — have actually started growing.”
As important, the church’s international membership will have increased strength too, particularly delegations from Africa. In fact, Tooley contends that without the support of African delegates in the 1996 General Convention, the vote on homosexual resolutions would have been even closer. One delegate from Zaire said at the time: “We love them (homosexuals) but we want to say to them, ‘Go and do not sin anymore.’”
Tooley concedes that more work could be done establishing stronger links between the African and Philippine branches and leaders of the church since they tend to demonstrate greater faithfulness to the Scriptures. That has not happened yet despite the growth of the Internet.
Tooley predicted after the 2000 General Conference “[t]he United Methodist Church’s decisive reaffirmation of traditional sexual morality…signals a significant redirection not only for mainline Protestantism, but perhaps for American culture at large.”
Despite the recent decision regarding Rev. Dammann — something he wholeheartedly believes was absolutely wrong — Tooley is undeterred in his optimism, certainly when it comes to prospects for renewal of United Methodism and the overall culture.
What happened on the West Coast was to be expected. But as Tooley points out there are more Methodists in Georgia than the whole West Coast and they tend to be much more receptive to a church based on the principles of renewal. Furthermore, as he pointed out in a news release taking exception to the Dammann decision, the liberal church leaders who “emphasize tolerance and open doors” have been less able to win converts.
“Many years from now, people in the United Methodist Church will look back on the debate over homosexuality in the pulpit as they will over the debates over feminism and liberation theology — as passing phases that faded away,” he predicts.
The upcoming General Conference will doubtless be enlivened by debate following the wake of the Dammann decision. Clearly, there are some leaders of the renewal movement, emboldened by a belief that demography is destiny, that think they will ultimately be proven to be playing the winning hand in the church’s culture wars. Only time will tell who will emerge the winner and at what — if any — ultimate cost there is to be paid by the United Methodist Church and its various factions. As for now, like many institutions in our country, the culture wars within the United Methodist Church have no immediate end in sight.
Steve Lilienthal researches and writes on contemporary social and urban issues for the Free Congress Foundation.
Who sets policy for the United Methodist Church? Only the General Conference can speak officially for the United Methodist Church. Every four years, delegates at each conference revise the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. The Social Principles, in both books, are described as a “prayerful and thoughtful effort on the part of the General Conference to speak to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in United Methodist traditions.” The Book of Resolutions is not legally binding but serves as a guide for the church for reference, encouragement, study and support.
Controversy during the United Methodist Church’s 1997-2000 quadrennium swirled around a prohibition placed in the Social Principles by the 1996 General Conference. The Judicial Council ruled Aug. 11, 1998, that the following statement does have the force of church law: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” Clergy violating this prohibition can, according to the Judicial Council, be charged with violating the order and discipline of the church. They can be tried in a church court, and penalties upon conviction can include loss of ministerial credentials. The 2000 General Conference moved the statement from the Social Principles to a section of law and procedures dealing with ordained clergy, where it appears in a list of “unauthorized conduct.”
An outline of the church’s current statements on homosexuality appears below, followed immediately by a historical outline of the controversy within the denomination. Relevant proposals rejected by the 2000 General Conference are also summarized.
The positions of The United Methodist Church on matters related to homosexuality are found in several sections of the current 2000 Book of Discipline and 2000 Book of Resolutions.
1. Regarding inclusiveness
Underlying all other positions of the denomination is the constitutional principle of “Inclusiveness of the Church,” stated in Paragraph 4 of the Book of Discipline: “The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. Therefore all persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, to participate in its programs, and, when they take the appropriate vows, to be admitted into its membership in any local church in the connection.”
2. Regarding the practice of homosexuality
(Part of a larger statement on “Human Sexuality” appearing in “The Nurturing Community,” a section of the church’s Social Principles. Paragraph 161G. The 2000 General Conference added the sentence in boldface to this paragraph.)
“Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. All persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
3. Regarding equal rights
(Section H, Paragraph 162, of the Social Principles under “III. The Social Community.”)
“Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation — Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians. We also commit ourselves to social witness against the coercion and marginalization of former homosexuals.”
4. Regarding ordination
(From the Book of Discipline section dealing with the ordained ministry, Paragraph 304.3)
“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals* are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
*Footnote — “ ‘Self-avowed practicing homosexual’ is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.”
5. Regarding homosexual unions
As noted earlier, the sentence “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” was moved from the Social Principles section on marriage to a part of the Book of Discipline dealing with the behavior of ordained clergy.
While the sentence on same-sex unions was located in the Social Principles during the last quadrennium, it resulted in three clergy trials, a controversial investigation and a special session of the Judicial Council, the church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court.
The Rev. Jimmy Creech, a clergy member of the Nebraska Annual Conference, performed a union ceremony for two women at First United Methodist Church in Omaha Sept. 14, 1997. At the conclusion of a three-day church trial in Nebraska in March 1998, Creech was acquitted of violating the order and discipline of the church. He was again taken to trial in Nebraska in November 1999 after he performed a union ceremony for two men in North Carolina in April 1999. Between the trials, the church’s Judicial Council ruled Aug. 11, 1998, that the disciplinary sentence against same-sex unions is law and that clergy who violate the prohibition could be charged with disobeying the order and discipline of the church and could lose their ministerial credentials. That is what happened at Creech’s second trial. He is no longer a United Methodist clergyman.
Another United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Gregory Dell, a member of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, performed a union ceremony for two men Sept. 19, 1998, at Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago and was taken to trial March 25-26, 1999. There he was suspended from his ministerial duties. That suspension was lifted in summer 2000. Dell had been elected a delegate to the church’s 2000 General Conference from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference but was not seated because of the suspension.
Charges were filed against 69 United Methodist ministers who gathered Jan. 16, 1999, in a public building in Sacramento, Calif., to bless the union of two women. An investigation committee of the annual conference reviewed the charges and announced Feb. 11, 2000, that it would not place the clergy on trial and was dismissing the case. That decision, applauded by some and condemned by others, sparked a major debate across the church during the months before General Conference in Cleveland, May 2-12.
6. Regarding use of church money
(From the Book of Discipline section on “Administrative Order,” dealing with the responsibilities of the churchwide “Council on Finance and Administration,” Paragraph 806.9.)
“[The council] shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures.* This restriction shall not limit the church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic.”
* A footnote refers to Judicial Council Decision No. 491, which authorized the right of an annual conference to use funds to study homophobia, and No. 592, which gave the General Conference the right to create and fund a study of homosexuality.
7. Regarding homosexuals in the military
(A resolution passed by the 1996 General Conference. Found on Page 160 in the 2000 Book of Resolutions).
Homosexuals in the Military
“Basis: The United States of America, a nation built on equal rights, has denied the right of homosexuals to actively serve their country while being honest about who they are. Meanwhile, The United Methodist Church is moving toward accepting all people for who they are. The United Methodist Church needs to be an advocate for equal civil rights for all marginalized groups, including homosexuals.
“Conclusion: The U.S. military should not exclude persons from service solely on the basis of sexual orientation.”
* * *
History Of The Church’s Struggle With The Issue Of Homosexuality
(Note: Most of the following information is taken from a report to the 1992 General Conference from the Committee to Study Homosexuality.)
In the words of the 1988 General Conference, “the interpretation of homosexuality has proved to be particularly troubling to conscientious Christians of differing opinion.”
The first public debate on homosexuality began at the 1972 General Conference, four years after the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches united to form the United Methodist Church.
In 1972, a four-year committee that had studied the Social Principles recommended new language, which included:
“Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self. Further, we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured.”
In floor debate, the following phrase was added to the above: “...although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”
This paragraph was the beginning of what the study committee on homosexuality calls “a long and painful struggle ... which continues down to the present time.”
When the Social Principles of the denomination were revised by the 1972 General Conference, the first mention of homosexual unions was made: “We do not recommend marriage between two persons of the same sex.”
Efforts at the 1976 General Conference to rescind the official condemnation of homosexual practice failed. The 1972 position was retained. Delegates adopted three reports focusing on church funding. The first ordered “that no agency shall give United Methodist funds to any ‘gay’ organization or use any such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” The second mandated “the use of resources and funds by boards and agencies only in support of programs consistent with the Social Principles of the Church.” The third prohibited “funds for projects favoring homosexual practices.”
The 1976 delegates also revised the language in the Social Principles related to homosexual unions: “We do not recognize a relationship between two persons of the same sex as constituting marriage.”
Much of the debate at the 1980 conference centered on ordination questions. An unsuccessful effort was made to add the phrase “no self-avowed practicing homosexual therefore shall be ordained or appointed in The United Methodist Church.” The General Conference noted instead that “the United Methodist Church has moved away from prohibitions of specific acts, for such prohibitions can be endless. We affirm our trust in the covenant community and the process by which we ordain ministers.” A variety of other proposals on homosexuality also failed, leaving the 1972 and 1976 positions intact.
In 1980, specific reference to homosexual unions was removed from the Social Principles, but included was a statement that said, in part, “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant, which is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman.”
The 1984 General Conference made no changes in the Social Principles. Issues surrounding requirements for ordination again took center stage partly due to a 1983 Judicial Council ruling that the Book of Discipline did not prohibit the ordination or appointment of practicing homosexuals. After a long and complicated debate, the 1984 General Conference adopted, as a standard for ordained clergy, commitment to “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” and the following language on homosexuality: “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”
General Conference confronted issues related to homosexuality again in 1988 and 1992. Delegates at the 1992 conference voted to retain the church’s stand that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and left in place the ban on ordination, the prohibition of church funding to “promote the acceptance of homosexuality,” and the statement in the Social Principles. One change was made in the Social Principles statement by the 1988 Conference and retained in 1992: “...Although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching, we affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”
No General Conference has ever acted to withhold membership in the church from homosexuals.
The 1988 General Conference voiced a new recognition of the differing opinions on the issue in the church and of the basic good faith of United Methodists on all sides of the controversy. In a resolution establishing a study process for the 1988-1992 quadrennium, the delegates noted that “the interpretation of homosexuality has proved to be particularly troubling to conscientious Christians of differing opinion” and that “important biblical, theological, and scientific questions related to homosexuality remain in dispute among persons of good will.”
Delegates instructed the General Council on Ministries (with offices in Dayton, Ohio) to conduct a study of homosexuality and report to the 1992 General Conference). The committee was instructed to:
· conduct a study of homosexuality as a subject for theological and ethical analysis, noting where there is consensus among biblical scholars, theologians and ethicists, and where there is not;
· seek the best biological, psychological, and sociological information and opinion on the nature of homosexuality, noting points at which there is a consensus among informed scientists and where there is not; and
· explore the implications of its study for the Social Principles.
Following the 1988 General Conference, the General Council on Ministries named a 27-member committee to conduct the study, which was released late in 1991. The General Council on Ministries received the study committee’s 33-page report and took no action other than to forward it to the 1992 General Conference delegates.
Seventeen members of the committee voted to ask General Conference to remove from the Social Principles the language condemning homosexual practice and replace it with an acknowledgment that the church “has been unable to arrive at a common mind” on the issue. Four members agreed that the committee found no common mind on the issue but recommended that the language in the Social Principles be retained.
Delegates to the 1992 conference voted 710-238 to retain the church’s stand that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” They rejected the task force majority recommendation that the phrase be deleted because of the “lack of a common mind” in the church. The 75 percent majority opposing deletion of the words was about 5 percent lower than a similar vote in 1988. The bulk of the study committee’s report was recommended for study across the denomination during the 1993-96 quadrennium.
The 1996 General Conference added three significant points to the church’s position on homosexuality:
· a footnote defining “self-vowed practicing homosexual”;
· a declaration that ceremonies to celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by United Methodist clergy or in United Methodist churches; and
· a call for the U.S. military not to exclude persons from service “solely on the basis of sexual orientation.”
