March 18, 1998
CONTACT: Tim Tanton , Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5473
Groups on both sides of the homosexuality issue in the United Methodist Church are responding to the acquittal of an Omaha pastor who performed a same-sex union last fall.
Two of the groups -- the Confessing Movement and Good News -- are unofficial, conservative organizations that have decried the verdict. They are requesting the Council of Bishops call a special session of the General Conference to deal with what they call a "crisis" in the church.
A third group, the Reconciling Congregation Program, issued a statement supporting the verdict and expressing concern about divisions in the church. The unofficial United Methodist group promotes full participation in the church for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
The statements underscore the extent to which the trial has brought out divisions in the United Methodist Church over homosexuality.
The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church has expressed "disappointment and consternation" at the March 13 acquittal of the Rev. Jimmy Creech, the now- reinstated pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha.
The Confessing Movement was launched at a national meeting in April 1994 "to call the United Methodist Church to theological and doctrinal integrity . . . (and) to lift up the centrality of Jesus Christ as Son, Savior and Lord in our preaching and teaching of the Gospel," according to an early news release from the group.
In a statement issued March 17, the movement's board of directors said the Council of Bishops should request a special session of the church's top legislative body to "address the situation in which United Methodist pastors are disregarding the official position of the United Methodist Church."
The Confessing Movement's statement was reinforced by Good News, a conservative group that describes itself as a "a forum for scriptural Christianity" in the church.
"In failing to find Creech guilty, our system failed," said the Rev. James V. Heidinger II, president and publisher of Good News. Creech disobeyed his bishop and violated both the scripture and United Methodist Church policy by performing the union, he said in a March 17 statement.
Nebraska Bishop Joel Martinez suspended Creech in November for performing a covenanting ceremony for two women in his church Sept. 14. In a March 11-13 church trial in Kearney, Neb., eight of 13 clergy peers voted Creech guilty of violating the order and discipline of the church, but nine votes are necessary for conviction. Martinez reinstated Creech as senior pastor of First Church Omaha's 1,900-member congregation.
"The jury decision in the trial of Jimmy Creech is a glimmer of God's grace," said Mark Bowman, executive director of the Reconciling Congregation Program, in a March 16 statement.
The outcome of the trial was evidence of God's Spirit "moving the church toward . . . a fuller understanding of the inclusive and compassionate Gospel of Jesus Christ," Bowman said.
"However, it is distressing to hear voices of those in the church who threaten withdrawal or reprisals because others on the margins of the church are being invited to join them at God's table," he said. "God's table is bountiful with room enough for all."
As the Creech trial drew to a close on March 13, a group called the "Proclaiming the Vision Committee" announced that 92 United Methodist clergy members have stated their intention to perform same-sex unions.
Good News expressed "shock and dismay" at that announcement and labeled it "an act of public defiance" of the church's authority and the action of the 1996 General Conference.
The General Conference adopted a statement in its Social Principles barring the performance of homosexual unions by United Methodist ministers and in the denomination's churches. The weight of the Social Principles and whether Creech had performed a homosexual union were issues in the trial. The jury voted 11-2 that he had performed such a union.
"Adding to the crisis," Good News said, were recent statements by the cabinets of the California/Nevada and Troy, N.Y., conferences supporting pastors who perform same-sex covenants.
"Good News suggests that a far less divisive action would be for these 92 (clergy) and others who are like-minded to seek another church fellowship whose views are compatible with their own," the group said.
The Reconciling Congregation Program couched the issue in different terms.
"The fundamental challenge facing the church is not about same-sex marriage nor, at its roots, even about same-sex covenants," Bowman said in his statement. "The real question is whether all persons -- regardless of race, age, sex, economic status, physical/mental ability or sexual orientation -- are welcome to participate fully in the life and ministries of the church."
While accepting the verdict, Martinez has referred the Creech case to the denomination's "Supreme Court," the Judicial Council, for review.
Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.
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