March 16, 1998


Verdict does not determine church policy, Judicial Council member tells congregation

by United Methodist News Service

LINCOLN, Neb. -— A member of the United Methodist Church's Judicial Council said from his pulpit on Sunday that the March 11-13 trial court that acquitted the Rev. Jimmy Creech does not change church policy.

The Rev. C. Rex Bevins, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church here, said church policy would be up to the Judicial Council and the General Conference. The conference, which is the denomination's lawmaking body, meets again in 2000.

During the March 15 worship service, Bevins told the congregation that he had received numerous requests to respond to the March 13 decision that acquitted Creech of the charge of disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church. Eight out of 13 jurors found him guilty -- one vote short of the number needed for conviction.

Creech was charged following a Sept. 14 covenanting ceremony that he officiated for two women in his congregation at First United Methodist Church in Omaha.

The decision made at the trial stands for the Creech case, "but it does not change church law," Bevins said.

Nebraska Bishop Joel Martinez stated on March 16 that his instructions to Creech prohibiting a covenanting ceremony will stand for any other pastor who contemplates performing a same-sex union. If he received another complaint similar to the initial one about Creech, "I would do the same thing," he said.

Martinez is seeking a ruling from the Judicial Council –- the church's "Supreme Court" -- to clarify language in the church's Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality and same-sex ceremonies.

At the March 15 worship service at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, a physically and emotionally exhausted Creech received a standing ovation as he was welcomed back to the pulpit after four months. He spoke at three services to about 600 people. He spoke of God's covenant with all people, the sign of the rainbow and how God will take care of all His people.

Creech had been suspended as pastor at the 1,900-member church since Nov. 10 for performing the same-sex service.

"I don't know the implications of their (the jury's) decision," he said from the pulpit. "But I believe it is the beginning of a reversal of growing hostility and exclusion of gay and lesbians in the church."

He expressed gratitude to his supporters for the commitment to stand by him with integrity and faithfulness. He stated his belief that the trial's momentum can be used to challenge the denomination's position on homosexuality at the 2000 General Conference.

While there was joy inside the sanctuary, picketers demonstrated outside. Protestors from Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kan. -- including the Rev. Fred Phelps, a well-known anti-gay activist -- carried signs with messages denouncing what they called the Omaha church's "gay agenda."

Creech said church members who were dissatisfied with the verdict did not attend any of the three worship services.

At each service, a church staff member read an Episcopal statement from Martinez encouraging the congregation to "respect the judgment handed down by the jury."

The day after the March 13 verdict, North Alabama Area United Methodist Bishop Robert E. Fannin and the 12 district superintendents of the North Alabama Annual Conference issued a statement saying they were "concerned for the life, ministry and unity of the United Methodist Church."

The statement said the cabinet reaffirmed its "obedience to the order and teachings set forth in the Book of Discipline . . . and the Social Principles it contains. We are greatly distressed by those church leaders, who by their words and actions deviate from the order and teachings of our denomination. Our prayer is for faithfulness and oneness in Jesus Christ."

"We are primarily concerned for the spiritual lives of our fellow Christians," Fannin said.

The North Alabama Annual Conference has more than 850 United Methodist churches with more than 161,000 members.