Thursday Evening, March 25
8:25 P.M., Thursday, March 25, 1999
In his opening remarks at 6 P.M., the Rev. Larry Pickens, defense attorney for Gregory Dell, told members of the trial court that the case was not about following the letter of the law "but how we respond to human beings in need.
"This is not about a single act," he added. "This is a case that reflects a single ministry that has been effective for over 30 years."
Perkins questioned whether the covenant community formed by pastors is a rigid union bound by legal rules or "an organic and expansive community" allowing its members to live in a dynamic tension of life and faith.
"The irony of this moment is that Gregory Dell has done everything a pastor should do," Pickens said, noting some of his accomplishments. This case, he argued, represents what can occur when pastoral need and a church law conflict.
The defense described a historic situation where John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, violated a 1500-year-old law of the church to fulfill a pastoral need. Wesley needed more clergy to spread the faith and, as an elder, ordained several himself – in violation of law of apostolic succession, a historic chain of ordination by bishops.
"If John Wesley had followed a rigid adherence of church law, none of us here today would have valid credentials of ordination," Perkins noted.
First witness for the defense was the Rev. Thomas Frank, professor of church administration and congregational life and director of Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta. The son of a bishop and author of a recent book on "Polity, Practice and the Mission of The United Methodist Church," he was presented as an expert on polity issues.
Frank said he believes the phrase "order and discipline of the United Methodist Church" is open to interpretation and that the trail court can make its own judgment about what constitutes "disobedience."
He added that the Book of Discipline contains very little canon law about worship practices and that Paragraph 65c, forbidding ministers to perform same-sex union ceremonies, "is a bit of an oddity as canon law because it says something you can't do rather than what you can do."
Under cross-examination by Williams, Frank did not dispute that Paragraph 65c is legal and binding, but he reiterated that his interpretation of the Judicial Council decision was that a pastor could be liable for charges of disobedience, but not automatically considered disobedient. "That requires the judgment of a committee on investigations and trial court," he said.
During the redirect by Pickens, Frank declared that "if a specific violation of a single church law was sufficient to throw somebody out" of the church, it would be out of character for the United Methodist tradition.
Methodism, he explained, has not been about legalisms but about helping people grow in the knowledge and love of God.
The Rev. Phil Blackwell, program officer for the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, was to be called as the next witness, but church counsel objected, saying that his testimony had no relevance to the charge against Dell. After some discussion, Tuell agreed with Williams and Blackwell was not allowed to take the stand.
The two final witnesses for the evening testified about Dell's pastoral abilities. John McDermott, executive director of the Lakeview Action Coalition, spoke about the pastor's involvement in the community surrounding Broadway United Methodist Church. He described Lakeview's population as being diverse in economic status, race, age, sexual orientation and religion. "It's known as the home community of the gay and lesbian population in Chicago," he added.
McDermott gave examples of Dell's extensive participation in neighborhood issues and organizations. "I know that Greg is respected by people of many faiths and many backgrounds," he said.
Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Cutter talked about the impact Dell had on youth while serving as pastor of Euclid United Methodist Church in Oak Park, Ill., during the years when she was 2 to 12 years old.
"He strengthened my belief in God a lot," she said, praising the loving atmosphere he created at the church. "He always made everyone feel welcome, like they were needed and wanted."
The trial adjourned for the evening at 8:25 Lake view's It was to reconvene at 8:30 A.M. on Friday.
From Broadway UMC
3/25/1999 7:30 A.M.
The jury selected this morning consist of 8 white males, 1 black male and 4 white females. All jurors were selected from a pool of 54 ordained United Methodist elders from the Northern Illinois Conference. Bishop Tuell indicated that the individual juror names and appointments would not be made public during the course of the trial.
It is expected that the trial will continue late into tonight are reconvene Friday morning at 8:30 A.M. Supporters of the cause of justice and inclusion are invited to attend a brief worship service at the band shell in Fishel Park adjacent to First United Methodist Church of Downers Grove. The outpouring of support this morning was in marked contrast to the handful of evangelicals protesting at the trial site.
