At 8 am, Jimmy was escorted into the church, alone, for the jury selection process. He emerged about 9:15.
10am, trial begins. Several hundred people filed into the sanctuary of Trinity United Methodist Church, Grand Island Nebraska. Jimmy sat in the front row with his wife and stepdaughter Natalia as the jury walked in and took their seats. The jury consisted of 4 women and 11 men, two were alternates.
Bishop Grove addressed the church, asking there be no demonstrations. He lit a candle as a visual reminder to us of who we are, gathered as United Methodist Christians. He opened with scripture, from Philippians 4, followed by the Lord’s Prayer.
Charges were read by Bishop Grove, as disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Rev. Creech entered no plea, so the Conference entered a plea for him of not guilty. Parties of the trial were named as The Nebraska Conference of The United Methodist Church and Rev. Jimmy Creech.
Conference counsel opened with a statement reiterating the reasons for the charges, the essence of which was: “On April 24, 1999, Rev. Creech took part in conducting a ceremony of 2 men, therefore he is guilty of violating the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church.”
Rev. Creech did not give an opening statement.
Rev. Creech was called by the Conference as the first witness.
He was asked if he participated in a holy union of two men, he said,
“ I did.” He was asked what part of the service he participated in,
and he provided the jury and the Conference with a copy of the service.
In his never-ending humor, he commented that his first words were, “Please be seated”. He then read the opening parts of the service, which were preformed by him.
He was asked if he “gave the charge” to the couple. Jimmy commented, “I led them in the giving and receiving of rings. The charge followed later, I did give them. I led them in the statements between the men as they exchanged rings. I pronounced them life partners.”
Counsel for the Conference then introduced a series of letters. In March 4 of 1999, Rev. Creech wrote a letter to Bishop Joel Martinez of the Nebraska Conference, informing him of his intent. Rev. Creech read the letter to the jury at the request of counsel for the Conference. The content of the letter outlined his intent to perform the union ceremony of Jim and Larry in April.
March 18, Bishop Martinez responded that “I have received your letter, and your intent to perform a covenant ceremony places you in conflict with the Judicial Council ruling. I will inform the Bishop in North Carolina of your intent, and urge you not to perform the ceremony.”
March 24, 1999, another letter was sent to Bishop Martinez by Rev. Creech. “ Since I believe that the prohibition is unjust and in conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ , I will not abide by the Judicial Council ruling. I still would have proceeded with the ceremony, regardless of the placement. I will not uphold bigotry.”
Counsel for the Conference then asked Jimmy, “In the future, will
you continue to celebrate holy unions for same sex couples?” Rev.
Creech replied, “There is nothing to deter me or that has caused me to
change my mind."
James Wesley McChesney, elder in the United Methodist Church, was then called to the stand. He is the one who filed charges against Rev. Creech with Bishop Martinez. He was asked to read the letter he had sent to Bishop Martinez, “I wish to file a formal complaint against Rev. Jimmy Creech, in accordance with 26,24.1b. in violation of Para. 65c, “homosexual unions shall not be performed by our minister, and shall not be performed in our churches”.
The Conference then rested it’s case.
At 10:30, a closing statement was made by Conference counsel, reiterating the Judicial Counsel decision, and rereading Para. 65c. He stated, in part, “Conduct in violation of this Para. renders a minister liable of charges against the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist. Therefore he is guilty of violation of the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church. It is up to the trial court to uphold the Judicial Council decision.”
Jimmy then stood to address the jury.
“This is a truly sad day in the history of the UM Church, this trial is an act of violence against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) individuals. You are honorable people; this is an honorable process. The judicial process should be to uphold just and far laws, laws that give us a good order in the way we are to live our lives as United Methodist.
This law is unjust and immoral. This process has been corrupted. You have been asked to be part of a process that is to uphold a law that is wrong. You are asked to rely on your commitment to the UM church to uphold a law that is unjust and violent. I want to say to you today, the priorities by which we live as Christians, if we blindly support laws which encourage physical violence against our brothers, we are in violation of our call to be witnesses to God, to the love of Jesus Christ. Our Church has been infected by bigotry. The Judicial Council (JC) decision was not the beginning of the persecution of GLBT persons. From the floor of General Conference (GC) in a beautiful statement on human sexuality, we inserted, “while we do not condone the practice of homosexuality, we consider it incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Those words target a specific group within our church for discrimination. Not only them, but also their families and friends. It is saying that they are unworthy, it is hetersexism, and it is equivalent to racism. It makes homosexuality a lower relationship in the eyes of God. That is spiritual violence. It says that you have to be different than you are to be accepted by God and our church. It is saying to GLBT people that you are unnatural, immoral, it attacks the souls of GLBT people, telling them they are inferior. It is not only discrimination, it is BAD THEOLOGY.