An attempt to replace the “incompatibility” clause with one acknowledging that United Methodists are “unable to arrive at a common mind” failed to pass by a 577-378 vote. Delegates approved a definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” as a footnote to the ordination reference. They rejected an effort to have “clear and convincing evidence” of the practice of homosexuality used as the basis for prohibiting ordination or appointment.
The 2000 General Conference added to the Social Principles a new statement: “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn their lesbian and gay members and friends.” The delegates also passed a resolution directing the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns to engage the church in a continued dialogue about homosexuality.
Delegates rejected a proposal that would have required all pastors to sign a statement professing that homosexuality is not God’s will. By a vote of 705-210, delegates declined to add to the church’s law book a stipulation that before pastors could be assigned to any church they had to sign a statement: “I do not believe that homosexuality is God’s perfect will for any person. I will not practice it. I will not promote it. I will not allow its promotion to be encouraged under my authority.”
They also declined to add language to the Book of Discipline that would have made the performance of a same-sex union a chargeable offense even in states where such a ceremony is legal. The denomination already has the official position that same-sex unions shall not be conducted by United Methodist ministers and shall not be held in United Methodist churches. Violating that rule could lead to charges against a minister, according to the denomination’s Judicial Council.
Over the years, caucuses representing different positions on the issue formed within the church. At the 2000 General Conference, an ecumenical group named Soulforce led demonstrations outside the hall, and 191 people were arrested on May 10 for blocking an exit outside the convention center. The next day, a protest was held on the conference floor following the vote to retain the church’s stance on homosexuality. Disruptions during that protest resulted in the arrest of 30 individuals, including two bishops. The indoor demonstration was organized by AMAR, a coalition of United Methodist groups supporting the full inclusion of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender individuals in the life of the church.
PITTSBURGH (UMNS) - Delegates to the United Methodist Church’s top legislative body voted to retain the denomination’s statement that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching.
On May 4, delegates voted to slightly alter the current language in the Social Principles.
They deleted the words “although we do not” from a sentence in Paragraph 161G that goes on to say “condone the practice of homosexuality…” The delegates approved a revision to the language, which now says, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” They also added a clause that United Methodists “will seek to live together in Christian community.”
An original motion from the Church and Society Committee stated, “We recognize that Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexual practice with Christian teaching.” But delegates approved a minority report that did not include that phrase. All legislation brought to General Conference is processed through committees such as Church and Society.
The Rev. Eddie Fox of Nashville, Tenn., said in a press conference after the 579-376 vote that if the church had not retained the language of Paragraph 161G of the Social Principles, that “serious consequences could have happened (and) a possible hemorrhage could have occurred.”
Fox said the church was in “desperate” need of a clear, authoritative, declaratory statement made with compassion. He spoke in the assembly in favor of the change.
Numerous delegates from Africa spoke against homosexuality and requested that the church move forward in proclaiming the gospel.
One said that in African culture, it is “taboo” to speak about sexuality. “We do not want to be drawn into the issue,” said Kasap ‘Owan Tshibang of the church’s North Katanga Area in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Muland Aying Kambol, a delegate from the southern Congo asked if it is “permissible to spend so much time speaking about sin.” If that is the vision of the church, he said, then “our church will surely die.”
Samuel Quire of Liberia stated that the church “cannot license people to go to hell.”
When asked if the approved statement was a response to the recent acquittal of a lesbian pastor, Fox replied that the delegate’s decision “is a response to all that has happened in society, in all churches, including that trial.” He spoke of the importance of a clear statement from the United Methodist Church because it is being watched by other denominations.
BOTHELL, Wash. — Despite efforts by dozens of protesters to block it, the United Methodist Church trial of an openly lesbian pastor got under way with one witness warning clergymen not to “replicate the crucifixion of Jesus.”
Dozens supporters of the Rev. Karen Dammann were arrested Wednesday in this Seattle suburb as they tried to block the start of the trial before a church panel that will determine whether she should continue her ministry.
Dammann, 47, is charged with “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible to Christian teachings.” Church law prohibits ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, although the church’s social principles support rights and liberties for homosexuals.
Dammann is on leave as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, 95 miles east of Seattle. Last week she married her partner of nine years, Meredith Savage, in Portland, Ore., where officials began allowing gay marriages earlier this month. The couple has a 5-year-old son.
Dammann has pleaded not guilty.
One of her first witnesses Wednesday was Mary Ann Tolbert, a professor of biblical studies at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., and executive director of its Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies.
Tolbert said the church is inconsistent in how it applies its Book of Discipline. At one time, for example, divorce was not allowed, but the church has since changed its stance, she said.
“It seems to me that, with all due respect, you are acting as a hypocrite,” she said.
Tolbert reminded the jurors that Jesus was killed because he disagreed with the religious norms of his time.
“We have to be very careful, you have to be very careful, that you don’t replicate the crucifixion of Jesus in what you do,” she said.
In an opening statement, Dammann’s church counsel, the Rev. Bob Ward, compared the struggle of gays and lesbians with the struggle that women and minorities had in gaining rights.
The difference, he said, is that “with gays and lesbians, they are encouraged to hide, as we have adopted a policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
“Karen has chosen not to live the lie,” Ward said.
But the Rev. James Finkbeiner, representing the church, called on the jury to find Dammann guilty of the charge of being a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. He told jurors that because Dammann disclosed her homosexuality to the bishop as well as to the entire church, that is all the proof needed to find her guilty.
“It is not the law of the church that is on trial here,” Finkbeiner said.
United Methodist officials have said the trial is the first against a homosexual pastor in the denomination since 1987, when the credentials of the Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire were revoked.
“Clearly the jury has to look at this prohibition and decide if it’s consistent with the rest of our Methodist rules and with the Bible,” Lindsay Thompson, Dammann’s private lawyer, said earlier.
Dammann has said she hopes her trial will help move society and the church toward greater acceptance of gay clergy.
“We accept the gift of sexuality as God-given and holy,” she said in defense papers released by Reconciling Ministries Network, a group favoring inclusion of gays and lesbians in the United Methodist Church.
Nine votes are needed for conviction, which would be followed by a decision by the same jury on a penalty that could include loss of ministry. If Dammann is acquitted, she would be considered in good standing and be available for new assignments.
About 100 people protested loudly Wednesday morning outside Bothell United Methodist Church, and many tried to block church officials from entering the building. Police arrested 33 when they refused to move.
United Methodists’ official stance against homosexuality was bolstered by two separate decisions at their quadrennial meeting in Pittsburgh.
In one vote, church liberals failed yesterday by a 527-423 vote among the delegates to pass a measure that would have acknowledged differing opinions among church members on homosexuality.
In the other, the church’s Judicial Council ruled on a 6-3 vote that a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” henceforth cannot be employed within the church nor be appointed to any position by a bishop.
Both votes pleased church conservatives, while giving some ground to pro-homosexual Methodists on the issue.
“I don’t know if we moved forward, but we’ve averted disaster,” said Mark Tooley, a conservative activist who directs the Methodist group UMAction for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Despite the delegates’ refusal to endorse the “differing stances” approach to homosexuality, a majority of the 1,000 delegates voted to endorse church unity and avoid schism, by adding to the Methodist Social Principles the phrase “we seek to live together in Christian community,” referring to all Methodists regardless of sexual practice.
Church conservatives argued that adding any language about their internal rift would send mixed signals about the church’s stand against homosexual relationships.
Meanwhile, the decision Saturday by the Judicial Council, which was released to delegates yesterday, left in limbo the case of the Rev. Karen Damman, a lesbian on staff in the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, who is awaiting a new job assignment.
Miss Damman, who lives with a partner and has a 5-year-old son, was acquitted in March of breaking church law in an ecclesiastical trial in Bothell, Wash. Many of the nation’s 8.3 million Methodists were amazed by the jury’s decision, as the denomination has consistently declared homosexual acts sinful.
In its weekend decision, the council ruled that homosexuality is incompatible with church teachings and that homosexual acts by its clergy are a “chargeable offense.”
However, the council also ruled yesterday that it has no authority to overturn the decision made by the Washington church jury and that its declaration would only apply to appointments made in the future.
Since Miss Damman has no current post, conservatives said the “no jurisdiction” ruling has no effect and hailed the Saturday decision as a victory, while a lawyer for Miss Damman told the Associated Press that she remains employable.
“I think she will not be appointable,” said Scott Field, legislative coordinator for a coalition of Methodist evangelicals. “It’s not a bell-ringer, but it was a good decision.”
But lawyer Lindsay Thompson said the council “bought our argument, which is you can’t do anything retroactive in a trial that is already decided.”
“This is a victory. I’m very pleased with it,” he said.
Mr. Tooley said conservatives didn’t get all they wanted, saying they “were hoping for new language in church law regarding enforcement in cases where local regions don’t want to enforce church law.”
A proposal on enforcement will be up for a vote before the conference ends Friday.
Local pastors gave mixed reviews to the vote against acknowledging different views of homosexuality.
“I think there is a possibility that our church could split over this,” said Connie Sterner, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Berlin , Md., adding, “there was a day when neither divorcees or women could not be ordained either.”
Other pastors thought the rulings were in keeping with biblical teachings.
“You cannot allow society to rule the church. Society has slipped over the years,” said the Rev. Larry Edmonds of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Springfield.
“I think there will be some people here that will be unhappy that the ruling was what it was,” he said. But personally, “I tend to play by the rules. If you cannot play by the rules, you should take your glove, and your ball and your bat, and go somewhere else.”
The Rev. Dean Snyder, pastor at the Foundry United Methodist Church in Northwest, where about a quarter of its 1,200-member congregation is homosexual, went to Pittsburgh on Monday to “observe and encourage delegates at the General Conference.”
Despite yesterday’s vote, he was still hopeful that delegates would “say this is an issue we do not agree on so that we — as a church, who welcome all people including gay and lesbians and are a loyally committed church — might still be affirmed.”
“It would be great if I could make a difference in this decision,” he said, adding that his church is faithful in paying their dues and actively sends missionaries overseas. “We are very loyal, it just happens we welcome gay and lesbians.”
Foundry United Methodist Church has welcomed homosexuals since 1992.
(KH: the fall of another church after the Episcopal Church!)
BOTHELL, Wash. — A lesbian Methodist pastor was acquitted Saturday in a church trial over her sexual orientation, and will be allowed to continue her ministry.
A jury of 13 pastors ruled in favor of the Rev. Karen Dammann, 47, who disclosed three years ago that she was in a homosexual relationship.
Church law prohibits the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals and the church’s Book of Discipline declares homosexuality to be “incompatible to Christian teachings.” But the church’s social principles support gay rights and liberties.
Dammann has been on leave as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Ellensburg, 95 miles east of Seattle. This month she married her partner of nine years, Meredith Savage, in Portland, Ore., where officials have been allowing gay marriages. They have a 5-year-old son.
The ruling means Dammann is in good standing with the church and available for new assignments.
The trial is the first against a homosexual Methodist pastor since 1987, when the credentials of the Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire were revoked.
Methodists Divided on Homosexuality Stand
PITTSBURGH — United Methodists hugged and wept as they overwhelmingly endorsed church unity Friday, a day after a rift over homosexuality broke wide open with an evangelical proposal to split the denomination.
Choking back emotions, delegates spoke in support of the unity resolution at the end of their national policy meeting, which is held once every four years. The measure passed 869-41, with eight abstentions.
“Our denomination was very clear today. We are going to continue as the United Methodist Church as we know it,” said the Rev. John Schol of West Chester, Pa., who organized a group to draft the resolution. “I think we’ll come back in four years a stronger denomination.”
On Thursday, the Rev. William Hinson, a prominent Methodist pastor and president of the conservative Confessing Movement, startled many General Conference participants by announcing he could no longer endure the dispute over homosexuality that has dragged on since 1972.