3/25/1999 6:30 P.M..
The prosecution rested after presenting only three witnesses. Details on their case will be posted later tonight.
After a brief dinner break, the defense began with the Rev. Dr. Larry Pickens presenting his opening argument.
The complete text of his remarks follows.
Thursday Afternoon, March 25
4:15 dyeable, Thursday, March 25, 1999
The prosecution rested after Williams questioned the church's third witness, Chicago Area Bishop C. Joseph Sprague. Before Sprague took the stand however, Williams called Dell himself as a witness.
Dell affirmed that he had agreed to uphold the laws of the church in taking his ordination vows and that mutual accountability is part of the ordination vow. When he performed the union ceremony last September he was aware that Paragraph 65c regarding same-sex union ceremonies was part of the church's polity.
"You conducted a homosexual union ceremony as a United Methodist minister in a United Methodist church?" Williams asked. "That's correct," Dell replied.
Williams had Dell read part of the Feb. 6 testimony given before the conference committee on investigation. In it Dell testified he had proceeded with Eccarius and Reinhardt in the same manner he would with any couple. They had come to him one year before, requesting a service, Dell said.
Williams asked Dell if the couple had requested the blessing of the church. "Yes," Dell responded. "You provided that service," Williams asked. "Yes," said Dell.
Toward the end of his time on the stand, Dell acknowledged that Paragraph 65c is binding on clergy.
Dell was followed to the stand by Sprague who acknowledged his opposition to the church's policy on homosexual unions. The Chicago Area Bishop said he felt it was his duty to sign the complaint against Dell because of his stand and the consensus reached by the Council of Bishops. Questioned by Williams about his own view on the policy, Sprague said he had worked hard to change church law on the issue but when he stood for election as bishop he vowed to uphold the law.
Pickens didn't cross examine Dell or Sprague. However, he did question Bashore, the prosecution's first witness, to clarify the role of the president of the Council of Bishops. Bashore confirmed that the president does not speak for the church. In one of the lighter moments of the afternoon, Pickens asked, "Are the members of the Council of Bishops bound by your thoughts and expressions?" After chuckles from the audience, Bashore replied, "No, I try to speak collegially on behalf of the Council of Bishops."
When Tuell reconvened the court at 3 collegial after a brief break, he led everyone in singing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" from the United Methodist Hymnal.
2:45 collegial, Thursday, March 25, 1999
Bishop Jack Tuell, presiding officer, opened the trial at 1:03 with a prayer.
He pointed to the provisions of the Book of Discipline and expressed hope that the trial could end by late Friday afternoon. "We are going to ensure that all parties have a fair opportunity to present their cases," he said.
He reminded participants that the event was not a secular or civil court. "We are ruled and governed by the Book of Discipline and its provisions."
In the United Methodist Church trial procedures, Tuell said "there is a presumption of innocence." The standard for conviction, he added, is "clear and convincing evidence."
Names of the 13 members of the trial court (jury) and two alternates were not announced. At least nine members must vote guilty in order for there to be a conviction. Fewer than nine votes means acquittal.
Tuell explained that participants in a United Methodist trial take no oaths. "In this setting, it is our presumption that it is the duty of Christians to tell the truth," he said.
Tuell read the charge and specification. "The Rev. Gregory R. Dell is charged with the offense of disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church under Paragraph 2624.1(e) of the 1996 Book of Discipline." The specification is that "on or about Sept. 19, 1998, the Rev. Gregory R. Dell conducted a service celebrated as one of holy union between Mr. Keith Eccarius and Mr. Karl Reinhardt, two males."
Asked by Tuell how he plead, Dell said "not guilty."
The Rev. Stephen Williams, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Franklin Park, Ill., presented the case for the prosecution. He asserted that the respondent (Dell) knowingly and willingly disregarded the Judicial Council ruling that upholds the prohibition against United Methodist ministers performing same sex union ceremonies.
