UMC Conferences Respond This Summer to GC2012 Actions

Conferences Reject Church’s Stance On Gays

The following is excerpted from the UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert July 18, 2012

Rejecting the denomination’s stance on gay rights and same-sex marriage were important issues for at least 15 United Methodist annual (regional) conferences this summer.

United Methodists from Washington and the northern panhandle of Idaho approved legislation supporting the Marriage Equality Act.  The law was signed by the governor in February and would have made Washington the seventh state to allow same-sex marriage.  The law was set to go into effect June 7 but Referendum 74, an anti-gay marriage measure, got enough signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot and put the law on hold.  During the June 21-24 meeting, delegates also approved a resolution to address “a lack of congruence between the denomination’s hardened stance against homosexuality and its historic affirmations of the rights for all people.”  The Rev. Sandy Brown, pastor at Seattle First United Methodist Church, said the church’s stance is “wrong, stupid and evil.”

At the Iowa conference June 2-5, more than 500 signed a “Do No Harm” covenant stating the denomination’s top lawmaking body made decisions that violated John Wesley’s first General Rule by failing to acknowledge that members of The United Methodist Church are divided on homosexuality.  A second document, “Covenant of Conscience,” supports same-sex marriage.

Members of the Minnesota Annual (regional) Conference, meeting May 30-June 1, voted to send a resolution opposing a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that only a union of one man and one woman will be recognized as marriage.  The proposal will be on the November ballot.  “Hundreds of thousands of current and potential United Methodists in Minnesota would benefit from equal protection of civil rights,” the resolution’s sponsors said.

In the New York Annual (regional) Conference, some delegates were so disappointed with the church’s decision not to change the Book of Discipline that they were considering a study about leaving the denomination.  However, two proposals more welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender persons were approved in their June 2-6 meeting in Hempstead, N.Y.  One calls for a study committee for an inclusive conference and the other affirms the conference’s historic commitment to the “rights and privileges of all persons, including LGBT persons.”  The Rev. Taka Ishii, a retired pastor in the conference, said the basis of the New York petition was the amendment proposed to the 2012 General Conference by two megachurch pastors, which said the church was in disagreement over the issue of homosexuality.  The proposal by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, Tipp City, Ohio, was cited at several conferences as a good compromise that failed during the 2012 General Conference.

The United Methodist General Conference is the only entity that speaks for the church and it meets only every four years in a global gathering.

The United Methodist Church amended its law book in 1972, adding the phrase “homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching.”  At every global gathering since, petitions to change that statement have been offered and rejected.

“I was disappointed that General Conference could not even agree to disagree,” said Bishop John Schol in his address to the Baltimore-Washington conference.  “I think there is a Christ-like path that we, as The United Methodist Church, have failed to find.”

Differences on the ‘right thing’

The growing church in Africa had more delegates and added more voices to the 2012 gathering than previous meetings. African delegates joined with U.S. opponents to changing the church’s stance.

Representatives from Good News, an unofficial conservative caucus, reviewing the 2012 meeting said, “It is grievous that General Conference has become a place of such pain and protest. We do not take their tears lightly. … We do not celebrate in their pain.”

Several weeks later, Good News took issue with a sermon by retired Bishop Melvin Talbert at the California-Pacific Annual Conference which he titled, “Do the Right Thing!”

Talbert, preaching the ordination sermon, recalled his own experience as a young pastor as well as the recent history of the church.  He referred to a speech he gave at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference where he encouraged 1,100 pastors who had signed pledges to perform same-sex marriages in the normal course of their pastoral duties to “stand firm.”   “In the name of Jesus Christ, I declare you to ‘take thou authority’ and ‘do the right thing.’  And remember this: You are called by God; and you are confirmed and sent by your church.  There will be times when you will be called and challenged to choose between God and your church because your church does not always ‘do the right thing.’”

In a June 29 editorial published by Good News, “The Sermon of Division and Defiance,” the editors challenged Talbert’s appropriateness to encourage new ordinands to defy church law.

“Friends it can grow tiring to hear the news that there are actually United Methodist leaders who are actively being applauded for wanting to instigate division and discord within our church. But we need you to stand with us to do the right thing,” the article concluded.

California-Pacific, California-Nevada, Rocky Mountain, Desert Southwest and Oregon-Idaho conferences recommitted to their “We Will Not Be Silent” resolution made by the Western Jurisdiction in 2000 and updated in 2004.

The United Methodist Church is divided into five areas known as jurisdictions in the United States while conferences outside the U.S. are divided into similar areas known as central conferences. The seven central conferences are Africa, Central and Southern Europe, Congo, Germany, Northern Europe, Philippines and West Africa.

Three conferences in the North Central Jurisdiction — Illinois Great Rivers, Northern Illinois and West Michigan — expressed sadness at the actions of the 2012 General Conference.

