Pastor who conducted same-sex union faces church trial

by United Methodist News Service

Jan. 26, 1998

The Rev. Jimmy Creech of Omaha, Neb., who conducted a same-sex union ceremony last September, should face a church trial, an investigative committee has decided.

The Committee on Investigation of the Nebraska United Methodist Annual (regional) Conference made that decision after a Jan. 23 hearing.

"The preparation for a trial will begin as soon as the official documents from the investigative committee are forwarded to my office," said Bishop Joel N. Martinez, in a prepared statement on Jan. 26. "It is my intention to expedite such preparation to bring this matter to a decision as early as possible."

The trial should be completed by the annual (regional) conference meeting, June 2-5, said the Rev. Richard D. Turner, executive director of ministries and assistant to Martinez.

Martinez was traveling on Jan. 26 and couldn't be reached for further comment.

On Jan. 9, Martinez indefinitely extended Creech's suspension from his duties at First United Methodist Church in Omaha, also at the recommendation of the committee. The pastor initially had been suspended for 60 days, effective Nov. 10.

Creech told United Methodist News Service that he learned about the decision on Jan. 24 from the Rev. David Lux of North Platte, the committee's chairperson.

"I feel quite prepared (for a trial)," Creech added. "It did not come as a surprise."

The pastor was critical, however, of the committee's findings that he committed a "chargeable offense" and believes its members wanted to pass the responsibility of a final decision to a jury.

"I just didn't think the committee did its work," he said.

In 1996, the United Methodist Church's top legislative body voted that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." That decision was placed in the Social Principles, a part of the Book of Discipline.

But Creech claimed the committee had "no real evidence" a violation occurred, and added: "There's been no precedent for anyone being prosecuted under the Social Principles."

At the Jan. 23 hearing, committee members took statements from Creech, his counsel, counsel for the conference and the clergy person who filed the complaint against him. Creech said that clergy person's identity is being kept confidential, but added that it is not someone from his congregation.

Creech guesses that the trial will not occur for at least another two months. Meanwhile, he will prepare with his counsel and assistant counsel.

"In a trial, we will be able to call witnesses and get testimony," he explained, adding that cross-examination also will be possible. He intends to exercise his option to have an open trial, he said, "to keep the public well informed."

Carol Beaty, an elementary school principal and active layperson at First Church, expressed disappointment that the situation with Creech is not resolved.

"It's very difficult for our church to go forward without a senior pastor," she said.

Beaty noted that a large group of church members had begun work on a "visioning" process that embraced a welcoming ministry for all -– including those with different sexual orientations -- well before Creech arrived as pastor.

"I know it's been said Jimmy Creech brought an agenda to our church," she said. "I know that is not true."

Instead, Creech supported the church's vision, she added.

While the controversy surrounding the same-sex covenant ceremony has caused division within the church, "we are working toward continuing to dialogue with all members of our congregation," Beaty reported.

A task force is designing a study of the Book of Discipline, an effort that has been "enthusiastically endorsed," she said. "We're hoping this will initiate a lot of conversation about what is important about being a United Methodist and what the Social Principles are about."

Meanwhile, additional donations to the church have made up for contributions lost because of the controversy, according to Beaty. The church has been able to pay its 1997 apportionments and carry money over into 1998.