Methodists Write Gay Marriage Law
Aug. 12, 1998
DALLAS (AP) _ The United Methodist Church on Tuesday elevated a guideline against same sex marriages into church canon and said ministers who perform the ceremonies could be defrocked.
The Judicial Council of the church, the nation's second largest Protestant denomination with 9.5 million members, ruled that ministers who violate the ban on homosexual unions are ``liable to be'' brought to church trial.
The guideline, which was part of the congregation's Social Principles, states: ``Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.''
Social Principles serve as moral standards for the congregation. Tuesday's ruling has the effect of transforming the standard into church law, and pastors who violate the law may be reprimanded or even defrocked.
The issue arose with the case of the Rev. Jimmy Creech, former pastor of the 1,900-member First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Neb. He was accused of disobedience after performing a lesbian wedding ceremony last September in defiance of his bishop.
Creech was acquitted six months later by a church jury. The acquittal prompted the regional bishops to appeal to the Judicial Council for a formal ruling on whether the guideline was merely a moral standard or part of church law.
Creech, who now lives on Ocracoke Island, N.C., and makes his living cleaning cottages, bitterly criticized the ruling.
``I am grieving for the United Methodist Church,'' he said. ``I am encouraging pastors to go ahead and celebrate a covenant ceremony in defiance to this ruling.''
The Rev. John Thornburg, senior pastor for Northhaven United Methodist Church of Dallas, which has a congregation that is one-third gay, said he will obey they ruling but is disappointed.
So, too, The Rev. Elaine Bussey, senior pastor of the Webb Chapel United Methodist Church in Dallas, said she welcomes homosexuals to her congregation but will obey the law.
Joe Leonard of the National Council of Churches, which represents 34 Protestant and Orthodox churches in the United States, said the United Church of Christ is the only mainline Protestant church that does not disapprove of homosexual ceremonies.
On Aug. 5, the Anglican conference declared homosexuality to be ``incompatible with Scripture'' and said homosexuals should not be ordained as priests.