June 1999

Trumpet

Why We Officiated at a Service of Holy Union

A Statement of Conscience and invitation to dialogue by the Clergy who co-officiated at the January 16th, 1999 Service of Holy Union of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton

There are many different reasons why some 150 persons chose to be co-officiants for the Holy Union ceremony of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton on January 16th, 1999. For some there was one specific motivation, for others there were several reasons. What is compiled below is a list of reasons which were gathered from the various clergy co-officiants. The document does not pretend to speak accurately for each person and is not intended as some kind of "legal" document of support. We simply wanted to compile and share our reasons for taking part in an historic event which changed our lives and changed the church. We commend this document to those in our church who want to understand our action, and invite study, reflection and response.

All scripture quotations in this document are from the New Revised Standard Version.

We believe that we are acting in the way in which Jesus Christ would act.

In order to be obedient to our calling as ministers of Jesus Christ, proclaiming good news of God's love to all people, we believe that we are called to bless loving committed relationships between Christian people who happen to be of the same gender. In taking this action, we sense that we stand with Jesus.

The biblical world does not know homosexuality as such, and so there are no direct scriptural references to same-sex committed relationships as we know them today. In the many different cultural traditions represented in the scriptures there is substantial evidence that some same-sex commitment, intimacy and sexual relating was seen as part of the normal pattern of relationships. In cultures where most children died before the age of five, the communities placed a high emphasis upon producing large numbers of children. Hence, sexual relationships between men and women were given a sacredness because they promised to maintain the future existence of the clan and the tribe. There was little understanding of sexual activity as an expression of commitment or love which is central to a contemporary Christian understanding of sexuality.

The Biblical witness is far from being one seamless witness to a moral code. There is much dissent within the witness and a constant call to review and renew. In a world where most people believed that the earth was flat and diseases were caused by demons, the understanding of sexuality also corresponded to specific times and places. Some of the understandings of scripture carry over into our time and others do not.

Throughout much of the Biblical tradition, marriage was essentially a legal right to property. Men owned their wives and adultery was understood as an infringement of property rights. The contemporary understanding of a loving commitment between partners is far distant from the Biblical norm.

There are many "difficult" areas of moral interpretation where the scriptures do not give direct guidance, and social mores in our culture have developed in a dramatically different way from the communities in scripture. In these situations, we believe that the broader teachings of Jesus are applicable. Some key texts include:

You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

Love is the starting point for relating in the name of Jesus Christ. This love is unconditional and respects the integrity of those with whom we are in fellowship. But love requires that we also reach out beyond the community of faith.

The parable of the Good Samaritan, which follows in Luke 10, would seem to imply that Jesus believed that it was important that people of faith reach out to those who are often perceived by the society as "unclean" and invite them into the community of faith. The story of the Samaritan woman at the well and most of the healing stories also teach this theme of reaching out in love.

The famous sermon given by Jesus in Nazareth where he quoted the prophet Isaiah was perceived by his listeners as "extremist" and almost resulted in his death:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
Because he has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind
To let the oppressed go free
To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
(Luke 4:18-19)

Again there is no direct reference to same-sex affectional/sexual relating, but there is a clear emphasis on liberation for those who have been shunned and rejected by society because of who they are. In response to the question "What would Jesus do?" we believe that Jesus would have included Gay and Lesbian Christians, and others who seek to live a moral Gay/Lesbian life, in this message of new beginning.

When Jesus says:


God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

....we believe that there are no exceptions or conditions.

We are responding to the call of Jesus as reflected in Scripture. We confidently claim scriptural authority for our action.

Jesus was very deliberate in placing the need for healing, inclusiveness and renewal above the need for obedience to ecclesiastical authority. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, which was forbidden. It was forbidden because the Sabbath, along with Scripture, Synagogue and Rabbinate were the four foundations of Judaism. From the time of the Exile on, these are what preserved their culture and beliefs. To break the Sabbath was to threaten the very roots of their religion.

Jesus offered healing and blessing to those who were the victims of marginalization and rejection in his day. Women, children, those who were physically and mentally ill, colonial oppressors and those who were foreigners were all rejected by religious authorities, but were affirmed by Jesus.

