April 2, 1998
CONTACT: Thomas S. McAnally, (615) 742-5470, Nashville, Tenn.
The leader of a gay and lesbian caucus within The United Methodist Church is advising church members to avoid a "rush to crisis thinking" following a recent church trial in Nebraska.
Omaha pastor Jimmy Creech was acquitted March 13 of charges that he violated the order and discipline of the church when he performed a covenanting ceremony for two women.
Since then, some individuals and groups have called for several actions, including a special session of the church's top legislative body, which meets every four years.
Calls for a special session of the General Conference represent an overreaction, said Morris Floyd, spokesman for CORNET, a group of Creech supporters. Floyd is a longtime leader in Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.
"Warnings of potential schism may become self-fulfilling prophecies if we do not take a more realistic look at what has actually taken place," Floyd said in an April 1 statement.
He said the acquittal of Creech "simply means that the trial court - by a narrow margin - has given the pastor. . . the benefit of the doubt on the debatable issue of whether or not a prohibition in the Social Principles can be the basis for a charge of disobedience."
The jury voted 8-5 to convict Creech, but nine votes were necessary, so the pastor was acquitted. The decision was described by Floyd as being "in the mainstream of accepted legal principle (under which) laws that are too vague cannot be enforced."
Critics of the verdict should remember that the court did not have to consider the question of whether the covenant service used by Creech -- or any covenant service -- should be approved by United Methodists, Floyd said.
"I hope all will appreciate the irony involved in the spectacle of United Methodist bishops, in the name of
'the order and discipline of the church,' criticizing a jury of Nebraska pastors for a judgment they did not in fact make," he said.
Floyd acknowledged that most United Methodists may not support same-gender covenant services. "Nevertheless, I think it unlikely that most United Methodists want those of us who support these services to leave the denomination, as some are calling on us to do. Very few United Methodists are as narrow-minded as that."
Furthermore, Floyd said, "the expression of the mind of the church at a point in time has never meant that further debate is closed. Certainly those on the right have never taken this approach on issues where they differ from the positions adopted by the General Conference."
Floyd said John Wesley, Methodism's founder, advocated accepting different opinions and condemned what he called "religious bigotry" - individuals or groups trying to force everyone else to believe and worship exactly the same way. Opinions and interpretations about homosexuality, Floyd said, are important but would not be considered "core doctrine" from a Wesleyan viewpoint.
He expressed appreciation for church leaders who are calling for a measured response to the issue.
"It is possible, particularly in United Methodist tradition, to have reconciliation between persons and within a congregation without resolving a disagreement," he said. "That is where our energies should now be focused."
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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