Given at Fairfield, California, February 3, 2000
NOTE: For related coverage of the Feb. 1-3 hearing, see Cal-Nevada panel ends hearing in same-sex union case and Clergy on both sides of holy union issue affirm hearing process.
I do not use a manuscript. I prepare using a tape recorder. This is an edited version of my last practice tape. It should be similar to what I said.
This Annual Conference is very important to me. I became involved in it 52 years ago in 1948 in the Conference Youth Program under the direction of Bob Cary, and I've been involved ever since. This is where my church membership resides; I maintain a covenant relationship with this extended family in following Jesus. Last August the Judicial Council threw a roadblock in the way of my ministry. They ruled I could no longer offer a prayer of blessing for certain people in my congregation. I am allowed to bless anyone else and anything else: houses, cars, tractors, pets, toys - anything except two people who wish to make a life commitment of love and fidelity if they are of the same gender. I cannot obey the ruling of the Judicial Council and be obedient to Christ. This matter is not just about gay rights, it is a matter of ministerial rights. I cannot obey this rule and follow Jesus.
I am grieved that some of my brothers and sisters believe that my obedience to Christ over a church rule breaks the covenant I share with them. I have always thought that the covenant is far deeper than that. The word "shall" (or "shall not") appears in our Discipline 2351 times. Breaking one of those means breaking the entire covenant? Good heavens, that is almost 4 times as many laws as in the Torah; we out-torah the Torah.. But our covenant is not based upon hundreds of rules, but on grace.
The question before you is whether this open defiance of one of our rules due to conscience invalidates my entire ministry among you. Are my 52 years in this family irrelevant? Am I no longer needed or wanted? And not just me. Look around you at the 66 others. Are their ministries no longer valid because of their commitment to Christ? And what of the 26 other clergy from this Conference who co-officiated with us in absentia and stand in solidarity with us? Can we continue as pastors in your midst if we cannot obey this one rule in the Social Principles? The answer in Chicago and Omaha is "no!" But this is the California-Nevada Annual Conference and each Annual Conference determines who is fit for ministry according to the Discipline of our church. This is the California-Nevada Annual Conference whose heritage is a witness for full inclusion. The prayer of blessing we uttered was for our Conference Lay Leader, an elected delegate to General Conference; and her partner is one of the trustees for our Annual Conference. We did not break any covenant with this Conference. We were fulfilling our covenant.
Have we forgotten who we are?
You have stood by me in my acts of conscience against civil laws. The
Social Principles commits our church to such support:
"We assert the duty of churches to support those who suffer because of their stands of conscience represented by nonviolent beliefs or acts." While affirming such rights in the civil arena there are those who believe we have no such rights in our own church.
Then what does the Annual Conference do with people who out of
allegiance to Christ cannot obey one of the rules? There is no need for a
trial; you know what we have done. The Annual Conference should do to us
what would with any pastor who breaks some of the disciplinary rules such as
refusing to take a particular special offering or refusing to use United
Methodist curriculum for confirmation class. Put it in our record. Let that
be a factor to be
considered in our next appointment. Let it be known in advance to the
church to which we are being appointed. And then let's get on to making
Let's get on to being disciples of Jesus Christ.
Light an online candle for the Sacramento 68!
You may use this candle or its larger version on your web site in connection with the online vigil. Link back to us at http://www.umaffirm.org/cornet/calnev.html.