March church trial set for pastor who performed same-sex ceremony

by United Methodist News Service

Feb. 12, 1998

The church trial for the United Methodist minister who performed a same-sex ceremony last September has been set for March 11-13 in Kearney, Neb., 186 miles west of Omaha.

In a Feb. 11 memo to the Rev. Jimmy Creech, Nebraska Annual (regional) Conference Bishop Joel Martinez said he has requested that retired Bishop Leroy C. Hodapp of Evansville, Ind., serve as the presiding bishop at the trial.

Martinez, whose office is in Lincoln, also said in his initialed memo that "the date I have set, in consultation with Bishop Hodapp, is March 11-13, 1998," and the site will be First United Methodist Church in Kearney.

Hodapp was elected bishop in 1976 and served as head of the Illinois Area for eight years. He headed the Indiana Area for another eight years and retired in 1992.

Creech, suspended pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, is charged with "disobedience to the Order and Discipline" of the denomination because he performed a covenanting service uniting two women in the congregation.

In 1996, the United Methodist Church's top legislative body voted that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." That decision was placed in the Social Principles, a part of the 1996 Book of Discipline.

Creech has been suspended from pastoral responsibilities since Nov. 10. A Nebraska Committee on Investigation recommended on Jan. 23 that he face a church trial.

"Disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church," is one of 10 offenses for which a United Methodist clergy member may be tried in a church court.

Creech contends that his actions were "consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and with my calling as a pastor of the United Methodist Church."

The primary issue Creech wants the trial to resolve is whether the church's Social Principles are enforceable law or simply guidance for conduct and decision-making. He said he also hopes the verdict will provide greater openness, justice and acceptance for homosexuals in the United Methodist Church.

A 13-member jury and two alternates will be selected from among the clergy members of the Nebraska Conference, with consideration given to racial, ethnic and gender diversity.

Trials are closed unless the defendant requests that they be open. Creech is calling for an open trial. Nine or more votes are required for a conviction and fewer than nine votes are the basis for an acquittal.

According to the Discipline, "the burden of proof for a vote to convict shall be clear and convincing evidence."

If the trial court convicts Creech on the charge of disobedience, it has the power to:

If found guilty, Creech said he will appeal to the eight-state South Central Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals and then possibly to the denomination's supreme court.