<The statement goes on to say that God grace is available to all. We kick people down, then we smile with those words. It is unconscionable that we target people in our church with this kind of scorn. It is on the basis of the incompatibility that we then passed the Resolution of 1984, the prohibition on ordination of "self avowed practicing homosexuals."
It is then that a member of my church told me he had to quit the church, he could no longer belong to a denomination that calls him unworthy and unacceptable. He was in the closet all his life, and I didn’t even know he was gay up to that point. It was at that time I began to realize that as a witness of Jesus Christ, I could not be quiet. The UM church is where I learned about God, the Holy Spirit, I love God, and I am rooted in the church. I began my own efforts to purge the church of its bigotry. I had to start to make the world a safer place for them, where they are affirmed and respected. What we did when we passed these statements, we essential said, ‘not only do you have to be called, you have to be the ‘correct’ sexual orientation. It is the same bigotry that racism and sexism comprise. It is an assault on the integrity and dignity of the innate sexuality of an individual. We share in the persecution of gay and lesbian people because we are ordaining, and they must lie about who they are to be ordained.
I had many people that have come to me and let me know that they were hiding their sexual orientation, and knew that they wanted to be a pastor in the UM church. One gentleman decided that he would not be in a relationship, that he would make his call more important than his sexuality. He became ordained. He maintained this lie, and served as a pastor until he met his life partner. This man had to make a choice, he decided to embrace the gift God had given him, and embrace the man he loved. He left the UM church.
Another man, decided to live with his fear and pain, tearing him up spiritually, but he still wanted to be a pastor. He went to MCC for spiritual food, because the UM church was denying him his spiritual food.
Some would give evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus, Romans, and a few other passages, which have an allusion to same sex relationships. Some say if we begin to affirm them, if we compromise on these biblical passages, we are allowing biblical authority to be eroded. They are only protecting one interpretation of scripture. There is no understanding of a loving caring relationship in these scriptures. These have to do with rape, adultery, exploitation; they do not have to do with loving relationships. There have been scholars who have helped us to understand these passages in a cultural context. We do not require everyone to be chaste, just because of a few verses about heterosexual violence.
The ideology of heterosexism is against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel gives us a vision where we can all sit around one table, we call all be agents of grace, peace, justice, compassion. That vision is denied when we condemn, reject, and exclude anyone on the basis of our cultural prejudice, we are not being true to that vision if we exclude GLBT people. It does not make it moral or just.
We have had laws that denied women equal roles as men. We now realize those laws were wrong. We have come to terms with ordaining women, but mistreatment of women in the church has not ended. Within our country, we had laws that said that black people, descendants of slaves, could not be allowed to share any facilities with white people, could not go to schools with white people, we now know these laws are wrong and immoral because they denied people of color dignity.
We know that racism is a sin, an offense to God. Heterosexism is just as sinful, just as offensive to God. I have celebrated at least 13 holy unions for same gender couples, in each of those cases, the couple came to me after a long struggle, because of the messages within the church that they had heard about being gay, how God thinks of them. They went through self-hatred, trying not to be the people God created them to be. It took a lot of courage for them to come to a place where they could love themselves, when the church rejects them. The Holy Spirit has allowed them to love themselves. They came with sense of dignity, despite the UM Church’s incompatibility statement, they knew deep in their hearts that the love between them was a gift from God, to be loved and be loved by.
I know many couples that have had to struggle through the same pain, they come scarred and battered by the church and society, but they come bold and brave because they have experienced healing. They come not as a license to have sex together, but the come because the want to make a public commitment of love and fidelity to each other, and that union has already taken place in their life. They come not to be validated, but to offer themselves as a sign of God’s love in the world, gratitude for Gods love in this world.
The church wants to say no, you are unworthy, we will not accept you.
God has created their unions, we have not. When we rejected GLBT couples, that they are not to be here to celebrate their love, it is OUR loss.