He said he had concluded that opposing sides in the debate could never reconcile their views on what the Bible says about gays, so they should divide up the church. The 8.3 million-member denomination is the third-largest in the country.
Hinson said he did not interpret Friday’s vote as a repudiation. Conservative leaders plan to spend the next four years building support among local congregations for a schism.
“I know unity is important, but someone said if you sacrifice truth on the altar of unity you lose both,” Hinson said.
Several hundred evangelical delegates, who had gathered for their daily breakfast strategy session, gave Hinson a standing ovation Friday when he rose to address them. Scott Field, legislative coordinator for a coalition of evangelicals, said they had been flooded with “thumbs-up e-mails and phone calls” in response to the pastor’s speech.
But even conservatives were divided over Hinson’s proposal.
The Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a leading evangelical and president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., believed there was still a chance to resolve the dispute over gay issues and more dialogue was needed.
“We shouldn’t put emphasis on separation but on talking together on what it is that’s keeping the United Methodist Church from being what we say we are,” Dunnam said.
The denomination’s Social Principles say that gay sex is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bans ordaining homosexuals. Delegates this week voted to affirm that stand and made conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies a chargeable offense for clergy under church law.
But conservatives contend that advocates for a broader role for gays will continue ordaining them and blessing their unions, in defiance of Methodist rules.
The debate over homosexuality has flared in many Protestant denominations. Conservatives in the Episcopal Church formed a breakaway network of congregations after that denomination consecrated its first openly gay bishop last year.
No Methodist split is imminent. Church law prevents congregations from walking away with Methodist property — and negotiating a breakup would take years.
The idea of splitting clearly disturbed many delegates as they wrapped up their 11-day assembly.
“In the course of our legislative committee and the course of debate on this floor, I’ve often found myself feeling that I was in a sea of distrust and drowning,” said the Rev. Stanley Copeland of Dallas, whose voice wavered as he praised the delegates who drafted the unity resolution. “In the last few minutes, what has happened here to me has been monumental for our church.”
The Rev. William McAlilly of Tupelo, Miss., who said he was among many moderates in the church, expressed hope that “those of us in the middle can contain those on both sides of the equation.”
The lesbian United Methodist clergywoman was convicted of ‘engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,’ in an open and shut case
The lesbian United Methodist clergywoman Beth Stroud was convicted of “engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings” in an open-and-shut case that lasted a mere two days, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2004.
The vote against Stroud was 12-1; only 9 were needed to convict. She was also found guilty of each of the four specifications related to the evidence on that charge.
During a press conference after the verdict, Stroud said she was not surprised of being found guilty because she did not “go into this trial expecting to win.”
“I went into it knowing that it would be a painful moment in the life of the United Methodist Church and in the life of this annual conference. But I believe that it is important for our church and for the annual conference to experience this pain together and to acknowledge this pain. I am hopeful that in time, and that through God’s spirit, that the United Methodist Church will change its Discipline,” said Stroud.
The Book of Discipline contains the denomination’s laws and polity, which prohibit the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”
During yesterday’s deliberations, Stroud had confessed that she and her lover, Chris Paige, “express our love for each other sexually with our bodies.”
When asked if she felt like a martyr, Stroud said “martyr” means witness, a person who stands for what they believe.
“God created me as a lesbian and God, knowing that about me, called me into the ministry,” said Stroud, who earlier today refused to plead guilty to the charges made against her.
Following the announcement of the guilty verdict, the trial reconvened to start the penalty phase.
The Rev. Thomas Hall, the main prosecutor for the church, told the jurors that “the only penalty possible” was to suspend Stroud’s ministerial credentials because the denomination’s highest court recently reaffirmed that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be appointed by any bishop. However, Hall stressed that he was not asking for the expulsion or suspension of Stroud from the church, since she would be allowed to serve as a layperson to the denomination.
On the defense side, the Rev. J. Dennis Williams urged jurors to be “creative” in crafting a lesser penalty that will allow her to remain ordained.
“You can fix a lesser penalty,” said Williams, who added that “Beth Stroud is a woman used by God to build bridges of care across canyons of despair.”
Bishop Joseph Yeakel, the presiding officer, told the jurors that seven of the 13 members need to agree on a particular penalty in order for it to take immediately.
Meanwhile, James V. Heidinger II, the president of Good News Magazine – a renewal group within the UMC – said he was not surprised by the verdict.
“This is the verdict that we expected. This case was basically an open and shut case in our view,” said Heidinger. “She was in a relationship with another woman and the standards of the church prohibit that. It seemed to us that there was no real question about the case.”
Heidinger, who explained that “none of us wishes or holds ill will toward Stroud,” said he expects Stroud to lose her credentials, as accorded by the denomination’s Book of Discipline.
“In light of being in this relationship, the United Methodist Book of Discipline says no self avowed practicing homosexual may be ordained or appointed in the church. So it seems clear that she cannot be appointed to a church. I’m not sure if she ought to remain as an ordained elder, and it would seem that her credentials should be removed,” said Heidinger.
Reflecting back on the controversial verdict of a similar trial in March where a open and active lesbian pastor was acquitted of the same charges as Stroud, Heidinger said he was thankful that in the latter case, there were jurors who ruled according to the evidence presented.
“I think that we had jurors who listened to the evidence and then responded and ruled according to the evidence presented. I think the evidence was clear: she acknowledged publicly that she was in this relationship. That is why early in the trial, the counsel suggested they go immediately to the penalty phase. Why go on, there is nothing to determine, she is in this relationship. But this court upheld the book of discipline strongly and we welcome that,” explained Heidinger.
Stroud’s case is the third lesbian clergy trial in the 8.3-million member United Methodist Church. In the first of such cases, the Rev. rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire was found guilty and was defrocked in 1987. The second case was that of Rev. Karen Dammann whose acquittal sparked a firestorm of controversy within the denomination.
The new United Methodist 2004 Book of Discipline and the 2004 Book of Resolutions just came out, and as United Methodist News Service points out, they’re just in time for Christmas.
These two books are the denomination’s rulebook, and they’re revised every four years. The 2000 Book of Discipline provided the denominational foundation for the recent Beth Shroud trial, a lesbian pastor who was found guilty of “being a self-avowed practicing homosexual” leading her to step down from ministering. The 2000 Book of Discipline explicitly forbids it.
Last spring the General Conference met and discussed the content of both books. The Book of Discipline contains the church’s law, Constitution, and other polity. The Book of Resolutions has all of the Denomination’s current statements on social issues. Both books also include the church’s Social Principles, according to UMNS.
“The work on the Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions is a big project for the United Methodist Publishing House every four years,” Olson said, and after several months of hard work by the Publishing House, finally the copies started arriving in November. “Actually, it’s several big projects.”
The Book of Discipline holds a wealth of membership information and are meant to help the many leaders of congregations with information on “district superintendents, pastors, church libraries, conference leaders, leaders of staff parish committees and administrative councils, general agency staff and seminarians.”
[Kwing Hung: This article is included here in relation to the next article.]
Poll results and conservative leaders agreed that the key factors that determined the result of the election were morality and faith.
Morality was the key factor in determining the race, or so it seems by the exit polls released by several sources. As predicted by evangelical leaders in the past 7 months of the contentious battle for the White House, morality issues such as gay “marriages,” abortion “rights” and gun ownership brought the otherwise immobile conservative voters out to the polls, allowing President Bush to gain four more years, expanding the Republican Party’s advantage in Congress, and approving amendments in 11 states to protect traditional marriage.
While the war on Iraq, terrorism and economy were key issues in the 2004 election, the single top issue cited by voters was “moral values.” According to CNN’s analysis of the exit data, morality was cited as the number one concern by 22 percent of voters; four fifths of those voters chose the Bush camp. The data correlates with the high support received by President Bush from Protestants who go to church weekly – seventy percent of the cohort voted for Bush. According to an MSNBC poll, 78 percent of “white, evangelical born again Christians” voted for Bush and 96 percent of “white religious conservatives” gave Bush their votes.
“Despite the conventional political wisdom that moral concerns are a drag on a political ticket, it was values that energized voters,” said James Kennedy, president of the Florida-based Coral Ridge Ministries.
“The faith factor was the difference in this election,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Even The New York Times acknowledged that the faith factor was determinative.”
“Not only did more than three-fourths of evangelicals vote for Bush, but “a whole lot more of them voted” than in 2000,” continued Land. “[Ohio Secretary of State] Ken Blackwell estimated that 25 percent of Bush’s raw vote in Ohio came from white evangelicals.”
“Because people of faith voted their values, their beliefs and their convictions, we have for the first time since 1988 a president who won a majority of the popular vote,” said Land. “Bush is the first war-time president in modern history to not only win but to increase his majority in the House and the Senate.”
The former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer agreed, calling it the “year of the values voter.”
“The upsets in the Senate and House races and the 11 marriage amendments showed that no matter where you lived, people came out to support the kind of values that founded and built this great nation,” Bauer, president of American Values, said in a written statement.
“For too long, liberal political pundits have been telling us that issues like marriage and life divide us as a people,” Bauer said. “But it’s clear that while those issues may be controversial, they are not divisive because people reach across such boundaries as party, economic status and ethnic group to join together to support and protect the American family.”
“People reach across such boundaries as party, economic status and ethnic group to join together to support and protect the American family. This is the year of the ‘values voter,’” said Bauer.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council also lauded the victory by giving credit to the “values voters.”
“Values voters have ushered President George W. Bush down the aisle for a second term. What does this mean? It means that if the president stays true to his word, the next four years will be defining ones for family issues, including marriage, life and taxes,” said Perkins.
“Clearly, the supporters of traditional marriage helped President Bush down the aisle to a second term,” Perkins said. “The next four years are a prime opportunity to focus further on issues important to our constituents and to the cultural health of this great country.”
Focus on the Family founder and president Dr. James Dobson agreed.
“This election is a resounding victory in the battle for American families. We applaud the re-election of President Bush, who has shown himself a true champion for the family and of traditional values. Those who care deeply about the moral issues facing this nation have cause to be encouraged by the prospect of the Bush administration promoting policies supportive of these values throughout his second term,” said Dobson.
“We further celebrate the overwhelming successes of pro-family candidates in other races, and in the 11 states that passed amendments to their constitutions protecting traditional marriage. The victorious difference was made by ‘values voters,’ who have sent the clear message that morality in America is alive and well,” said Dobson.
Dobson, Perkins and Land were involved in a nationwide campaign entitled the “ivotevalues” initiative to get evangelical voters out to the polls. The campaign, seemingly successfully, set out throughout the summer to add more than 1 million evangelicals to the voter rolls.
“I want to take a moment to thank all the Southern Baptists and others who supported the iVoteValues campaign and who voted their values, beliefs and convictions and who encouraged others to vote their values, beliefs and convictions,” Land said following Bush’s victory.
Dobson meanwhile also participated in the election by holding rallies in three states with tight Senate races. One of the largest victories for the senate was the defeat of minority leader Tom Daschle; Daschle’s defeat marked the first time since 1952 that a senator serving in his party leadership was ousted. Other notable victories for republicans were David Vitter’s win in Louisiana – the first time the state had elected a Republican senator since the Reconstruction – and the North Carolina seat lost by vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
Dobson celebrated the victories, saying: “With Minority Leader Tom Daschle being ousted by the voters of South Dakota, a major obstacle in the path of prudent judicial nominees and sensible legislation has been removed.”
Carrie Gordon Earll, senior policy analyst for Focus on the Family Action, explained the implications of “Dumping Daschle.”
“Dumping Daschle — which has been the theme of his opponents in South Dakota — is going to have a major impact on the Senate,” said Earll. “[It will have an impact] on marriage, hopefully on human cloning. Daschle almost single-handedly blocked a vote on human cloning a couple of years.”
To date, with only one race still outstanding the Republican party’s Senate majority grew from 51 to 55. House Republicans were guaranteed at least a two-seat gain to 231 with three races still undecided in the 435-member chamber.
