April 22, 1999
The Rev. Jimmy Creech, who made headlines by performing a covenanting ceremony for twowomen in Omaha in 1997, has announced he will preside over a service for two gay men in Chapel Hill, N.C., April 24.
Creech is a United Methodist clergy member of the Nebraska Annual Conference but is now residing in North Carolina while on leave of absence.
Nebraska Bishop Joel N. Martinez said he received a letter in which Creech told of his intentions to officiate at the service.
"I told him that officiating at the service will place him in conflict with churchlaw, according to The Book of Discipline," the bishop said, referring to thedenomination's book of policies. "I have asked Rev. Creech to reconsider his decisionand hope that he will refrain from placing himself in this position."
The last time Creech performed such a ceremony, he ended up being charged withdisobeying the order and discipline of the church. He was suspended as pastor of FirstUnited Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb., and taken to a church trial March 11-13, 1998. Hewas acquitted of disobedience by an 8-5 vote, one vote short of the nine needed toconvict.
Creech told United Methodist News Service that the upcoming ceremony for Larry Ellisand Jim Raymer has been planned for several months. "This past fall, I preached atthe United Church of Christ in Chapel Hill where they are members, and reconnected withone of the men whom I had known before. They invited me to take part in the ceremony, andI was glad to do so. We are continuing to make plans and are looking forward to it verymuch."
Asked about the implications for his career as a United Methodist clergyman, Creechsaid: "I have been very candid and clear all along that I believe the church is wrongin its prohibition of what it wants to call homosexual or same-sex unions."
For Creech, to be constrained by what he considers an unjust law would be the same assupporting it. "I do not support it, and I do not want to be complicit in anyinjustice against gay and lesbian persons," he said.
Creech said he was candid with the trial court of his clergy peers in Kearney, Neb.,last year. "Asked if I would continue to perform such celebrations in the future, Isaid, yes, I would. I see that as an integral part of my ministry."
At Creech's trial, his defense was aided by ambiguity surrounding the legal status ofthe church's Social Principles. A statement in the principles reads: "Ceremonies thatcelebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not beconducted in our churches." However, the Judicial Council, the church's equivalent tothe U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in August 1998 that the directive against homosexual unionshad the effect of church law and that "the prohibitive statement governs the functionof all clergy members of the United Methodist Church."
The Rev. Gregory Dell, pastor of Broadway United Methodist church in Chicago, wasrecently convicted by a trial court of disobeying the order and discipline of the churchby performing a ceremony for two men in his church. He was suspended, effective July 5, oruntil he vows not to perform such ceremonies in the future. Recently, it was announcedthat an interim pastor will be appointed to succeed Dell and that he will direct In AllThings Charity, an unofficial movement to gain greater acceptance in the church of gay andlesbian people. He will continue to work out of the Broadway church.
After Creech was acquitted, Martinez returned him to First Church in Omaha as pastorbut did not reappoint him during the annual conference sessions later in the year. Creechasked for a leave of absence, which he now wants extended for another year. He is writinga book about "the homophobia in all Christian churches and the resistance to accepting gay and lesbian persons, with my particular story as a framework for that."