February 5, 1999
CORNET Note: This statement responds to the editorial, "Illegal rituals aren't the way to effect change in our church," UMR, January 18, 1999, which is no longer online.
Some California United Methodists threw a big party in Sacramento on Saturday, January 16, 1999, just before Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. About 1200 invited guests witnessed Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton promise to love each other for the rest of their lives. Another 1000 (the police count) formed a Circle of Love around the Convention Center.
EVERYONE was invited to join the Circle of Love, whether in Sacramento or elsewhere. Many churches held services of solidarity and/or rang their bells; innumerable individuals offered prayers of blessing; and at least one heterosexual couple lit a lavender candle during their marriage service to also honor Jeanne's and Ellie's covenant. An East Coast husband and wife played "Ode to Joy" on their outdoor sound system and rang their big garden bell so that even the nearby wild animals had to take notice.
In this sacred event, many glimpsed what God's Ultimate Community is to be. No wonder Jesus used the images of the Wedding, the Feast, the Dinner Party to describe the Kin-dom of God. We are all invited to come to God's party in a spirit of full acceptance and love of each other. Jesus' invitation was, is, and always will be open and inclusive.
The United Methodist Reporter's (UMR) editorial "Illegal rituals aren't the way to effect change in our church" missed the point. Our movement to continue blessing same-gender relationships is not about "breaking church law." It is about being faithful to the deepest covenants of mutuality that Christians can have within community, including the most important aspects of the Social Principles and our Book of Discipline, not to mention the Bible. The Book of Discipline affirms that "The heart of Christian ministry is Christ's ministry of outreaching love... The forms of this ministry are diverse..." (Paragraph 104). Further, it proclaims that "...All Christians are called to minister wherever Christ would have them serve and witness in deeds and words that heal and free" (Paragraph 105).
Some of our churches have celebrated Holy Unions at least since the 1960s, even before the formation of The United Methodist Church. Since that time, more and more congregations have joined this spiritual and grace-filled movement. The "Articles of Religion," describing individual churches, say that "it is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same.... [they] may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners...." Those celebrating covenant services wish to continue Jesus Christ's work in their time and place in light of their understanding of the Gospel and Christian ministry.
The UMR claims clergy performing Holy Unions are "breaking covenant" with the 1996 General Conference. Clearly the prohibitive statement in the Social Principles was not a mutual covenant as was Jeanne and Ellie's commitment to each other. Rather General Conference's statement was more like the ancient "suzerainty" form of covenant-- a conquering ruler tells "vassals" what they must do. In addition, General Conference violated the purpose of the Social Principles, a document of social justice. Banning covenant services is social IN-justice.
UMR suggests that clergy who bless same-gender couples are breaking their "ministry covenant." The Book of Discipline says that "Ordained persons exercise their ministry in covenant with all Christians, especially those whom they lead and serve in ministry." (Paragraph 303.3). They are also to "give themselves completely... following Jesus' pattern of love and service." (Paragraph 304.c). Hundreds of UM clergy and churches faithfully live these covenants, ministering with gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people. These pastors refuse to violate those whom they serve by administering an abusive mandate. They seek to heal and restore church unity by fully including all those who are baptized in the faith.
We invite all United Methodists to celebrate the presence, gifts, services, and Christian commitment of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered members. We pray for the day when United Methodist can celebrate these same-gender covenants with the same open-armed joy as marriages and not worry about retaliation. We care for our church deeply-- all of the church. We stand firm in our faith in Jesus Christ; we proclaim the Bible as God's inspired word; we celebrate the transforming power of the Holy Spirit; we honor our Wesleyan and United Methodist tradition; and we take seriously our commitment to the Book of Discipline.
Yet we are clear that Jesus taught that there are times when narrowly interpreted religious law harms people, and therefore should be set aside in order to fulfill the Great Commandment of Love, upon which "hang[s] all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:40). Something is wrong when clergy, including bishops, believe that they have to relinquish their role as "shepherd" in order to apply church law.
What will be our legacy as The United Methodist Church? Can we witness to the Great Commandment and accept the gracious flow of God's blessings? Can our lives be a testimony to radical love and justice as was Martin Luther King Jr.'s? Can we, with John Wesley, say that differences in modes of worship will not cause a division in our union and that we can still love each other in our diversity?**
General Conference's adoption of the statement, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches," (65c) was a divisive attempt to block a means of divine grace. Praise God that the flow of God's blessings can not be dammed up that easily by human injustice. To same-gender couples in committed relationships, we proclaim, "God blesses you!" To mixed-gender couples, we say, "God blesses you too!" To clergy and congregations participating in Holy Unions, we exclaim, "God blesses you!" To those who will not join in these celebrations, we affirm, "God blesses you too!" May all who have ears hear this proclamation: "God bless you! God bless us all! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!"
CORNET: The United Methodist Covenant Relationships Network
** "But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences." -- John Wesley (Catholic Spirit)