Meanwhile, President Bush acknowledged the strength of prayers, during his brief acceptance speech.
“I want to thank the thousands of our supporters across our country,” he said. “I want to thank you for your hugs on the rope lines. I want to thank you for your prayers on the rope lines. I want to thank you for your kind words on the rope lines. I want to thank you for everything you did to make the calls and to put up the signs, to talk to your neighbors and to get out the vote. And because you did the incredible work, we are celebrating today.
Said Bush: “There’s an old saying, ‘Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.’ In four historic years, America has been given great tasks, and faced them with strength and courage. Our people have restored the vigor of this economy and shown resolve and patience in a new kind of war. Our military has brought justice to the enemy, and honor to America. Our nation has defended itself and served the freedom of all mankind. I’m proud to lead such an amazing country, and I’m proud to lead it forward.”
Moderate and liberal United Methodist leaders said the role of clergy in determining the 2004 election was “overrated.”
The re-election of President Bush has been heralded as a victory for Christian “values voters” through and through – numerous Christian groups even listed it as one of the top three events that occurred in the past year. However, according to more moderate and liberal Christians, the role of the church was not as impacting as some have claimed.
“I think the role of clergy is often overstated,” said James Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “Secular people like to think of religious voters as naive, unthinking automatons who are specifically instructed by their pastors on what candidates to vote for. For the most part, though, voters don’t need specific political direction from clergy to find the candidates who most closely align with their values.”
Rev. Steve Ross, pastor of the McMinnville United Methodist Church, said to the United Methodist News Service (UMNS) that those outside the church may have been “driven further away” by what some perceive to be a “very triumphalistic attitude among the conservative right.”
“When people talk about taking this country back, that sets this type of person off,” Ross said. “To them, they’re being told they’re unholy or ungodly and to go away.”
According to Ross, religion was not a main factor in determining the outcome of the election, but religion did come into the spotlight after the media frenzy that followed the election.
“In my part of the country, 80 percent of the people are unchurched,” he said. “They consider themselves spiritual, but they’re highly individualistic and, at the same time, interested. They might wonder what religion has to offer, if it obviously can get people together to accomplish something.”
[Kwing Hung: Typical discounting and underestimating the influence of religion by liberals. But this time, even the liberal press admits to the influence of morality. The liberals are taking over the New Service of the church, like the Anglicans, like the communists.]
Exit polls have consistently shown a strong correlation between the religiosity of a person and their political affiliation – the more religious and protestant you are, the more likely you are to vote for President Bush. These same mostly Republican voters were also found to be more pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.
Wilson noted that the last two presidential campaigns “have set a patter that will endure for the foreseeable future.”
“The issues at the core of the values debate - abortion, gay marriage, religion in schools - are not going to go away any time soon,” Wilson added.
Wilson also said, however, that the clergy’s role should be limited to rallying support for civic duty – not making the decision on behalf of the congregation.
Clergy’s role is best limited to presenting voting in the historical context and limiting personal admonitions, he added, according to UMNSA.
“Clergy may play a role in helping to emphasize the moral dimension of politics,” he said, “but that is usually the extent of it.”
PUGHTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A jury made up of United Methodist Church clergy convicted a lesbian minister Thursday of violating church law by openly living with her partner in a committed relationship.
The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud could be defrocked as a result of the ruling, which came on the second day of her church trial. The same 13-member jury was set to meet Thursday afternoon to decide her penalty.
Methodist law bars “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ministry. Nine votes were necessary for a conviction and the jury voted 12-1 to find Stroud guilty.
The last time the 8.3 million-member denomination convicted an openly gay cleric was in 1987, when a New Hampshire church court defrocked the Rev. Rose Mary Denman.
Last March, a Methodist court in Washington state acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann, who lives with a same-sex partner, citing an ambiguity in church law that the Methodist supreme court has since eliminated.
Before the jury returned, Stroud, 34, told reporters that whatever the verdict, “this case has shown how divided we are” over the role of gays in the church. She had expected to be convicted.
Stroud, associate pastor at Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown, set the case in motion last year when she announced to her bishop and congregation that she was living in a committed relationship with her partner, Chris Paige.
At her trial, Stroud’s defense was dealt a blow when the presiding judge Joseph Yeakel, the retired bishop of Washington, D.C., excluded expert testimony from six defense witnesses who believe the church’s gay clergy ban violates its own legal principles.
The senior pastor of Stroud’s church, the Rev. Alfred Day III, attempted to raise a similar issue when he took the stand, saying “I believe that even the testimony of Scripture is far from clear on this subject.”
“We have more muddle than clarity,” he said. But the prosecuting attorney, the Rev. Thomas Hall of Exton, Pa., asked Yeakel to strike Day’s statement and the judge instructed the jury that “constitutional issues are not before this court.”
Stroud’s defense counsel, the Rev. J. Dennis Williams, said in closing arguments that “the heart of the issue is whether all United Methodists, regardless of status, are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.”
“I only wish you could hear the full testimony we wished to present,” Williams said.
But Hall told jurors they had a duty to “hold a good pastor accountable to the standard with which we all live” under the Methodist Book of Discipline.
The basic facts in the case were never in dispute, since Stroud had declared she was gay.
The only two defense witnesses to be called were Day and the senior pastor who supervised her in Westchester, Pa. Both lavishly praised her performance in preaching, teaching and pastoral work. Hall agreed with that assessment.
Stroud’s supportive Philadelphia congregation has already agreed that she can continue doing her work as a lay employee without clergy status. However, she will be unable to celebrate baptism or Communion.
The famed United Methodist ex-clergywoman who lost her credentials for violating church laws prohibiting the ordination of active homosexuals will appeal her case to the church court on April 28, 2005.
According to a Feb. 16 announcment by the United Methodist News Service, Beth Stroud, the third lesbian minister who faced trial in the denomination’s history, will be at the Sharaton International Hotel on the grounds of Baltimore-Washington Airport for the three hour hearing beginning 9a.m.
During Stroud’s Dec. 2 trial, her attorneys argued that asside from being actively lesbian she has all the credentials needed to serve as a United Methodist pastor. However, the judge refused to hear such arguments since the point of debate was on whether Stroud violated the denomination’s prohibition of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in the ordained ministry.
The Northeastern Jurisdiction, which oversaw the December trial, will also hear the appeal; the jurisdiction’s committee on appeals will meet in private on Apirl 27 to consider questions for the hearing, according to UMNS.
The Rev. William “Scott” Campbell, committee chairman and pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass, said committee members already will have received briefs from Stroud and the conference as well as transcripts of the trial.
Campbell also said Stroud requested the hearing to be open to the public and that the committee’s decision will be announced on site.
According to the United Methodist Book of Discipline, Paragraph 2715.7, “the appellate body shall determine two questions only: (a) Does the weight of the evidence sustain the charge or charges? (b) Were there such errors of church law as to vitiate the verdict and/or the penalty?”
“There will be an opportunity for each party to present its case orally,” Campbell said.
Substitutions have been made for two of the standing members of the appeals committee because those who come from the same episcopal area as Stroud – which includes the Eastern Pennsylvania and the Peninsula-Delaware conferences – are not eligible to participate in the hearing, according to UMNS.
The committee’s clergy members hearing the appeal will be Campbell; the Rev. LaGretta Bjorn of Spring Valley, N.Y.; the Rev. Ronald McCauley of Buckhannon, W.Va.; and the Rev. John Topolewski of Owego, N.Y. Lay members will be Joy Wilcox of Etters, Pa., diaconal minister; Dale Dobbs of McVeytown, Pa., full-time local pastor; Julius Archibald of Plattsburgh, N.Y.; Sharon Bassett of Cicero, N.Y.; and N. Sharon Leatherman of Williamsport, Md.
The weeklong General Board meeting of the Church of the Nazarene closed on March 2, 2005, with two “statements of concern” and an annual report on the denomination’s spiritual and financial progress. All three statements were presented to the General Board, which consisted of 42 international Nazarene leaders, by the Church of the Nazarene’s six-member Board of General Superintendents.
In the first statement of concern, the board members affirmed that the “biblical concept of marriage” is “always between one man and one woman.”
“The Church of the Nazarene believes that every man or woman should be treated with dignity, grace, and holy love, whatever their sexual orientation,” the statement read. “However, we continue to firmly hold the position that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful and is contrary to the Scriptures.”
The statement also confirmed that the biblical concept of marriage “is the only relationship within which the gift of sexual intimacy is properly expressed.”
The second statement, meanwhile, dealt with the “widespread publicity regarding clergy sexual abuse issues.”
The board explained that the Church believes “those who minister must be above reproach in every regard.”
“They must not abuse the positions of trust and authority given them and must never soil the good name of the Church of Jesus Christ by behavior that is in any way less than utterly pure and trustworthy,” the statement read.
At that light, the board encouraged “local churches and districts” to “pursue allegations of sexual abuse rigorously” and follow the judicial procedures for “removing the credentials of ministers who offend.”
Furthermore, the board recommended people to “carefully select those persons, whether clergy or lay, who work with children and youth” through the necessary safeguards such as background checks and “policies regarding the presence of at least two adults with children at all times.”
On a different note, the general superintendents presented their annual report on the spiritual and financial progress made in the denomination.
According to the report, the Church of the Nazarene welcomed 76,000 new members in 601 congregations around the world. Of these, a record number of 34,660 joined the Church of the Nazarene in the USA and Canada.
“The USA and Canada districts report a net gain of 23 in active works, the second consecutive year of net gain in congregations. This figure is a combination of organized churches and NewStarts,” the board reported. “This is significant since it is the second consecutive year of net increases after several years of net losses.”
The report also assessed that “since 1994 there has been an increase in church membership of nearly 360,000, a gain of 31 percent.”
With this influx of new members and leaders, the board explained that “One of the most important needs the church has is for these emerging leaders to be Spirit-filled and Spirit-led as they come into positions of responsibility and authority.”
“The church must find ways for gifted individuals to have meaningful involvement, authority, and responsibility within the denomination. They need the right kind of experience in local, district, and general areas of service. Leadership needs to reflect “the body” if we are to be a global church,” the report stated.
At that light, the board assessed that a church leader must focus on three topics to develop the future: finding the essence of the church, funding the mission, and developing communications.
For more information on the Church of the Nazarene, visit: www.nazarene.org
A lesbian woman who was stripped of her ministerial credentials by the United Methodist Church five months ago appealed to regain her post on April 28, 2005.
Beth Stroud was removed from her post as a Methodist minister after a church court found her guilty of violating church laws that prohibit the ordination of practicing homosexuals.
On Thursday, a regional appeals panel spent three hours listening to arguments from Stroud’s defense and from the church at a hotel near the Baltimore Washington International Airport.
During the appeal, Stroud’s defense, the Rev. Jim Hallam, argued against the denomination’s law banning active homosexuals from the ministry and said Stroud’s decision to tell her congregation about her lifestyle was honest attempt to “live as she was created to be.”
“Why did Beth share her homosexual status (with her congregation)?” Hallam, asked the panel during the hearing according to AP. “She didn’t want to live in secrecy anymore, under that cloak of silence. She wanted to live as she was created to be.”
“It seems the church would have preferred her to be deceptive - ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’” he added.
However, the ministerial counsel for the church, the Rev. Thomas Hall, called the defense’s argument “circular” since he questioned the denomination’s law and not whether Stroud broke the law.
“This trial is not about how good we are at ministry. It’s really about a good person who has stepped over the line and contested the boundaries.”
“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it incompatible with Christian teaching,” Hall said.
Hall said Stroud understood the consequences of her actions, and “that her role as a minister was jeopardized” when she violated the law against “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” in the clergy.
Hall also explained that while some may disagree with the church’s law, it is clear on the issue of homosexuality.