In Mark 2:23 - 28 Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees for breaking "church law" about observing the Sabbath. Jesus responded by saying:

The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27)

Jesus repeatedly broke ecclesiastical law when he felt that it conflicted with God's law.

We are reluctant to claim that in breaking the law of the United Methodist Church we are following a higher law. Yet in Luke 13, in the story of Jesus healing the bent-over woman when Jesus says


Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day. (Luke 13:16)

....we believe that Jesus is saying that reaching out to heal should always be a high priority for God's people, and should take priority over regulations which exclude.

We believe that we are following the example of the Early Church in responding to the leading of the Spirit of the Risen Christ. An important image for us in the story of Cornelius in Acts 10. Peter had been operating under an assumption of certain limitations on his missional activity. God spoke to him in a dream and led him to Cornelius, a Roman army captain. He was shocked that God should include "outsiders" were considered "unclean". Peter makes his public confession:

I now realize that it is true that God treats everyone on the same basis. Those who fear him and do what is right are acceptable to him, no matter what race they belong to. (Acts 10:34-35)

We see the situation as analogous to our context. Peter was led by the Holy Spirit to extend the boundaries of faith to include those who were normally excluded. In order to do this he "broke the rules" of the early church in response to a call. We sense deep pain in the community around the exclusion of many men and women of faith, and we are sensing a call to reach out and include those who have been excluded for too long.

As early as the church in Acts 4, Peter and John were faced with the dilemma of obeying God or obeying the authorities of their religion (after all, they were still faithful Jews). They were tried before their highest religious authorities and told not to speak of Jesus any more. Peter and John replied


Whether it is right in God's sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about things we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:19-20)

We reject the use of certain selective scriptures as a means to reject both homosexual activity and homosexual persons.

We sense that in most cases specific scriptures are used in a way which we believe is inconsistent with a holistic view of scripture. For example:


You shall not lie with a man as a woman. It is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

These texts come from the priestly code designed to keep the Hebrew people pure. They are not statements about the morality of same-sex relationships but a command to keep producing children. They should be set alongside commands not to eat pork, not to wear clothes that mix fibers, and to stone to death those who use abusive language against their parents. It clearly is part of a rule book for a culture and a people in specific time and place. To stretch this prohibition into the 21st century without all the other rules is a selective use of scripture to support a pre-determined opinion. It is not letting the Bible speak.

Another text which is often lifted up is the story of Sodom in Genesis 19:1-19. This story has given rise to the English word "sodomy" which some people equate with homosexuality. This unusual Biblical story is very difficult for us to understand but does not include any developed understanding of homosexuality. It is a story of attempted gang rape, a story of mob violence. The "sin" of this story has to do with the violation of hospitality (against God's angels, nonetheless!). This interpretation is made abundantly clear in Ezekiel:

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:49)

The narrative contexts of the Sodom episode are stories of heterosexual deception and trespass (Genesis 19:30ff, incest and Genesis 20, lies and patriarchal pimping). They have nothing to do with the relationships of mutual affirmation, respect and sexual intimacy which we are seeking to affirm in a service of Holy Union. It is also central to this story that Abraham, the prime ancestor of our tradition, plead for the redemption of Sodom. If there are as few as ten "righteous persons", God agreed, the city would be spared. Unfortunately the remnant was too small in Sodom, but the principle is informative; God's people are called to focus on faithful living, not to focus selectively on judging sexual conduct.

Turning to the New Testament, there is nothing in the records of Jesus directly concerning homosexuality. There is nothing either explicit or implicit in the words or actions of Jesus related to this area. Jesus does clearly speak out against divorce, and yet, the United Methodist Church, along with other major Protestant denominations has reluctantly seen the need for understanding a new social context as compared with Jesus' time. Jesus explicitly says:

A man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against his wife. (Mark 10:11)

If scripture is to be used to justify a prohibition of Holy Unions, then, to be consistent, the matter of divorce must be revisited. We do not believe that this is necessary. Our belief is that, in the real world of our time, divorce is a better moral course than no divorce in many situations, but we seek to uphold the enormous value of committed relationship both to the Christian life and to basic social fabric. In this situation "experience" and "reason" modify even the explicit teaching of Jesus.