In the Northeastern Jurisdiction, Greater New Jersey will have a conference-wide “Day of Prayer & Healing” on Sept. 30 for those hurt by conversations around human sexuality.

The Arkansas Annual Conference in the South Central Jurisdiction committed “to approach with respect and humility the differences faithful United Methodists have concerning the issue of homosexuality; and to encourage a series of sacred conversations about human sexuality, with a theologically diverse task force.”


NEJ Affirms Statement of Grace and Full Inclusion
Alexx Wood,
Rev. Scott Campbell, clergy delegate of the New England Conference, submitted to the Northeastern Jurisdiction a resolution stating in part that “the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference affirms its commitment to the civil and ecclesiastical rights and privileges of all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) persons, and declares its passionate opposition to continued distinctions of church law that restrict the rights and privileges of LGBT people in the UMC.”

Specifically, the language of the resolution declares that our “clergy, lay persons and congregations may feel bound by conscience to offer the ministries and sacraments of the church to all persons on an equal basis,” and that even though bound to the Book of Discipline, we are also “bound by Jesus’s commandment to stand with the marginalized and the oppressed in our midst.”

Campbell offered the resolution acknowledging the deep pain around questions of full inclusion in our church.  More than 50 delegates and alternates had signed the petition prior to its presentation at the Conference.  The 227 Jurisdictional delegates affirmed the resolution with 61% of the vote.

While the majority affirmation was enough to pass the resolution, the vote was still indicative of the continued division of the church on this issue. By the end of the break after the vote, a group identifying themselves as the Northeast Jurisdiction Evangelical Connection (NEJEC) expressed their disappointment in the decision by distributing a short statement outside of the conference proceedings.  The statement included a reminder that “the position of the United Methodist Church on human sexuality has not changed.”

The passing of the resolution follows on the heels of a number of Annual Conferences that passed similar statements.  The statement of the Northeastern Jurisdiction was modeled on a similar document issued by the Pacific Northwest Conference.

For the full text of the statement, click here.

Western Jurisdiction: Gay issue stand wrong

The following is excerpted from the UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert July 26, 2012

The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church has issued a “Statement of Gospel Obedience” that emphasizes Christ’s grace and love is available to all and that The United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.”

Delegates to the jurisdictional meeting July 18-21 voted to extend “extravagant hospitality” to all people including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex or persons whose gender expression is ambiguous.

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was asked to oversee a Western Jurisdiction grassroots movement that challenges bishops, clergy, laity and local churches and ministry settings to operate as if the statement printed in the denomination’s law book—Paragraph 161F—“does not exist.”

Talbert said he has publicly stated many times that if asked to perform a same-sex marriage he will do so.  He also said the active bishops of the Western Jurisdiction “will be bishops of the church” and uphold church law.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops, said the bishops “are of one mind” during her address to the jurisdiction.

“We believe that our beloved United Methodist Church has been less than faithful to the biblical mandate to accept all God’s children including our LGBTQ(IA) brothers and sisters.  We assume responsibility for preaching and teaching in every place we serve, this good news of Christ Jesus who welcomes all,” she said.

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, president of the Council of Bishops, noted that she does not want to comment on decisions of conferences.  “I trust in the process of holy conferencing, and I trust that my colleague bishops will act according to their call to serve the church as bishops of the church in the task of oversight for the general church and for the areas they are assigned to,” she said.  The council does not have supervisory authority over the bishops.

The five jurisdictions in the United States met in their regions July 18-21.  Jurisdictions meet once every four years to elect bishops and conduct business.

During the worldwide 2012 General Conference April 24-May 4, the church voted to retain current language in its law book that declares “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  Other sections of the law book state “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” may not be ordained as clergy and that United Methodist clergy cannot perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and same-sex wedding ceremonies may not be in United Methodist churches.

“We pledge to you that we will continue to work for that day when we, The United Methodist Church, can truly live up to our logo of open hearts, open minds, open doors,” Carcaño said.

The Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church encompasses the eight westernmost regional conferences of the United States, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam, and other territory in the Pacific.

In other action, the Western Jurisdiction apologized for the actions of the 2012 General Conference and said it plans to write letters to the editors in the major newspapers of each annual (regional) conference in the jurisdiction informing them of the apology.

The jurisdiction also suggested the penalty of a suspension for 24 consecutive hours from the exercise of episcopal office for any bishop charged, tried and convicted of ordaining or appointing a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”  The jurisdiction can only suggest a penalty; the trial court sets the penalty.

The action means the jurisdiction “can no longer passively live with the hypocritical oxymoron of a denomination that declares that ‘God loves all’ while it excludes some people from acceptance and leadership based on sexual orientation,” said Greg Nelson, director of communications of the Oregon-Idaho Annual (regional) Conference.

The action is an effort “to change the conversation” and move forward, he said.

“The Western Jurisdiction embraces the denominational brand promise of ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors’ and is working to make it a reality.

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