“We may not like the boundaries. We may think they’re ... too un-loving, too exclusive. But the fact is, the boundaries are clearly in place.”
After the hearing, Stroud said she was “impressed” by the committee on appeals.
“I was very impressed with the Committee on Appeals. They were very astute and they just showed an enormous understanding of church law and the issues involved,” said Stroud.
Stroud, who currently serves as a lay leader to the First United Methodist Church in Germantown, said she will not begin ministering as a pastor until the entire appeals process is played out and unless she succeeds.
According to the Rev. William Scott Campbell, chairman of the appeals panel, he said to AP that one of several things could happen after the decision is announced. Either side could appeal to a Methodist supreme court or the case could be remanded for a second trial. The appeals panel could also reverse the earlier verdict, change the penalty, or do both.
Stroud is one of three lesbian ministers tried since the denomination adopted a ban on active homosexual pastors in 1984. The Rev. Rose Mary Denman of New Hampshire was defrocked in 1987. The Rev. Karen Dammann of Washington state was acquitted last March because of an ambiguity in church law that the Methodist supreme court has since eliminated.
Last year, at the quadrennial General Conference, the majority of the 1,000 Methodist delegates voted in favor of upholding current standards on the ministry. The next General Conference – the highest legislative body in the church – meets in 2008.
The decision on Stroud’s appeal is expected to be released on Friday.
[Kwing Hung: another step in the moral decline of the Methodists]
The recent reinstatement of a lesbian United Methodist minister does not ‘in any way’ reverse the denomination’s standards on ordinations, according to a statement released by the church’s Council of Bishops.
The bishops gathered in Washington for their annual spring meeting, and responded on May 1 to the controversial ruling made two days ago by the church’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. The nine-member appeals committee voted 8-1 to reinstate Irene Elizabeth Stroud – an openly active homosexual minister who had been defrocked several months earlier by a separate church court.
“The decision of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals does not in any way reverse the standards in our Book of Discipline,” the bishops wrote in their publicly released statement.
The Book of Discipline acts as the denomination’s code of law and conduct and can be modified only by the church’s General Council — a gathering of representatives from across the country that meets once every four years.
During the 2004 General Council, the representatives voted to uphold the church’s current resolution in regards to the possibility of ordaining a homosexual minister.
According to the bishops’ statement, they will continue to uphold the standards on ordination despite Stroud’s reinstatement.
“We as the Executive Committee of the Council, affirm our commitment to uphold all of the provisions of our Book of Discipline, while inviting everyone to join us in patience and prayer for a just and fair outcome,” the bishops wrote.
Meanwhile, James V. Heidinger, president of Good News United Methodists, the oldest renewal movement within the 8-million-member denomination, said he was not surprised by the outcome of Stroud’s appeal, but did not expect the result to stand for very long.
“The appeals court ruling that overturned the earlier decision was not totally a surprise. I think we realized that this could well happen,” Heidinger said. “But frankly I don’t expect this ruling to be sustained.”
According to Heidinger, the appeals ruling will likely be reffered to the denomination’s “supreme court” – the judicial council.
“We feel quite sure that when the United Methodist Judicial Council hears this case, it will not sustain the appeal verdict but rather sustain the earlier trial verdict,” Heidinger said.
Though the judicial council meets twice a year, it often convenes in times of emergencies - particularly for unresolved cases within the “lower courts.”
The Beth Stroud case started December at the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. In what most observers called an open-and-shut case, the Conference found Stroud guilty of violating the Book of Discipline’s standards on ordained ministry and immediately defrocked her.
Stroud, instead, appealed the ruling, and won her case on April 29 based on two “legal” errors.
In reversing the Pennsylvania ruling, the appeals committee took pains to note that the original guilty verdict was not in question. Rather, “the case was reversed on two questions of legal process.”
Now, the Pennsylvania Conference has 30 days to file an appeal to the Judicial Council.
The following is the full text of the Council of Bishops’ statement:
As the Council of Bishops gathers today in Washington, DC for our spring meeting, we will continue to focus on “Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Most of our meeting will center upon sharpening this focus, including sharing reports from each bishop’s Area about our progress in making disciples.
However, the announcement of the results of the hearing by the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals in the Beth Stroud case has been received, and we as the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops want to encourage all United Methodists to be patient with the important legal processes involved.
The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals has reversed the Stroud trial decision based upon some technicalities. It also found that “the evidence in support of the charge was overwhelming and would be sustained in the absence of a legal error.” The committee concluded that “legal error vitiates the verdict on two independent grounds.” This means that the reasons for the guilty verdict were not questioned, but the case was reversed on two questions of legal process. The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference has thirty days to appeal this decision.
The decision of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals does not in any way reverse the standards in our Book of Discipline. In fact, the appeal process is an important part of our Book of Discipline.
We as the Executive Committee of the Council, affirm our commitment to uphold all of the provisions of our Book of Discipline, while inviting everyone to join us in patience and prayer for a just and fair outcome.
Exactly a year ago, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its commitment to biblical standards by upholding several statements prohibiting the ministry of active homosexuals. Those resolutions are warmly and cautiously worded to show both the church’s openness to gays and lesbians and the denomination’s austerity toward sin.
But last month, those resolutions were set aside as the church’s appellate court ruled in favor of a self-avowed lesbian minister who had earlier been stripped of her ministerial credentials for violating church law.
In a confusing and unmerited decision, the appellate committee found the minister innocent by default – they cited two minor legal errors in the trial court’s proceedings – and offered to reinstate her.
The case is now in the hands of the denomination’s highest court, the Judicial Council, which will likely rule on the issue sometime in October.
The Council should take this chance to support Biblical standards and uphold its own laws by keeping the prohibition in place.
The Council should also have the wisdom to view the minister’s case as something bigger than just one person and one instance – it represents the historical battle between man’s desire to sin and God’s desire to save.
A nation that ignores its own laws is bound to fail. Furthermore, a church that ignores the laws of God is doomed to fall.
If the church views its resolutions as inspired by the word of God, it should support it not only in writing but also in action and decision.
The death penalty, legalized gambling, the war in Iraq, and legalization of homosexual marriage were some of the topics discussed at annual United Methodist meetings across the nation this year.
Once every four years, about 10,000 delegates from the 8-million-member United Methodist Church, the largest mainline-protestant denomination in America, gathers for a weeklong General Conference. In the years in between, Methodists gather in 63 “annual conferences,” separated by geographic regions in the United States.
The last General Conference was in 2004, and this year, thousands came out to the 63 geographic gatherings throughout the spring and summer.
According to a report by the United Methodist News Service, members in several conferences approved resolutions opposing the death penalty, in keeping with the denomination’s official stance. Those conferences included Eastern Pennsylvania, Wyoming (New York), Troy (New York and Vermont), and the Dakotas.
In several other conferences, legalized gambling was a top social issue.
Jim Winkler, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, urged his North Indiana Conference to fight against legalized gambling. Members in West Virginia approved resolutions urging the states of Maryland and West Virginia to stop the spread of all forms of gambling, and the West Michigan Conference urged congregations to offer more programs to older adults as an alternative to gambling, according to UMNS.
Meanwhile, on the issues of sexuality, the Baltimore-Washington Conference called for a resolution that “affirmed a series of dialogues on issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
The New England Conference adopted a nonbinding “sense of the body” resolution that said ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions should not be conducted by conference ministers or in conference churches, echoing the current stance of the entire denomination.
In the California-Nevada conference, delegates decided not to define the words “practicing” or “practicing homosexual” as contained in the denomination’s constitution – the “Book of Discipline.” The Book prohibits the ordination of a person who is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
That Conference also called on the U.S. government to end the war in Iraq, and to withdrawal U.S. forces from the nation.
Besides taking a stance on social issues, several United Methodist conferences welcomed new bishops.
Last summer, 20 new bishops were elected and many more were reassigned. United Methodist bishops are considered “bishops for life.”
There is a total of 63 U.S. annual conferences, which held their meetings in May and June. Outside the U.S., there are 52 conferences representing regions in Europe, Africa and Asia. Some of the international conferences have yet to meet.
One of the largest groups of traditional United Methodists concluded their annual gathering last week with a statement calling for the scrutiny of “the denomination’s unity and the basis of that unity.”
“We in the Confessing Movement welcome serious attention to unity and the discussion that has begun across the church about the meaning and basis of unity,” stated the Sept. 24 proclamation approved by some 300 participants at the Confessing Movement’s national conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The statement comes more than a year after another group of conservative Methodists suggested the denomination “amicably split” over what they viewed as irreconcilable differences regarding homosexuality and the centrality of Christ. While the church did not split – instead, the 2004 General Conference passed an opposite “unity resolution” affirming a call to “walk together” – the suggestion brought to surface underlying concerns that has tainted the church for years.
“Homosexuality is not the issue,” said the Rev. Robert Renfroe, a Confessing Movement board member and associate minister at the Woodlands United Methodist Church near Houston, as he addressed the conference. “There are deeper problems.”
Such problems include the nature of the moral church, the authority of the Scripture, and the uniqueness of Christ as the only Lord and Savior of the world, according to Renfroe.
“These are the issues that divide the United Methodist Church. They must be addressed,” Renfroe explained, according to the United Methodist News Service. However, he said, despite these divisive issues, the church must “listen as first steps toward unity. Listen to others; listen to God.”
According to the statement, the Confessing Movement members, “in the spirit of St. Paul, are ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’” But beneath that desire, there lies a deeper concern for the truth of Christ.
“We believe unity in the truth of Christ is critically dependent on unity in doctrine,” it states.
And while the statement did not mention homosexuality specifically, it alluded to the many conflicts that surround false understandings of “inclusivism” – a word often touted by advocates on either side of the homosexuality debate.
“False understandings of inclusivism demand acceptance apart from repentance and obedience to the good news of God’s grace for all sinners,” the statement read.
There are three things the statement also said “contribute to disunity,” which include: the neglect of Scripture and disobedience to doctrine, claims of new sources of revelation that set aside the authority of Holy Scripture and tested moral standards of the church, and the capitulation to lifestyles that are inconsistent with Christian discipleship.
All three are the emblematic arguments traditionalists hold against those who support the ordination gay pastors and the blessings of same-sex unions.
“Genuine unity, as a precious gift of the Holy Spirit, is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ, witnessed to in the Holy Scripture, summarized in the ecumenical creeds, celebrated in worship and sacraments, demonstrated in common mission, articulated in our teaching, lived out in love, and contended for by the faithful,” the statement reads.
Moreover, the proclamation emphasized a need for unity that surrounds sound doctrine.
“We believe unity in the truth of Christ is critically dependent on unity in doctrine,” it stated. “Our official United Methodist teaching is more than adequately articulated in our Constitutional Standards. Proposals for unity that ignore, evade, or minimize our historic standards of doctrine are inadequate.”
The statement concluded with a call to scrutinize the basis of unity for the denomination, and an invitation “to join us in this holy and happy work of recovering our doctrinal unity in Christ.”
The United Methodist Church is the nation’s second largest denomination with over 8 million members. In recent years, conservative groups, such as the Confessing Movement, have grown in number and influence. Other traditional United Methodist groups include Good News United Methodist and the Institute of Religion and Democracy Methodist Action. The Confessing Movement, based in Indianapolis, is an unofficial United Methodist caucus supported by 1,526 congregations, 5,025 clergy and 661,804 laity, according to the group.
The highest court in the United Methodist Church will be taking up the case of a pastor who admitted she is a practicing homosexual during a sermon to her congregation.
The United Methodist News Service announced yesterday that the Judicial Council will hear oral arguments on the case of Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud, who had been serving as an assistant pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Germantown, Pa., on Oct. 27, along with several other dockets.
The Stroud case began last December, when she was found guilty of violating the church law forbidding the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” She admitted before the court that she told her congregation in a letter and sermon that she was “a lesbian living in a committed relationship with a partner” and that she and her partner continues to have sexual relations. She lost her ordination credentials following the case.
