February 11, 2000
See also: Cal-Nevada ministers won't stand trial, committee decides
Office of the Bishop, San Francisco Area
The United Methodist Church at United Methodist Center
West Sacramento, California
February 11, 2000-12:00 Noon (Pacific Time)
On March 23, 1999, I released a statement to the media acknowledging that I had received, accepted and decided to forward to Counsel for the Church a complaint against sixty-nine clergy in this Conference. The complaint had to do with these clergy participating in the January 16, 1999 Holy Union Celebration between Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnett. The Counsel for the Church received the complaint, signed it, and forwarded the same to the Chairperson of the Committee on Investigation of the California-Nevada Conference on May 10, 1999.
In my March 23 press release, I gave the context for my decision to forward this matter to our judicial process. I hereby reaffirm that context. It is my belief that my colleague district superintendents and I took the appropriate steps to allow this matter to be adjudicated by a panel of peers in keeping with our church polity.
I am here today to share with you the decision of the Committee regarding this complaint.
The Committee on Investigation had its first meeting to consider this complaint on June 15, 1999. Pursuant to the Book of Discipline (Paragraph 2626.3), the Committee has given considerable attention to this matter since that time, including special Hearings on February 1-3, 2000. The Hearings were an extraordinary process to receive input on both sides of the issues involved from scholars, experts and respondents. The Hearings were unprecedented. Committee deliberations continued following the Hearings and the last session was held February 8, 2000, at which time this report was finalized.
It is important for you to know and to understand that what I share here today is the report of the Committee. It is not the report of the Bishop. My role is to facilitate the process by sharing the decision of the Committee and to clarify next steps.
After receiving and reviewing this report, it is clear to me that the Committee considered the action of each respondent separately. Thus, I present here the report of the Committee on Investigation:
In the matter of: (see list of names attached)
On May 10, 1999, the Committee on Investigation of the California-Nevada Annual Conference received a Judicial Complaint alleging that sixty-eight clergy had been disobedient to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church by officiating at a Holy Union Celebration on January 16, 1999. The complaint has required a unique investigation. The question before us was whether or not there were reasonable grounds to certify that the charge is proper for a trial? We concluded that the answer required a methodology consistent with our whole faith rather than one limited by a narrow focus. A three-day public hearing was convened to seek evidence from a variety of expert witnesses addressing scripture, tradition, ethics, experience, reason, and the history of this annual conference.
We want to affirm that we in the California-Nevada Annual Conference are not of one mind regarding our churchs ministry to the gay/lesbian community. We confess that our differences of opinion have resulted in division and tension among us, testing the depth of our commitment to our mutual covenant. We continue to be in dialogue with one another as clergy and laity in this Annual Conference. In the midst of this reality, we humbly acknowledge our need for Gods grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We recognize our calling to affirm one another as persons of sacred worth, and to live out our belief that each person is valued in the sight of God. This has meant that both "Reconciling Congregations" and "Transforming Congregations" are present in our Annual Conference. Together, we find our unity in Jesus Christ. We give thanks and rejoice that through Gods grace we are empowered to love one another, even when we do not agree on this issue. Most recently, a significant number of our clergy and laity became concerned by an addition of paragraph 65C at the 1996 General Conference which states, "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." Subsequently, the Judicial Council ruled [Decision No. 833] that "Conduct in violation of this prohibition renders clergy liable to a charge of disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church under Paragraph 2626 of the Discipline."
We also affirm that our history of ministry and mission in the California-Nevada Annual Conference exemplifies a commitment to the value of inclusiveness expressed in Paragraph 117, and to the general understanding of the United Methodist Church as a denomination whose " ministry of service is a primary representation of Gods love [Paragraph 303.2]."
The Committee on Investigation shares this background information as a preface to the decisions regarding the complaints filed against the sixty-eight clergy. These respondents acknowledge their participation in the celebration.
The Committee on Investigation for Clergy Members does not certify the Judicial Complaint dated May 10, 1999, relating to the Service of Celebration of the Holy Union of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton held on January 16th, 1999, Sacramento, California against (see list of names attached) as a charge proper for trial.
The Rev. Ronald G. Swisher, Chair,
Committee on Investigation for Clergy Members
California-Nevada Annual Conference
February 8, 2000
Having received this report from the Committee on Investigation regarding each of the respondents involved in the complaint surrounding the January 16, 1999 Holy Union Celebration, I now declare that according to our church polity this complaint process is hereby ended. No further steps or actions will be taken or pursued. I am grateful to the members of the Committee on Investigation for a job well done.
Finally, this decision of the Committee on Investigation will not resolve the tension and conflict around the issue of the place and role of the gay/lesbian community in our church or in this conference. The dialogue and the struggle will continue. In fact, we may never reach agreement around this issue. However, agreement is not a requirement for people of faith to be in covenant as sisters and brothers. Our unity is not in agreement on issues; our unity is in Jesus Christ.
The Book of Discipline is commonly called the Book of Laws. It is also called the Book of Covenant. While this particular committee decision may appear to have broken covenant with the Book of Discipline, there is another more basic and fundamental covenant that has precedence over this one narrow focus of law. In our polity, The Annual Conference is the basic body of the church (Paragraph 31 Article II, The Constitution). The Annual Conference is the covenant into which clergy members are received and held accountable for their ministry. It is my humble opinion that the decision of this Committee on Investigation does reflect the longstanding covenant commitments for inclusiveness and justice of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, within the spirit of our longstanding commitment to Jesus Christ as the people called United Methodists. May Gods blessings be upon us as we continue our spiritual journey toward perfection, seeking to do Gods Will: nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.
Melvin G. Talbert, Resident Bishop
LIST OF RESPONDENTS