The primary allusions to same-sex sexual activity (not relationship) come from the apostle Paul in contexts where he is listing various activities which demonstrate the ways in which sin is expressed by idolatry. People turn away from God's ways and substitute something else for God's way. The inference is that sexual pleasure-seeking has taken the place of devotion to God, or is part of pagan rituals. It is arguable that the apostle Paul would probably disapprove of most of the contemporary Christian writings which affirm mutual pleasure-giving and expression of affection as part of appropriate sexual activity. Paul was living in the desperately urgent atmosphere of the last days. Jesus would return at any moment. To develop a moral theology on the basis of Paul's statements is again "reading in" a previously formed moral opinion.

The most frequently quoted scripture from the New Testament is in Romans 1; and is generally assumed to be either the writing or the thought of the Apostle Paul:

Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who blessed us forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women were consumed with passion for one other. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:25-27)

Gay and Lesbian Christians would wholeheartedly agree that when people "exchange the truth of God for a lie" then many terrible things happen. "Shameful passions" take many forms both sexual and non-sexual. The great sin in Romans 1 is substituting anything for the living Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the writer sees such people as refusing the true knowledge about God.

Even if we accepted a proscription of homosexual activity in Paul, there would still be a moral question-mark raised by the apostle's clear acceptance of the institution of slavery and the prohibition against women speaking in church or leaving their heads uncovered in church. Paul appears to believe that same-sex sexual activity is "against nature", which might have been the prevailing scientific opinion in his time. There is substantial scientific evidence in our time to support the notion that homosexual activity is part of nature.

We believe that scripture provides few specifics to guide moral decision making in the area of human sexual relating. In this case, as in all others, when the instructions of scripture are not clear and consistent we return to the basic moral teaching of Jesus which is to love, to accept, to reach out, to heal and build a new loving community where justice prevails.

Engaging in discussions about homosexuality does lead the church back to some basic issues concerning the interpretation of scripture, and questions of how we deal with differences of understanding. It also requires us to be extremely careful about selecting certain scriptures to "proof text" a previously-developed opinion. For example, Jesus clearly spoke out against "the Scribes and the Pharisees" and, also often against rich people. Paul clearly spoke out against those who brought division in the church. None of these groups is specifically identified as "incompatible with Christian teaching" in our Discipline; nor have we spent countless hours of debate about them in the General Conference. Why then are Gays and Lesbians singled out for this attention?

We are responding to the call for justice

As we read both the Biblical record and the story of the Civil Rights movement in the United States, we are struck by the stories of the struggle for justice. We see this debate in the church as a struggle for justice and a reluctance on behalf of the denomination to embrace the full meaning of "liberty and justice for all."

Dr. Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail provides basic guidance for us: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. We believe that if we, and the United Methodist Church, stand for justice, we cannot relegate our Gay/Lesbian sisters and brothers to the status of second-class citizens.

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ears of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."

One may ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Gay and Lesbian United Methodists have been encouraged to stay "closeted" until the day dawns that we are ready to receive them as Gay and Lesbian Christians. We, as clergy, have been encouraged to wait until the law of the church changes. Justice cannot wait.

We are responding to our United Methodist heritage

We strongly affirm Our Doctrinal Heritage and our Theological task, as outlined in our Book of Discipline. We believe that we stand firmly in the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley's grandfather was imprisoned for using a prayer which was not in the Prayer Book. Susannah Wesley held prayer meetings in her home in defiance of two rulings of the church which forbade women from leading meetings and would not allow such meetings outside the church building.

John Wesley began the Methodist movement by a basic action of disobedience against the Church of England, in conscience. When locked out of the church, Wesley preached in the streets. In beginning the Methodist movement in the American colonies, Wesley chose to respond to the pleadings of those Methodists who had emigrated to America. He expressly rejected the instruction of the Bishop of London, as he believed that God's spirit was directing the Methodist movement. The ordinations of Richard Whatcoat, Thomas Vesey and Thomas Coke were all actions of disobedience. When Wesley was faced with a conflict between pastoral need and church law, he prayerfully chose to respond to pastoral need.

Many of the great Christians of our tradition are individuals who broke church law to respond to what they believed to be a higher calling. Martin Luther, Richard Allen, Martin Boehm and Philip Otterbein all broke church law in order to hold to a higher calling.

