May 25, 1999
History is repeating itself, as the Rev. Jimmy Creech once again faces complaints for his role in a same-sex union ceremony.
The complaints were filed with the Bishop Joel Martinez, head of the United Methodist Church's Nebraska Annual (regional) Conference. They are being treated with the confidentiality typically given to personnel matters, so the number of complaints and the names of the complainants are not being disclosed.
The complaints probably were filed within the last two weeks, said Mel Luetchens, assistant to the bishop and executive director of ministries for the conference.
Creech, on leave of absence from active ministry in the Nebraska Conference, performed the ceremony for two men at a church in Chapel Hill, N.C., on April 24. Martinez had advised him against participating in the service.
Creech's performance of a similar ceremony for two women in September 1997 led to a complaint and church trial last year. He was acquitted on March 13, 1998, and reinstated as pastor of First United Methodist Church of Omaha. However, he was not reappointed to the congregation for the following year, and went on leave of absence in July.
Reached by phone at his home in North Carolina, Creech said he couldn't comment on the most recent complaints.
"I have not heard officially from the bishop," Creech told United Methodist News Service. "All I have heard is secondhand information, so I really feel that I need to hear from the bishop before I make any comment."
He said he is planning on attending the Nebraska Conference's annual gathering, June 3-6.
Meanwhile, Martinez is working on the "supervisory response" part of the complaint process.
"We're just starting into the process," Luetchens said. "The first response is the bishop will make contact with Jimmy and see if it can be resolved."
If the matter cannot be resolved through dialogue, the process moves to anadministrative approach, he said. The bishop will name a conference clergy member as church counsel and more dialogue will occur. If the case still isn't resolved, the complaint would be forwarded to the conference committee on investigation, which would hold a hearing and determine whether the complaints should be converted into charges. If so, a church trial would be held, in which Creech would be judged by a panel of 13 clergy peers from the Nebraska Conference.
The bishop hasn't given a timetable yet for completing the supervisory process, Luetchens said. "I know that he wants to deal with it as soon as possible."
During last year's trial, Creech argued that he didn't break church law because the stricture against performing such ceremonies was advisory and not binding. The statement is contained in the Social Principles section of the Book of Discipline, whereas the rest of the denomination's binding rules are contained in the main section of the book.
However, the United Methodist Judicial Council, the denomination's supreme court, ruled last August that the statement is enforceable. Following that ruling, the Rev. Greg Dell of Chicago performed a similar ceremony and was found guilty in a church trial held last March. He is appealing that verdict and the penalty a suspension that goes into effect July 5.
"The law of the church is more clearly defined after the Judicial Council's ruling," Luetchens said, "so I think that certainly makes a difference on the point, which was so important to the last trial (of Creech), as to whether that part of the Discipline would be interpreted as a law or as a guideline. We know now how it is to be interpreted."