However, in April, the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals reversed and set aside the verdict and nullified the penalty on “technical” matters. An appeal was then filed with the Judicial Council to finally settle the matter.
“Beth” Stroud case has become an icon of sorts to both the liberal and conservative factions within the 8-million-member denomination. Gay-rights supporters view the Stroud case as a symbol of freedom, while traditional Methodists view the case as a clear example of how the gay-rights movement is working to undermine scriptural authority within the church.
Last year, these two factions nearly split the denomination with talks about an “amicable separation” being raised among the delegates and attendants to the quadrennial General Conference. By the end of the conference, the delegates passed a newly written statement of “unity” and set aside the separation document. How the Judicial Council decides on the matter may determine whether the separation document may resurface among the Methodist constituents.
The oral hearings to Stroud’s case are open to the public and will begin at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Stansbury Building on the Westchase Campus of First United Methodist Church.
Stroud is on voluntary leave of absence as a clergy member but continues to work as a lay minister at her church. The council’s procedure allows Stroud and other parties involved to request the opportunity to present oral arguments.
Also on Thursday, the Judicial Council will hold oral hearings on a case related to a Virginia minister who refused church membership to a homosexual person.
Since July 1, the Rev. Edward Johnson of South Hill United Methodist Church has been on an involuntary yearlong leave following his refusal to admit a homosexual person into membership at the church
The Council will review two related decisions of law in the Virginia Conference in regards to the case. The first decision by Bishop Charlene Kammerer, who – along with the Virginia Annual Conference executive session – had placed Johnson on leave, relates to the disciplinary purview of the conference relations committee of the board of ordained ministry and the fair process rights of a pastor.
The Council will also review Bishop Kammerer’s decision of law related to the authority of the pastor to determine who may be received into membership in a local church.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The highest court within the United Methodist Church defrocked a lesbian minister Monday for violating the denomination’s ban on “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” clergy.
The nine-member Judicial Council - seven of whom heard the case Thursday in Houston - issued the ruling through its Web site. The denomination’s communications office is based in Nashville.
A church panel decided in December that the Rev. Irene “Beth” Stroud, 35, by being in a lesbian partnership, engaged in practices that the church has declared incompatible with Christian teachings.
The panel’s decision was overturned by the Northeast Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, but the Judicial Council backed the original ruling.
The Judicial Council ruled Monday that the appeals committee “erred in reversing and setting aside the verdict and penalty from Rev. Stroud’s trial.”
Thomas Hall, counsel for the United Methodist Church said the decision provides some relief, but is “not the end of this whole conversation.”
“An issue like this takes so much energy on both sides, and takes the focus off a lot of the great things the church is doing,” Hall said. “This gives us some space so we can hopefully channel our energies into the great things we’re doing.” The UMC is the nation’s third-largest denomination.
Stroud, who became an associate pastor at Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown in 1999, has said she never revealed her sexual orientation in documents related to her ordination, but didn’t keep it a secret.
She said she decided to come out in 2003 because she felt she was being held back in her faith by not sharing the complete truth about her life. A complaint was filed against her last year.
“I thought I was prepared for anything, but still the news came as a blow,” Stroud said in a phone interview. “It’s a sad day for me and for my family and for my congregation and, I think, a sad day for the United Methodist Church.”
Stroud will continue as a lay staff member at her congregation, preaching, supervising children’s and youth work and conducting pastoral visits. She told the congregation Sunday that she and her partner are applying to be foster parents.
“There’s really no question that the United Methodist Church practices discrimination. That’s been made abundantly clear,” she said.
[comments by Kwing Hung: It is unfortunate the bishops are the liberal ones and can disregard clear teachings from the Bible. They will face harsh judgment before God.]
Amid heightened tensions over a controversial ruling that affirmed the rights of pastors to decide the eligibility of local church membership, bishops of the United Methodist Church released a statement that said homosexuality is not a barrier to joining the denomination.
“While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier,” the bishops said in their pastoral letter to the people of the United Methodist Church.
The bishops were responding to a United Methodist Judicial Council ruling that supported the Rev. Ed Johnson, senior pastor of the South Hill Virginia United Methodist Church, who had been placed on leave by his bishop for not allowing a gay man to join his congregation.
Johnson had been counseling with the man about transferring membership from another denomination. While the man was allowed to join the church choir and take part in some activities, Johnson felt he was not ready to take up the vows of membership since he did not express a desire to change his lifestyle – the UMC’s Book of Discipline considers the practice of homosexuality to be unbiblical.
The Judicial Council decision, which upheld Johnson’s action, drew mixed responses from United Methodists across the board. Conservatives generally praised it as a victory for denominational orthodoxy while liberals scorned it as discriminatory and hateful.
According to the United Methodist News Service, many pastors and lay people contacted their bishops to ask for clarification on the ruling. The bishops, who were attending their annual weeklong fall meeting at the Lake Junaluska retreat center in North Carolina, responded with a statement affirming both a pastor’s right to choose membership and homosexual persons’ right to become a member of the church.
“With the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, we affirm ‘that God’s grace is available to all, and we will seek to live together in Christian community,’” the bishops said, quoting from the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline. “‘We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.’
“We also affirm our Wesleyan practice that pastors are accountable to the bishop, superintendent and the clergy on matters of ministry and membership,” the bishops said.
Regarding the role of the pastor in choosing members, Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the Council of Bishops and leader of the church’s New England Conference, said: “The local pastor does have authority, but it’s in the context of the theology and values of the United Methodist Church.”
This theology includes the clause rejecting the practice of homosexuality as well as the clause affirming homosexual persons as people “of sacred worth”
During the oral hearings before the Judicial Council on Oct. 27, the Rev. Tom Thomas of Virginia, speaking for Johnson, argued that the pastor “drew the line not at the homosexual person but at homosexual practice,” according to UMNS. Johnson, who was at the hearing, did not address the court.
However, Virginia Bishop Charlene Kammerer, who had placed Johnson on leave, said such distinction “amounts to second-class citizenship.”
In that regard the bishops said all people should be eligible to attend the church’s worship services, receive the sacraments and be admitted as baptized members. They also cited the Constitutional declaration that upon taking the vows declaring the Christian faith, [anyone can] become professing members in any local church in the connection.”
Ultimately, Weaver urged United Methodists to take this ruling as a chance to “think carefully about the meaning of United Methodist membership” and to “think about how we are inclusive of persons who are in our communities and how we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The bishops’ conference began Oct. 30 and ends today. They may discuss other possible responses to the ruling before the meeting closes. The Council of Bishops comprises the top clergy leaders in the nearly 11 million-member United Methodist Church. The council has 69 active bishops and about 100 retired bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
PRESIDENT BUSH and Vice President Cheney are both members of the United Methodist Church, as are more than 60 members of Congress and 8.2 million other Americans. But the church’s bishops, when they speak politically, sound surprisingly more like Michael Moore or Noam Chomsky (neither of whom is known to be a Methodist).
The bishops met in November and nearly unanimously approved a resolution condemning the U.S. military presence in Iraq. A separate unofficial statement, signed by over half of the U.S. bishops, went further, denouncing the “unjust and immoral invasion and occupation” and charging that Americans are being “sent to Iraq to kill and be killed.” In contrast to the harsh and lengthy denunciation of the U.S. presence in Iraq, the bishops also issued a short statement on Darfur. They urged prayer but carefully refrained from criticizing the Islamist Sudanese government for its genocidal campaign. Presumably, the bishops regard that situation as more complicated than Iraq’s.
Why are the bishops of America’s third-largest church condemning the United States for attempting to build democracy in Iraq? And why, at the same time, are they refusing to condemn the Sudanese regime’s deliberate destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives in pursuit of an Islamic theocracy?
Fully answering those questions would involve a lengthy study of mainline Protestant theology in America over the last century. But in short: Mainline church elites moved towards pacifism after World War I. The 1960s crystallized their pacifism into anti-Americanism, and mainline church agencies have consistently denounced U.S. military actions for nearly 40 years, from Vietnam to Iraq.
The Methodists, or at least their church elites, have historically been social activists. Abolitionism and prohibitionism, as the theology became more liberal, morphed into liberation theology and hostility to Western culture and the United States in particular. The church elites’ hostility to capitalism has generally prevented them from criticizing Marxist regimes and their multiculturalism has prevented them from criticizing Islamic regimes. Which leaves the bishops to quite even-handedly “lament the continued warfare by the United States, coalition forces, and the insurgents” in Iraq.
The bishops’ official statement faults the U.S. government for claiming that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda. It also blames the United States for the “denigration of human dignity” and “gross violations of human rights of prisoners of war.” They do not either mention Saddam Hussein’s human rights record or speculate on the type of repressive regime that would likely result if the insurgents in Iraq prevailed. The official statement urges the withdrawal of all U.S. military troops from Iraq, while seeking a greater United Nations role.
The unofficial statement, signed by 96 bishops, was framed as an ostensible apology for their “complicity” in the Iraq war. “In the face of the United States Administration’s rush toward military action based on misleading information, too many of us were silent,” they write. Now they want to “repent.”
But they do not give themselves enough credit: The bishops have hardly been “silent.” They have now issued three official denunciations of the U.S. presence in Iraq in as many years. None of the bishops has publicly defended the war, and one was arrested in a demonstration against the war outside the White House. Another bishop joined Cindy Sheehan in her performance outside the Bush ranch in Texas this summer.
AMERICANS ARE BEING “sent to Iraq to kill and be killed,” while thousands of Iraqis are “needlessly” dying, the bishops charge in the unofficial statement, adding that security depends not on “weapons of war” but helping the poor and vulnerable to “flourish.”
They explain that they are praying for war to end everywhere, for “justice to roll down like waters,” for an end to “prejudice toward people of other faiths and cultures,” and for continuing “dialogue.” They want to move beyond “caution rooted in self-protection” and “misguided public policies” in favor of “self-emptying love” and “unity in a world of diversity.”
President Bush, like many of his fellow United Methodists, has mostly ignored the bishops’ political posturing. (Although he did meet with a small group of prelates from the church last spring.) The secular media has likewise given their musings little coverage. Sadly, when simply they echo old bromides of the secular Left, the leaders of America’s third largest religious body deserve to be ignored.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
An association of United Methodist schools expressed “deep concern for the pain and alienation” of those affected by a recent church court decision to reinstate a pastor who denied membership to an openly homosexual man.
“As United Methodist-related college and university leaders, we embrace the church’s affirmation: ‘Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors.’ We affirm the core humanistic and religious value that all persons are of sacred worth and equal standing,” the resolution, issued by the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church, stated.
The resolution was affirmed unanimously during the United Methodist Board of Higher Education’s spring board meeting in Nashville, Tenn., last Saturday, and was released in response to a Methodist Judicial Council decision that upheld a Virginia pastor’s denial of church membership to an openly gay man.
The association also expressed concern for the pain caused by the “ongoing conflicted discussion” over a separate Judicial Council decision that upheld the removal of ministerial credentials from Beth Stroud – a Pennsylvania pastor who was in an openly avowed lesbian.
The 16-million-member UMC officially holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings but that homosexuals are people of sacred worth. At that light, ordained United Methodist pastors are expected to refrain from engaging in homosexual relationships and celebrating homosexual unions.
When the rulings passed earlier this year, conservatives applauded the Judicial Council for upholding denominational regulations regarding homosexual behavior. However, liberals and gay-rights groups charged the church of discrimination.
While the association did not chime directly into the discussion, the group of schools called on the United Methodist Church to express its “commitment to inclusiveness” and continue walking the path of “construction tension.”
“We affirm the church in its decades-long struggle to balance an unqualified commitment to sacred worth, sacred identity and sacred practice,” the resolution stated. “We encourage the church to resolve this issue in a manner that upholds the sacred worth of all human beings.”