We believe that the extrapolation of law from 65C is contrary to the order and discipline of United Methodism. We believe that by disobeying this particular "church law", we are actually preserving the very core values and faith which are at the heart of the Methodist Movement. We are deeply aware that the split between the Methodist Church North and the Methodist Church South began as a disagreement over enforcing the Discipline.

We must not let this happen again. We believe that: The United Methodist Church stands continually in need of doctrinal reinvigoration for the sake of authentic renewal, fruitful evangelism and ecumenical dialogue. In this light, the recovery and updating of our distinctive doctrinal heritage - catholic, evangelical, and reformed - is essential. (61, page 56, 1996 Book of Discipline)

Also:


We are now challenged by traditions from around the world that accent dimensions of Christian understanding that grow out of the sufferings and victories of the downtrodden. These traditions help us rediscover the Biblical witness to God's special commitment to the poor, the disabled, the imprisoned, the oppressed, the outcast. In these persons we encounter the living presence of Jesus Christ.

We continue to draw on the broader Christian tradition as an expression of the history of divine grace within which Christians are able to recognize and welcome on another in love. (63, page 78, 1996 Book of Discipline)

Our heritage has always been willing to learn and grow and discover the new revelations of God's spirit at work in the lives of ordinary people. We believe that God is calling United Methodists into a new awareness and a new ministry. To exclude Gay and Lesbian Christians from our community is to deny our rich heritage of faith.

We affirm the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ as the starting point for pastoral relationship.

We live in a climate where hasty judgements and prejudices are frequently used to "put down" and oppress. Racism, sexism, ageism, oppression of children, insensitivity to the disabled and many other expressions of separation are prevalent, and are, we believe, part of the pattern of human sin. It is often said during the homosexuality conversations that "we love the sinner and hate the sin". We believe that this is an expression of conditional love, and, as such falls short of the expressions of love in the name of Jesus Christ. We do not support this notion in any moral decision-making situation.

We do not understand a person's Gay or Lesbian identity to be "sin" any more than any other sexual identity is "sin". We are aware that much of heterosexual activity can be sinful in the same way that homosexual activity can be sinful. We perceive our sexual identity to be a precious gift of God to be lived and celebrated to the fullest. This is particularly so in the context of committed Christian life. We are aware that many in the Christian tradition historically have understood sexuality very differently, and have viewed all sexual activity in a negative light. Sexuality has been used to oppress and restrain in ways which have been damaging. We believe that it is vitally important in our time to be free to understand the rich diversity of God's creation in creating difference as a means of celebrating the beauty of the human family.

Our Discipline reminds us:


....sexuality is God's gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledge and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined responsible fulfillment of themselves, others and society in the stewardship of this gift. ( 65G, 1996 Book of Discipline)

We believe that we are inviting the United Methodist Church to be accountable for its own belief. We see that, as a denomination, we are still largely functioning in a state of denial concerning sexuality. Professional Medical and Psychological bodies repeatedly reaffirm that homosexuality is healthy and normal. The American Psychiatric Association in December 1998 affirmed:


All evidence would indicate this (homosexual orientation) is the way people are born.

There is still debate in some psychological circles in many areas of sexual identity, but we believe that it is important that the church operate from a position of openness and affirmation. We need to be careful that some of our attitudes do not unwittingly create a deeper problem. A resolution of the American Psychological Association in 1997 stated:

The very existence of therapy that is supposed to change people's sexuality, even for people who don't take it, is harmful because it implies they have a disease. There is evidence that the belief itself can trigger depression and anxiety.

Our culture's unease with sexual matters often makes discussion defensive and evasive. As Christians, we need to be leading the way in finding new freedom, openness and honesty to explore "God's gift to all persons".

We believe that, as pastors, we are obliged to offer blessing to those in our congregations.

We are not responding to "an issue" but rather are responding pastorally to those in our congregations who live in committed relationship. The immediacy of our response to the Judicial Council ruling in August 1998 reflected the fact that we felt an instruction was being given to remove members of our congregations from full membership in the United Methodist Church into a second class status, and this was pastorally unacceptable to us. We have already seen and worked to relieve the enormous pain caused by our denomination's stance with regard to Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender persons.