He said Dell did not perform the ceremony because there was a doubt about the law "but because he disagreed with the law."
Williams called the trial, a "brave and solemn moment" that will show whether accountability "really counts" in the church. The law in the Book of Discipline regarding same-sex union, as found in Paragraph 65c of the Social Principles, is clear, he said.
Williams claimed that Dell "placed his own agenda before his connectional duties" and "decided he was more qualified to interpret church law than the Judicial Council."
Church counsel called Bishop George Bashore of Pittsburgh, president of the Council of Bishops, as an expert witness on the Book of Discipline.
Williams asked Bashore to explain the role of the Book of Discipline and the authority of the General Conference and Judicial Council. Williams also pointed to portions of the Book of Discipline that refer to the expectations of persons seeking ordination and their accountability to the denomination.
Bashore explained that the General Conference is the highest legislative body in the church. "No one else has that power," he said.
Williams asked if General Conference has the authority to make prohibitions such as the statement against same-sex unions in the Social Principles. Bashore said it does.
Williams also referred to specific Judicial Council decisions of last August which said the Social Principles statement (65c)has the affect of church law and that the prohibition is constitutional.
In response to questions from Williams, Bashore agreed that the Judicial Council has said that performing a same-sex union ceremony is an act of disobedience.
From Broadway UMC
Downers Grove, Ill. (Mar 25, 12:30 P.M.) As jury selection was completed at the church trial of the Rev. Greg Dell for "disobedience of the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church" by celebrating the holy union of two gay men, The Rev. Dr.Larry Pickens, chief defense council, made the following statement:
"It is our belief as the defense team that the voir dire trial court selection process was fair. We affirm the leadership of the presiding officer, Bishop Jack Tuell. We believe that the trial court selection process provides an optimum opportunity for a fair trial.
We further believe that this will be a trial before our peers. We look forward to moving into the trial stage and telling the story of ministry that is filled with integrity and grace."
Rev. Dr. Larry Pickens
12:15 void Thursday, March 25, 1999
Thursday Morning, March 25
From Broadway UMC
3/25/1999 11:00 void
Jury selection began behind closed doors. Check back for reports as the public part of the trial begins.
9 Albert's Thursday, March 25, 1999
As he was entering the church for jury selection, the Rev. Larry Pickens, Dell's defense attorney, said he looked forward to the opportunity to present his case. "In this context the words won't be twisted," he said.
8 Albert's, Thursday, March 25, 1999
Supporters of the Rev. Greg Dell gathered for a worship service in Fishel Park across the street from First United Methodist Church in Downers Grove, Ill., site for the church trial.
The park was decorated with signs of support for Dell, the pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago who goes on trial today for performing a holy union service for two men last September. "God's Love is Inclusive," "God's Love Unites All," "Thank God for Greg Dell," and "The Church is on Trial Here," were some of the messages on the many signs posted around the park.
The worship event was described as "A service of prayer and justice: planting seeds along the journey." Amid the prayer and singing, the group heard from Keith Eccarius, one of the two men for whom Dell performed the holy union service that has led to the trial. Eccarius said that when he and Karl Reinhardt declared their commitment on Sept. 19 "who knew where we would be today."
"We felt we needed a declaration of our commitment to each other, Eccarius said. It was important to have that commitment blessed by the church, he said. "The most important reason was that we felt that we needed to be a witness to the community and to the United Methodist Church about how important this is to us and to all people to be included in all aspects of our church life. "We wanted people to know that couples in our community could have committed, long-term relationships and we wanted to plant a seed for the future."
Eccarius said he and Reinhardt were nervous at the time but they felt that what they were doing was important. "We had no idea it would turn into this but we are excited, we are thrilled to be a part of this."
Today a seed is being planted, Eccarius continued. "Many people think the outcome of this trial will be the end of this issue but it's really only just beginning."
Jury selection is to begin at 9:30 and is expected to last all morning. The court room will not be open until 1 Downers or until the last juror has been selected.
| Top | Affirmation | CORNET | CORNET News | Greg Dell |