Renewal members of the united methodist church are protesting the invitation of a lesbian activist to speak at an official denominational women’s assembly.
Musician emily saliers, a member of indigo girls, was invited as a keynote speaker to the united methodist women’s assembly in anaheim, calif., along with her father, theologian don saliers. The two are expected to discuss music and spirituality – the topic of the book they co-wrote.
Members of the renew network, an evangelical women’s group within the denomination, are protesting salier’s address because of her “open practice of lesbianism.”
“emily saliers’ open practice of lesbianism and her promotion of the acceptance of the lifestyle is contrary to church teaching,” said l. Faye short, president of the renew network.
The united methodist church, like most mainline denominations, rejects the practice of homosexuality as a lifestyle that is incompatible to the scripture, although it accepts homosexuals as people of sacred worth. Its ordained ministers are also prohibited from engaging in homosexual relationships and taking part in same-sex “marriage” ceremonies.
Despite such teachings, jan love, chief executive of the united methodist women’s division, is supporting saliers’ invitation.
“i wasn’t unmindful of” saliers’ sexuality,” love told san jose mercury news. “but it’s not the basis on which she was chosen. Nor will it be a basis on which we discriminate.”
Saliers, meanwhile, said she will try to attend the may meeting despite protests.
“i can’t say it didn’t hurt my feelings. If you are a part of an oppressed group you get used to it,” said saliers, who has been in a decade-long relationship, according to mercury news. “i see it as an opportunity. I think these things come up for a reason.”
Such conflicts have come up in the past within the eight-million-member church. Last year the denomination came under fire allowing a pro-homosexual conference to be hosted at an official methodist conference center.
Prior to the conference, renewal leaders began a denomination-wide petition against what they viewed as an outright rejection of the church’s teaching. However, despite their collecting thousands of signatures, the conference was held as planned.
Renew network is now organizing a petition letter to the united methodist women assembly board with hopes that the division would revoke saliers’ invitation.
Worship attendance has been on a consistent decline for the United Methodist Church in the United States, according to a report from the denomination’s finance agency. But for conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe, numbers have shot up over the past several years.
“In the central conferences, significant growth has been seen in Africa, with a growth rate of 30 percent in the last four years,” said Scott Brewer, senior researcher for the UMC General Council on Finance and Administration, according to the United Methodist News Service.
In the latest report, The State of Our Connection, United Methodist members in the United States reportedly decreased by 0.81 percent, bringing numbers down to about 8.07 million. Worship attendance declined by 0.96 percent from 2003. For the last 10 years, members churchwide have seen a drop by 5.48 percent with membership declining each year since 1968 when the denomination was formed.
Membership and attendance numbers have landed under the scope in analyzation. “Preliminary analysis has begun to make its way into dialogue regarding church vision and programming,” said John Goolsbey, deputy general secretary of administration of GCFA, according to UMNS.
The report showed membership increases in 13 out of the 63 U.S.-based annual regional conferences in 2004 and attendance growth was reported in 16. Addressing the consistent drop, consultations began early March between the GCFA staff, the Council of Bishops Executive Committee and the Connectional Table.
“The 2004 membership and attendance data show declines in membership and attendance that are greater than projected,” said Goolsbey. “These are continuations of long-term trends requiring thoughtful analysis and critical dialogue. We will continue to collaborate with the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table regarding the implications of these trends for the denomination’s vision and future ministry.”
GCFA reported congregations in 2,997 U.S. counties in 2004, more than any other denomination, it stated.
Overseas, lay membership has increased more than 68 percent between 1995 and 2004 to 1.88 million.
Numbers in Hispanic conferences rose 6.18 percent, the eighth consecutive year of growth, and Asian membership was slightly up for the fourth consecutive year.
“This report cannot provide the final word on the state of our connection, but it can contribute to a continuing conversation about what it means to be a strong, faithful and living church,” stated the GCFA staff in the report. “Our goal is to raise some of the questions we believe are relevant in forming the vision that will lead our connectional church into its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The finance agency noted that data reporting in the central conferences is limited, and efforts are being made to improve the exchange of information with church leaders.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The highest court in the United Methodist Church has refused to reconsider its earlier decision allowing a minister to deny a gay man church membership.
In a 5-4 ruling released Tuesday, the Judicial Council said there was no basis to revisit the case. “We believe that reopening this matter, especially where no grounds have been demonstrated to do so, will further polarize the various parts of the church,” the majority wrote.
Last October, the council – the denomination’s top court – reinstated the Rev. Ed Johnson after Virginia church leaders put him on involuntary leave as senior pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church. The Virginia leaders had said Johnson’s actions violated the denomination’s pledge of openness to anyone seeking Christ. But the church court said that pastors have the right to decide who joins their congregations.
Several church groups appealed the decision, prompting Tuesday’s ruling.
Dissenting council members called the majority opinion “legally flawed” and “imprudent.” They said there was no basis in Christian theology or in the church’s disciplinary rules allowing a pastor to deny membership to anyone.
“Determining who is eligible for life in the church is not the vocation of the pastor,” they wrote. “It is the Holy Spirit who makes us members of the church.”
There’s a leadership crisis in the United Methodist Church, one pastor says, with less than 5 percent of the church’s leadership being from the younger generation.
The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry addressed hundreds of United Methodists in a teleconference this week, noting significant shifts in the world that call for change.
He called this “a crucial moment in history, when seismic demographic, social, cultural and religious shifts are redefining our global reality,” according to the United Methodist News Service.
A 2005 research showed there were only 850 commissioned and ordained clergy ages 35 or under in the 8-million member United Methodist Church, which is only 4.69 percent of current elders – a drop from 15.05 percent in 1985, Del Pino cited.
“The church must build a streamlined structure for the development of young leaders that will result in doubling the number of young people in positions of leadership as pastors and specialized clergy and lay ministries,” he said.
The call was made as a report was released by the United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration, presenting and analyzing data about membership, attendance and giving trends.
Called “This is Our Story,” the report showed a continual U.S. membership and worship attendance decline from 1974 to 2005. Membership has decreased in the United States by over 19 percent or 1.9 million members since 1974. “There is no denying or avoiding the reality that many churches are not growing,” the report stated.
The “sobering realities” facing the United Methodist Church right now are that 35 percent of its churches in the United States grew from 2004 to 2005 and that 41 percent of U.S. churches did not report a single member received by profession of faith or restored.
Despite the numbers, the report stressed that the survival of the denomination as an institution should not be their focus. In a larger context, they face an increasingly secular culture, the report noted, with 50 percent of the U.S. population having no ongoing relationship with a faith community.
Still, the United Methodists have hope. Worldwide professing and baptized membership is growing with 13.75 million in more than 50 countries compared with 11.35 million in 1995. Overall membership outside the U.S. has increased 177 percent in United Methodist conferences existing over the last ten years.
And giving in the U.S. church has increased for the 15th straight year. The church gave almost $5.9 billion during 2005, according to the report.
“There is a sense that God is leading The United Methodist Church to do something different,” said Sandra Lackore, the council’s chief executive, according to UMNS.
“But the real work of our denomination, and the places where lives are changed, remains in the hands of our churches and the faithful people who call them home,” she added. “The future of our church depends upon our leadership at all levels capturing this vision and being willing to work hard – each of us – lay and clergy.”
The vision for the United Methodist Church in the 21st century includes developing new leaders, especially young leadership; starting 650 new U.S. congregations by 2012 (the denomination starts an average of 90 a year in the states); and expanding ministries with the poor.
The United Methodist Church is the latest Protestant group caught in the shifting currents of world Christianity. While the American denomination is shrinking at home, its congregations in the developing world are growing explosively.
Over the last decade, the number of United Methodists outside the U.S. more than tripled. The denomination’s largest district is now in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. At the next national church assembly, the 2008 General Conference in Texas, overseas delegates will have more say than ever in the church’s future — as many as 30 percent could come from abroad.
“Trends suggest that Christianity is going to continue to grow as a global phenomenon, and denominations that have thought of themselves as being predominantly North American in character are going to have to get over that,” said William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology, a Methodist seminary in Dallas.
Nearly 8 million United Methodists are now in the U.S., with another 3.5 million church members overseas. The denomination is the third-largest in the nation behind Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists, and middle-class worshippers mostly fill the pews of its American churches.
But if current patterns continue, within decades the typical United Methodist will be from Africa. While international congregations expand, the denomination’s U.S. ranks have decreased by 19 percent since the 1970s.
In a sign of the times, the United Methodist high court, called the Judicial Council, will hold a session in the Philippines on Wednesday. It will be the first gathering outside the U.S.
Many in the mission-minded church see the new overseas ties as a gift. Yet as the experience of other Protestant groups indicates, there also is conflict ahead. Christians overseas have been deeply influenced by the zeal of the missionaries who brought them the faith. In the developing world, traditional Bible teachings aren’t questioned — they’re accepted.
As United Methodists debate how they should interpret Scripture on issues from salvation to sexual orientation, delegates from overseas will be a steadfast conservative voice in the fight.
“You definitely see among the African delegations a much more conservative perspective on issues of homosexuality,” said retired United Methodist Bishop C. Dale White, a liberal who oversaw publication of the book “United Methodism at Risk: A Wake-Up Call,” which contends that conservative groups are trying to take control of the denomination.
“In the past two General Conferences, we’ve seen a readiness of conservative American delegates to make common cause with the African delegates who very sincerely believe that in their context, if the United Methodist Church is open to ordaining gay and lesbian people, that it will hurt their outreach there,” White said.
A similar dynamic is eroding the 77 million-member world Anglican Communion, the loose association of churches that traces its roots to the Church of England.
The fellowship was once dominated by its liberal-leaning European and North American provinces, including the U.S. Episcopal Church. But these days, the communion’s biggest and fastest-growing churches — by far — are conservative and African. The 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, caused an uproar that threatens to break up the Anglican family.
Tensions over sexuality are far less acute in United Methodism. Still, advocates for full inclusion of gays and lesbians have been challenging the church’s ban on ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” at national policy meetings for the last three decades.
“I do think that the world Anglican Communion and what’s happening with the Episcopal Church in America — that whole dynamic can teach United Methodism,” said Maxie Dunnam, chancellor of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., who has worked extensively with Methodists overseas. “The issue is how we’re going to understand ourselves as a world church.
“How rigid are we going to be with defining who we are?”
Through a spokesman, United Methodist Bishop Benjamin Boni, head of the Ivory Coast Annual Conference, declined to be interviewed because of this week’s Judicial Council session.
The panel is taking up a technical issue that will determine the size of the Ivory Coast delegation to the next national church assembly, and Boni was concerned that commenting could be seen as trying to influence the ruling, his spokesman said.
But the impact of the Ivory Coast district on the United Methodists is clear. With about 700,000 members, it became the biggest United Methodist conference as soon as it joined the church in 2004, after years as an independent fellowship. Ivory Coast church leaders are so passionate about their faith that they send missionaries out to other African nations.
Last month, 14,000 Ivory Coast congregants filled a sports stadium in Abidjan for a service commemorating a partnership with United Methodists in Texas. An overflow crowd of about 3,000 listened from outside for the four hours of singing and prayer, according to Texas Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, who preached at the service.
“People were so hungry to hear the word of God,” Huie said. “Growth in the developing countries, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, will certainly outpace growth in the United States for a long time to come.”
SOUTH HILL, Va. (AP) — The new pastor at a Methodist church that had barred a gay man from membership two years ago has reversed that decision and allowed the man to join.
The Rev. Barry Burkholder, the new leader of South Hill United Methodist Church, told the congregation to accept the man’s transfer from a Baptist church. The denomination has not released the name of the gay congregant.
The former pastor, the Rev. Edward H. Johnson, said in 2005 that he could not accept the man as a member because he would neither repent nor seek to change. Johnson has since been appointed pastor at another Virginia church, Dahlgren United Methodist Church.