Many others in our denomination do not understand our dilemma as they live in situations where the Gay and Lesbian community has no or little visibility in the life of the church. Many Gay and Lesbian Christians have come to our churches because they have experienced oppression or even hostility in churches and communities in other parts of the country.

We believe that most of our pastors in the denomination, if instructed to stop blessing the committed relationship of 10%, 20%, or 50% of their congregation, would respond in the same way we have responded. We find the prohibition of Holy Union particularly inconsistent when we are routinely encouraged to bless homes, pets, feasts, cars, events, and many other items which fall short of the obvious level of Christian commitment which is found in many loving Gay/Lesbian relationships.

In the Disciplinary Responsibilities and Duties of a Pastor it says:


The decision to perform the (marriage) ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor. (331 (i), 1996 Book of Discipline)

We celebrate this degree of trust which is ours to decide when, and when not, to offer the blessing of the church. We believe that it is consistent to maintain this level of discretion in blessing other relationships.

We sense little unease among United Methodists with our blessing heterosexual marriages where we might have questions about the level of commitment or the quality of mutual affection. No pastor has ever been charged with disobedience to order and discipline when blessing a relationship based upon violence or exploitation, yet many such blessings happen in our churches.

For some in our group, participation in the Holy Union was as much personal as it was pastoral. Those who have Gay/Lesbian children cannot imagine withholding blessing of a committed relationship of love.

Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton are Christians who have been baptized by ministers of the church, in the name of Jesus Christ; received into membership (by their ministers) in the church of Jesus Christ, and have routinely received the sacrament of Holy Communion from their ministers. Jean and Ellie are role models of outstanding Christian leadership. They have been entrusted with leadership of the church in a wide variety of areas. They have been elected by the Annual Conference with the expectation that they will provide the highest and best to God's people. For years, they have have provided great moral and spiritual leadership both at St. Mark's UMC and in the California-Nevada Annual Conference.

Our shared belief was and is that the church has no right to withhold blessing when they have come forward requesting blessing for the loving and committed relationship which they share.

Bishop Talbert has reminded us:


I contend that all clergy must be free to choose the appropriate pastoral responses they should make in their priestly roles. This must never become a political action. Today, it is homosexuality. What will the next issue be? Do you remember when the issue was race?

We are responding to the call of our United Methodist Discipline.

Our denomination has a painful history of separation and segregation which continues up to the present day. 117 reminds us that Inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination. And yet we remain largely a segregated church, where racism, sexism and other expressions of oppression are widespread.

In our Social Principles we say:


Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth....all persons need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons. (65G, 1996 Book of Discipline)

We also affirm our belief in:

Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation - Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims where they have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attend to contractual relationships.... ( 66H, 1996 Book of Discipline)

We believe that in performing a Ceremony of Holy Union, we have been fundamentally obedient to the dictates of the United Methodist Discipline. We believe that we have followed both the spirit and the letter of the United Methodist Discipline and believe that the last sentence of 65C is contrary to that spirit.

We believe that we were acting in a way that our Annual Conference would have us act.

For nearly a decade the California-Nevada Annual Conference has voted not only to identify with the title Reconciling Conference but has been proactive in the inclusion of Gays and Lesbians at every level of the church. It is no accident that our Conference Lay Leader and several other key leaders of our Annual Conference are Lesbian or Gay. Our Conference routinely alerts itself to the dangers of homophobia and has sought to break through the barriers of misunderstanding, both within and beyond the church. We have sensed that God has called us to a special ministry in this area, as so many Gay and Lesbian persons live within the boundaries of our Conference. There has been a growing sense in recent years that our actions must match our words, in spite of the fact that this often produces an atmosphere of tension within the denomination. We have tried to work bravely and responsibly in responding to the work of God's spirit in our midst. We see that affirmation of the need for Holy Unions in the life of the church to be consistent with this special ministry.

We believe that God is calling us to faithfulness in this matter.

We firmly believe that God is calling us at this time and in this place to do what we have done and to say what we are saying. We are deeply saddened by the lack of support for this pastoral ministry by many within the United Methodist Church. We respect the conscience of those who cannot join us, but we believe that our own conviction, both as Christians and as United Methodist clergy, allows us no other course of action. We believe that we are part of a great Christian family where there has been a long-standing tradition of agreeing to disagree in love.

