March 24, 1998

Calls for special session of General Conference continue in wake of Nebraska clergy trial verdict


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by United Methodist News Service

CONTACT: Thomas S. McAnally, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470

The United Methodist bishop and 12 district superintendents of the North Carolina Annual Conference, along with the pastor of the denomination's largest congregation, have joined with others calling for a special session of the General Conference to address issues related to homosexuality.

The calls were made in response to a clergy trial in Nebraska, where Omaha pastor Jimmy Creech was acquitted of violating the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church after performing a covenanting ceremony for two women. Of the 13 jurors in the Creech trial, eight found him guilty, but nine votes were needed for conviction.

The trial is the first legal test of a statement in the church's Social Principles asking that clergy not perform homosexual unions and that United Methodist churches not be used for such ceremonies. A central issue during the trial was the legal status of the principles.

Shortly after the verdict, two conservative groups within the denomination –- Good News and the Confessing Movement –- called for bishops of the church to request a special session of the General Conference to deal with the matter.

Latest to join the call are Bishop Marion M. Edwards, Raleigh, N.C., and his cabinet. On March 23, they issued a statement calling for the Council of Bishops to request a special session of the church's policymaking body to "enact legislation that will prohibit pastors from performing services of homosexual unions."

After the Creech verdict, 92 pastors announced they would continue to conduct such services.

The Rev. Bill Hinson, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Houston -- the largest congregation in the denomination -- made a similar call from the pulpit of his church Sunday, March 15.

In a sermon titled "Bishops, Please Lead Us," he urged the episcopal leaders to call a special session of the General Conference to deal with the "divisive issue of same-sex marriages."

"The legal loophole revealed in the Nebraska trial must be closed," said Hinson, pastor of the 13,500-member congregation.

The General Conference, which meets every four years, includes nearly 1,000 delegates –- half lay and half clergy. It is the only body that can make official policy for the denomination. The most recent General Conference was held in Denver in 1996. The 2000 conference will meet in Cleveland.

The church's constitution allows the bishops to call a special session, but only rarely has the provision been used.

According to the Book of Discipline, a special session would include delegates to the preceding General Conference, but annual conferences would be allowed to elect new delegates if they wished. Only business can be transacted that relates to the stated purpose of the call.

The Council of Bishops, which meets twice a year, is scheduled to meet next in Lincoln, Neb., April 25-May 1.

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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