In 1997, I celebrated the covenant in Omaha. Growing up, Mary vowed to be a good Mormon, she kept saying to herself, I must oppress you – that part of Mary that was attracted to and loved women, to fulfill expectations of others. She went into a deep depression, and tried to take her life 3 times, until that Mary could not be denied. Finally Mary had to be honest and truthful about her real being, the Mary that was hidden become known, became born. She was excommunicated. She thought she had to leave God. It took several years for her to understand that God never left her, it was God within her very being that kept pushing that Mary to come to the surface. She accepted herself as a lesbian and was able to love herself and another and reunite with the church.
This law is telling everyone to deny the real Mary, you have to be different than who God made you. It is cruel, unfair, unjust, and it is immoral.
I was helping people with AIDS. I met a you man named Michael, I want you to know that I am queer, and know and accept that God hates me, and there is nothing you could say to change my heart, Michael died from AIDS. He felt he was unworthy of love and acceptance. This is what we are doing.
Families come to me who are broken. Families discover they have gay children. Families breakup because of the position the church has taken. There are young people that are coming to terms with their sexuality, that are considering taking their lives, because they want to be accepted, they do not want to live a lie, it is too painful. Gay youth are 7 times more likely to take their lives, because of the pressure that the church puts on them, we are responsible for their deaths. There are some that may have been able to change their behavior. It <being gay is not unnatural; this is a glorious design of diversity, yet we choose to deny them and suppress them.
You have a decision to make. This trial is not about Jimmy Creech. This is about a law we are responsible for, that compromises our ability to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are those that want us to wait until General Conference, if we wait, we are trivializing the pain of GLBT people. Saying WAIT, we are placing the institution about Gods children. The gospel tells us that God’s children were always placed above the institution. If we wait, thousands of young people will die, by their own hands, or by those that hate. We are going to have more spouses hurt because they are being used to hide the others sexual orientation. We have today to begin to change the direction of our church. I believe every UM pastor has the right to not obey this law. In Mark 3, Jesus says that the unforgivable sin is to blasphemy the holy sprit. Jesus says where you can see the Holy Spirit working, and do not honor it, it is blasphemy. It is blasphemy when we deny the love of two people of the same gender.
In the story about the first baptism of gentiles, Peter observes that the Holy Spirit comes first, before the baptism. Peter says, how can we withhold baptism from those who have already received the Holy Spirit. GLBT people have already received the Holy Spirit.
GLBT people have been hurt by our laws. This is not just about you and me; it is about all people that are affected by our church. This law is demeaning. You are going to have to decide if you want to uphold that law. If I provided a defense, I would have been honoring that law. If you find me guilty, you will be saying that it is all right to ignore the Holy Spirit that binds them together. You will be making an alliance with the forces of hate. You will make it more difficult for the wound in the UM church to heal.
There are clergy all over this country that will not be deterred by the outcome of this trial. I am a small part of this whole process. There are many committed to being in ministry with GLBT people. Many ministers will not back away. You will be sending a message if you convict me, that the UM church will use its power and resources to prosecute clergy and GLBT people. You must understand that with your decision you are going to say that this law is equal to the Order and Discipline of the UM church. That would be a scandal and a shame.
If you acquit me, at least you will be saying that it is not equal to the ethical standard of The United Methodist Church.
But, I am going to ask you not to render a verdict. This will say, we will not any longer allow the UM resources to be used to prosecute pastors for being clergy, or let them persecute GLBT individuals. You will be making a strong witness, so the persecution can begin to end, the church can begin to heal.
There is nothing you can do to me that will hurt me as much as it will hurt the church. You can give me the most severe punishment. But the punishment is to the church, that we are willing to continue the bigotry, the persecution, to devote our energy and resources to that end. The trial is not about what I have done, but what you will do. You have the opportunity to say, we will not bring harm to our sisters and brothers, to turn away from the idolatry of the institution, and stand for what is true and loving and just. If you refuse, we will continue our slide into prejudice, and bigotry. I hope you will think about the church and its integrity, all the people that are injured by our laws, and I hope you will decide that at this moment in time, you are called to rise above the law and its pettiness, and be a witness to the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.”
At 1:35, the jury rendered a jury verdict of guilty, 13-0.
At approximately 3:30, the jury took away his credentials. He is no longer a pastor in the United Methodist Church. But his prophetic voice will continue. And we will not be silent.
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