We believe that we must respond to the call which God has placed upon our hearts in this matter, and we will continue to hold in prayer and respect the conscience of those who cannot stand with us and those who question whether our position is faithful to the Gospel. We expressly call upon those who disagree with our position to join with us in affirming the right of conscience and celebrating our unity in diversity in Jesus Christ.

For most of those participating, this was an act of obedience to the vows of ordination which were taken some years ago:


You are to love, serve and pray for all the people among whom you work. (Ordination service, Book of Worship, page 675)

The effect of 65C is to require us to break this vow.

We are concerned that our action not be interpreted as an act of disobedience, but rather an act of conscientious dissent.

68E of the Social Principles states:


Therefore we recognize the right of individuals to dissent when acting under the constraint of conscience and, after having exhausted all legal recourse, to resist or disobey laws that they deem to be unjust or that are discriminately enforced.

The Discipline recognizes here that Christians in good conscience sometimes have to place God's call and God's law above the law of the land. We want to affirm the right of United Methodist Christians prayerfully to disobey church laws which result in overt discrimination by the church. Some freedom of personal religious conscience must be affirmed by our denomination.

We see a direct parallel with the question of Pacifism and Military Service. Many United Methodist Christians refuse to serve in the armed forces, and many others choose to serve, as an act of conscience. This is so, in spite of the fact that our Discipline says:


We believe war is incompatible with the Gospel and Spirit of Christ ( 68G, 1996 Book of Discipline)

We have found the way to "agree to disagree" in this area. We believe that this is an appropriate model for our current situation.

Some clergy who participated in the Holy Union ceremony identified a key motivation to be conscientious solidarity with another member of the Order of clergy. In the best tradition of the clergy covenant, they were standing with another pastor who would otherwise have been standing alone. They felt that they could not allow one pastor's good conscience to be "punished" unjustly.

We are concerned that the action of the Judicial Council in August, 1998 did not reflect the full intent of the 1996 General Conference and did not follow legal precedent.

It was clear in Denver in 1996 that a majority of delegates wanted to express their unease with United Methodist clergy performing Holy Union ceremonies. There is little doubt in our minds that many in our denomination hold strong opinions in this matter. When the Homosexuality Study Commission reported to the General Conference in Louisville in 1992 and proposed a more open policy of tolerance for "both sides" the policy was voted down.

At the same time, the legislation proscribing Holy Unions was deliberately placed in the Social Principles rather than in the main body of the Discipline. The Social Principles have traditionally been understood as "advisory" in nature and not legally binding. It is unprecedented for the Judicial Council to rule that one new sentence from the Social Principles has the force of law, while leaving moot the question as to whether any other sentences might or might not have similar force of law.

We also believe that in its action of August 8, 1998, the Judicial Council acted in violation of 68E and are in fact making a discriminate action contrary to our historic commitment to human rights. Not only are the rights of Gay and Lesbian United Methodists being trampled, but so are the rights of clergy and lay persons who have acted in good conscience. The right to "resist or disobey laws that they (individuals in good conscience) deem to be unjust or that they are discriminately enforced" is clearly protected by the very Social Principles which are being inveighed as judgement upon us.

The 1996 General Conference passively left the responsibility for "enforcing" the last sentence of 65C with the Judicial Council. It would appear from their actions that the Judicial Council believes itself to be required to help the church avoid anything which might be "divisive". The subsequent decision concerning identifying labels for Conferences and Agencies (Confessing, Reconciling etc.) made this transparently clear.

The action of the Judicial Council opens up the possibility for charges to be brought against a pastor who actively opposes a particular abortion or instance of euthanasia. Racism and sexism have been rampant within the life of the denomination, and are clearly prohibited by the Social Principles, and yet we are not aware of any action being taken against individuals who are "disobedient to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church" in these areas. We wonder whether the Judicial Council is intending that these areas should now be tested. We do not believe that the Complaint/Trial process is an appropriate way to handle such concerns.

We see this current crisis as part of a pattern of consistent discrimination and marginalization of Gay and Lesbian persons in the denomination in which the Judicial Council has now become complicit. The February 26, 1999 statement by a group of United Methodist lawyers points out the dangers of "judicial activism" where the Judicial Council appears to be attempting to make laws rather than simply interpreting them. The whole area of Stare Decisis is a powerful legal argument. This legal doctrine says simply that a legal authority does not overturn previous decisions which were narrowly decided by the church as a whole. We echo the lawyer group's statement of February 26 when we say "We believe this may be bad law."