The case led to a showdown in church courts between Johnson and the denomination’s Virginia Conference, which oversees congregations and pastors in the region.
The conference tried to bar Johnson from ministry for a year for his decision.
The Methodist Book of Discipline declares gay relationships “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and bars sexually active gays from ordination. However, the denomination has no rules on church membership for openly gay congregants. The mainline Protestant denomination advertises itself as an open and welcoming church.
Johnson appealed his punishment to the highest church court — the Judicial Council — and won. The high court concluded that pastors have the authority to decide who becomes a member of a local church and ordered Johnson reinstated to ministry.
Burkholder told United Methodist News Service last week that the gay man professed that Christ was his savior and that Jesus died for his sins, so he was ready to become a member of the church.
The United Methodist Council of Bishops is “somewhat immobilized these days” on such big issues as homosexuality, said one of its members recently.
At a semi-annual meeting early this month, retired Bishop Jack Tuell of Des Moines, Wash., said the Council of Bishops should give leadership to the church on the debate over homosexuality, according to the United Methodist News Service.
“[A]lmost any thoughtful plan of leadership would be superior to prudent silence,” he said.
Tuell’s comments were made at an Apr. 29-May 4 meeting in Myrtle Beach , S.C., with other active and retired bishops. While retired bishops retain voice, they have no vote on the council.
The meeting occurred just as a recommendation to change the language of the church’s stance on homosexuality was rejected on May 1. A council subcommittee had proposed the language to say that the church does not condone sexual relationships between people of heterosexual or homosexual orientation “outside the bonds of a faithful, loving and committed relationship between two persons; marriage, where legally possible,” according to UMNS.
UMC’s The Book of Discipline (book of church law) currently states that “the United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” The 2004 General Conference had reaffirmed the stance, rejecting a proposal for a more moderate language that would have added a statement acknowledging that Christians disagree on the matter.
“Jesus said so from the beginning of creation – God made male and female. We must not send confusing messages to those who are part of this church,” Tennessee delegate H. Eddie Fox had said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Delegates also voted that practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.
The latest proposal to replace the language again drew attention to the differing opinions within the church body, stating that the current clause on homosexuality, which was adopted in 1972, “is based on highly questionable theology and biblical understanding and causes profound hurt to thousands of loyal United Methodist members and potential members.”
Tuell said there should be a better way to “express the mind of our United Methodist church” than the current language in the Book of Discipline.
Having been rejected this month, the proposal did not head to the Council of Bishops for vote. If the proposal had been approved by the council, it would have been presented at the 2008 General Conference – the top policy-making body of the United Methodist Church – for consideration. The conference meets every four years and revises The Book of Discipline and adopts resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. Bishops are able to propose legislation for delegates at the General Conference to consider.
But such an advancement of the recommendation on homosexuality would have “proven to be divisive and counterproductive to the unity currently exists in the Council of Bishops and to the church today,” said Oklahoma Bishop Robert Hayes, secretary of the administrative committee which rejected the proposal, according to UMNS.
He explained that they did not act on the proposal “because it would not have been for the betterment of the church at this time.”
WASHINGTON (AP) - A United Methodist minister who has changed gender since being chosen to lead a congregation in Baltimore will be reappointed there, church officials announced Thursday at a regional convocation.
The Rev. Drew Phoenix told the church’s Baltimore-Washington conference that he had gone through “spiritual transformation” in the past year, since changing his name from Ann Gordon and receiving medical treatment to become a man.
The denomination bans sexually active gay clergy but does not have any rules about transgender pastors.
“It is my intention and hope that by sharing my story that we commit ourselves as Christians and as United Methodists to become educated about the complexity of gender,” said Phoenix, the only known transgender minister in the conference. “Each of us is a beloved child of God — no exceptions.”
Phoenix, 48, has led St. John’s United Methodist Church for nearly five years. His term expires in July, and one of the purposes of the regional meeting is to reassign ministers for periodic terms with churches.
Bishop John Schol said that the church’s 50-member congregation was fully supportive, and that no objections were raised during a closed-door meeting of the clergy. St. John’s, a church that describes itself as diverse and inclusive, has more than tripled its membership since Phoenix arrived.
The meeting was already scheduled when the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank, issued a statement saying it objects to any acceptance of sexual identity changes.
The group, which has no authority over the church, did not specifically call for Phoenix to be removed. But Mark Tooley, director of the group’s United Methodist project, said a change in gender identity conflicts with “God’s order of creation.”
Schol, who periodically renews ministers’ appointments or reassigns them, encouraged ministers and church members attending the annual conference through Saturday to discuss the decisions of church leaders with their congregations, and urged church members to pray for Phoenix.
“This isn’t an issue. This is a human being,” Schol said.
Although the denomination has no transgender policy, a minister from Baltimore quit the church after a sex change in 2002. Rebecca Ann Steen said at the time she would rather withdraw than “submit the church my family or myself to any more struggle.”
A “unity” resolution is making its way through the United Methodist Church with little debate as the denomination remains wracked over such issues as homosexuality.
“This is the first time in many years we’ve had this degree of collaboration going on,” said Bishop Bruce Ough, chairman of the Council of Bishops planning team that started the process of signing the resolution, according to the United Methodist News Service.
Groups in the United Methodist Church have signed on to a resolution that outlines four mission initiatives for the 8 million-member denomination – the second largest among Protestant groups in the nation. The initiatives include leadership development, building new congregations and revitalizing existing ones, ministry with the poor, and combating diseases of poverty.
“I think what we’re saying is that it’s time to be very serious about collaboration,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, who drafted the unity resolution and began circulating it within the denomination in spring.
The United Methodist Publishing House, the General Board of Discipleship, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Church and Society, and the Genral Commission on Religion and Race are some of the Methodist agencies that have signed on, approving the resolution. A budget proposal of nearly $642 million centered around the four mission initiatives for 2009-2012 was also made by the Connectional Table and the governing board for the Council on Finance and Administration.
The initiatives come years after United Methodists adopted a 2004 resolution affirming the unity of the church. At a time when the matter of amicable separation was on the discussion table as some feared the church was about to split over issues like homosexuality, delegates at the General Conference affirmed the church’s commitment to work together for their common mission of making disciples throughout the world by adopting the unity resolution.
The 2004 General Conference had reaffirmed the church’s stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Some conference delegates had said talks of splitting were premature because the church had not had honest dialogue yet.
United Methodists will meet again next spring for the 2008 General Conference (Apr. 23-May 2) in Fort Worth, Texas. In the meantime, the church is making efforts to unify around a common vision and on the church’s priorities before heading into the national meeting, held every four years.
“We’re at a critical juncture because we are searching for a crisp message that will bring everybody along as we go into General Conference, and even more importantly as we come out of General Conference,” said Ough, according to UMNS. “When we leave General Conference, we want to have a way to talk about this so that the person in the pew can get up and say, ‘Oh, I get it. Now I understand what the people of The United Methodist Church are all about.’”
A transgender minister is allowed to remain pastor of a Baltimore congregation, the United Methodist Church’s highest council announced Tuesday.
The Judicial Council’s ruling affirmed a decision by Baltimore-Washington Bishop John R. Schol last spring who reappointed the Rev. Drew Phoenix to St. John’s of Baltimore City after the transgender minister underwent surgery and hormone therapy to become a male. Phoenix was formerly the Rev. Ann Gordon who had led the church for five years.
Phoenix was “happily surprised” upon hearing the decision.
Local clergy in the Baltimore-Washington Conference had appealed Schol’s decision to the United Methodist Judicial Council amid opposition. While the United Methodist Church bars self-avowed practicing clergy from ordination and does not support gay unions, according to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, it says nothing about transgender clergy.
After considering whether to remove Phoenix from leadership, the Judicial Council decided to allow the transgender minister to stay on the job, referring to a church policy stating that a clergyperson in good standing can’t be terminated without administrative or judicial action.
“The adjective placed in front of the noun ‘clergyperson’ does not matter,” the council ruled. “What matters is that clergypersons, once ordained and admitted to membership in full connection, cannot have that standing changed without being accorded fair process.”
Phoenix learned of the decision Tuesday morning.
“I am elated that the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church has affirmed Bishop Schol’s ruling of law – that transgender pastors in good standing shall be appointed to serve in United Methodists churches,” said Phoenix in a statement. “I celebrate this historic day in our denomination. The Judicial Council’s decision is a very important first step in opening the doors of our churches to the transgender community.”
St. John’s congregants who have backed their pastor lauded the decision.
“We at St. John’s UMC have a long history of supporting people through various life transitions,” said the congregation, which boasts “inclusion” and “diversity,” in a statement. “We love and support our pastor. Rev. Phoenix is an effective, professional pastor who has our deep and abiding respect.”
According to the statement, church authorities were informed of Phoenix’s decision to transition but did not seek permission or endorsement of the decision.
Religious groups are struggling with the issue of transgender people as the transgender community begins to rise into the public square.
The Rev. Kevin M. Baker, who had raised questions about Phoenix’s name change earlier this year, said more discussion is needed on the issue.
“We need a chance to talk about the implications of it,” said Baker, pastor of Oakdale Emory United Methodist Church in Olney, Md., according to The Baltimore Sun.
“This just is, in my opinion, another chink in a long fence of issues that we’re not dealing well with in the church,” such as pornography and divorce, he added.
The Judicial Council’s ruling stopped short of stating whether a change of gender violates the denomination’s rules.
Mark Tooley of United Methodist Action, a branch of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, was not surprised but expects the upcoming General Conference in 2008 “to respond with legislation that upholds traditional Christian teachings about the sacredness of the human body.”
“Christianity’s traditions strongly argue against any affirmation of transsexuality or sex change procedures,” he said.
Representatives from the United Methodist Church meet in April for the General Conference, an international legislative session that meets every four years. The General Conference is the top policy-making body of the denomination.
A statement by bishops of the United Methodist Church calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq is “nothing new” and “nothing constructive,” according to a conservative Methodist.
The United Methodist Council of Bishops had issued a statement Friday calling on the United States and its coalition partners to begin an immediate withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and to not deploy additional troops to Iraq.
They noted the deaths of more than 3,800 U.S. soldiers, 300 from other coalition countries, and more than 76,000 Iraqi civilians, as well as the more than 28,000 wounded since the U.S.-led offensive as support for their stance.
“This is at least the fourth statement from the United Methodist Council of Bishops (COB) about the Iraq War. It says nothing new and adds nothing constructive to the discussions about Iraq,” responded Mark Tooley, the director of the United Methodist committee (UMAction) at Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), on Saturday.
IRD is an ecumenical watchdog of mainline church denominations.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Tooley criticized the COB statements for solely blaming U.S. troops for the conflicts in Iraq while “never” expressing much concern about Saddam Hussein’s mass murders or the “atrocities” caused by al Qaeda and sectarian groups in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has emphasized the importance of democracy, rule of law, suppressing sectarian violence and terrorism, and upholding religious liberty in Iraq despite its opposition to the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein, as Tooley pointed out.
“Why do the Catholic bishops speak constructively to the reality in Iraq, while the United Methodist COB relies on simplistic anti-war sloganeering?” Tooley asked.
Reports indicate that rocket and mortar attacks in Iraq have decreased to their lowest levels in more than 21 months, the U.S. military said Monday according to The Associated Press.
Moreover, U.S. and Iraqi deaths showed a sharp drop in recent months, according to AP figures. The number of American military deaths fell from 65 to at least 39 over the period of September to October.
The UM bishops made their call during their semi-annual meeting at a church retreat last week.
In calling for the immediate withdrawal, the bishops said their position is based on the denomination’s position that “war is incompatible with the teachings and examples of Christ,” and Jesus Christ’s call for “his followers to be peacemakers.”
The bishops represent more than 11 million United Methodists in the United States, Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. U.S. president George W. Bush is a member of the United Methodist Church.