We believe that God is moving the church forward to be both a rich expression of diversity and a celebration of the varieties of Christian experience represented in the Wesleyan tradition

We believe that by "drawing a line in the sand" the 1996 General Conference has unwittingly challenged the church to "open up" to God's Spirit in some new ways. For too long, the church has struggled with affirming Gay/Lesbian persons and condemning Gay/Lesbian life. We believe that God is calling us to take an honest look at personal and family values, to explore unfamiliar models of family, community and sexuality. We celebrate the saints of the church who have taught, and are teaching us still, about racism and sexism; and we celebrate too those saints who teach us about homophobia.

We are deeply concerned that prejudicial attitudes towards Gays and Lesbians contribute to the level of hate crimes both within our Annual Conference and across the nation. We fear that many of our sister and brother United Methodists are unwittingly contributing to a climate of fear and suspicion. We seek healing for our communities. We seek honesty and celebration of persons in our congregations.

We seek to be a movement of truth-telling within the United Methodist Church. We believe that God has called the leaders of the California-Nevada Annual Conference to be "an extraordinary people in an extraordinary time". We are deeply grateful for the compassionate, visionary leadership of Bishop Melvin Talbert, who has dared to speak out on behalf of Gays and Lesbians, and on behalf of the clergy and lay leadership who work in communities where there is a strong visible Gay and Lesbian presence. We give thanks to God for the extraordinary patience and grace of many individual Gay and Lesbian United Methodist Christians, who, in spite of frequent rejection within the church and the community, still see that they "belong" within the Untied Methodist family. Their stories are often agonizing and powerful and bear great testimony to the refining power of "telling the truth, in season or out of season".

We thank God for calling us to this time and this place. In the name of Jesus Christ we are called to work within our diversity while exercising patience and forbearance with one another. Such patience stems neither from indifference toward truth nor from an indulgent tolerance of error but from an awareness that we know only in part and that none of us is able to search the mysteries of God except by the Spirit of God. We proceed with our theological task, trusting that the Spirit will grant us wisdom to continue our journey with the whole people of God. (63, page 81, 1996 Book of Discipline)

We are looking for "new birth" in the church in this and many other areas:


Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows where it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit (Jesus speaking in John 3:7-8)

Those against whom a Complaint was filed as result of taking part in the service of Holy Union on January 16th, 1999:

John J. Auer, III
Brandon Austin
Donald L. Baldwin
Claire Beals-Nesmith
Robert W. Blaney
Diana Marie Bohn
Richard E. Bruner
Carol M. Carter
George Carter
Jerry Carter
John Chamberlin
Thomas Clark
Rolfe Conrad
Clifford Crummey
Donna Morrow DeCamp
Sharon Delgado
Nadine DeWitt
Steven Eatough-Smith
Janet S. Everhart
Renae Extrum-Fernandez
Donald Fado
David Franks
Glenn Fuller
Nobuaki Hanaoka
J. Richard Hart
Robert J. Hawthorne
Douglas Hayward
Thomas Hicks
Bruce Hilton
Virginia Hilton
Elbert Hoffman
Hubert L. Ivery
Alan H. Jones
Linda Kelly
Phillip Lawson
Stephen Lee
Charles Lerrigo
James Lockwood-Stewart
David MacMurdo
Theresa Mason
Victor W. McLane
Maggie McNaught
Douglas Monroe
Bob Moon
Mary Parker-Eves
Larry Patten
Ted Pecot
Cheri Pierre
Jay Pierce
Kathleen Ralston
Robert Rankin
Lynn Rhodes
Byron Roberts
Ellen Rowan
Robert Sanford
Doug Smith
Marlene Spilman
Judith Stone
Frank H. Stone
Gerald Summers
Paul Sweet
Margo Tenold
Harold A. Tillinghast
Richard Whitmore
Cecil Williams
Lee Williamson
Andrea Meek Winchester
Sargent Wright

For further information concerning the contents of this document, please contact any of the clergy listed above.