October 10, 1998


United Methodist bishops urged to support same-sex unions

By United Methodist News Service

NOTE: The full, unedited text of the letter and a list of the signers is at the close of this story.

An open letter, signed by 363 United Methodists, has been sent to all bishops of the church urging them to "move beyond silence and inaction" regarding the denomination's prohibition against the celebration of homosexual unions.

In August, the church's nine-member Judicial Council ruled that a statement on same-sex unions adopted by the 1996 General Conference has the force of church law. "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches," according to the statement, included in the church's Social Principles.

"Our church is adrift," the open letter states, "buffeted by forces that seek to steer our course away from the prophetic, just and compassionate course of Christ." In a press release issued Oct. 11, the letter is described as a "grassroots appeal" representing both lay and clergy members.

Listed as contact person on the news release is the Rev. Jimmy Creech of Raleigh, N.C., who was narrowly acquitted in a church trial in March for performing a service of union for two women while he was pastor of First United Methodist church in Omaha, Neb. It was after that trial that the Judicial Council was asked to rule on the legal status of the statement in the Social Principles.

The letter calls on the bishops to:

"receive the forgiveness of Christ" for "sins of omission" and "having remained silent";

teach the church so "misunderstandings about the nature of scriptural authority can be addressed" and members can learn "how a non-condemning acceptance of homosexuality is a legitimate position within our Wesleyan tradition";

celebrate "holy unions."

Regarding the last point, the letter explains that some clergy will be performing holy unions "directly and unapologetically, following the example of integrity set by Jimmy Creech."

Others, the letter says, will celebrate such unions "outside the context of the appointment system and outside the role of 'minister' in the United Methodist Church. Still others will do so within the letter of the law but in such a way as to be a clear witness to the exclusive stance of the church." As an example, the letter says laity will "celebrate unions on church yards" and clergy will "stand in honor as non-ministers read certain words within a ritual."

In conclusion, the letter observes that the recommendations are "radical and risky steps" that "require the full measure of forgiveness to know that Christ enables us all, even those in the episcopacy of the United Methodist Church, to move beyond silence and inaction. . . . As bishops . . . you possess unique responsibility coupled with exclusive authority to make a powerful witness for Christ's love."

Contacted by United Methodist News Service, Bishop George Bashore of Pittsburgh, president of the Council of Bishops, said: "I think the council must stand by the pastoral statement we issued at our last meeting in April, in which we said we would uphold the Book of Discipline. That's our calling as bishops, and I think we pounded out an agreement, a covenant. That holds."

Aside from his role as president of the Council of Bishops, Bashore said, "I have been one who has championed the current position of the church on homosexuality. I've made it known in my area that anyone who performs a same-sex union will be processed immediately if charges are brought. I can't do otherwise."

412 South Boylan Avenue

Raleigh, North Carolina 27603-1910

October 6, 1998

An Open Letter to the
Bishops of the United Methodist Church:

Fallout from the announcement of Judicial Council Decision 833 has only begun. Constituencies around the denomination are lining up for the power struggle that this decision precipitates. These are dark days for our church and for those who seek to embody the prophetic justice of our Christian tradition. We write to you now, imploring you to listen deeply to this call for your guidance and leadership to help see us through these days.

Even as we write, though, we are filled with trepidation that this call may go unheard, because by and large we have missed your guidance and leadership through the days leading to this moment. Our church is adrift, buffeted by forces that seek to steer our course away from the prophetic, just, and compassionate course of Christ. Our church is inundated with a cacophony of voices that seek to make literal the writings of John Wesley and use them as weapons, even as they do the same with the living witness of our scripture.

Still, we write with hope that the Divine Spirit may speak through our words, to your hearts, and that you will claim the authority of the office you occupy.

In this spirit of hope and covenant, we call out:


1) Receive the forgiveness of Christ!

Many of you are celebrating the opportunity this decision gives you to exercise your episcopal power in authoritarian, punitive ways. Many more of you are saddened and grieving over what this decision means for your office and our denomination. You realize, all too late, that your silence over this matter has made you complicit with the cynicism and hopelessness expressed by Bishop Blake when he said, "The key to our connection is authority, not agreement." (Dallas Morning News, 8/11/98) This complicity will mean that theological exploration can no longer be carried out with the civility of honest disagreement, for the specter of legal action will loom over all our discussions. No longer can we be true to our theological task which states, "we test various expressions of faith...." We will become a denomination of "winners" and "losers" where authority will be determined by the judgement of ecclesiastical trial.

Yet we celebrate, with you, the reality of forgiveness in Christ! Sins of omission are never easily acknowledged because they are so easily overlooked and their consequences seem so far removed. But we are certain that many of you are already striving earnestly with your consciences over having remained silent. We, too, acknowledge that we have done too little and left too much unsaid. We celebrate, though, the power of Christ's forgiveness to free us from despair over our sins and to empower us to redress the consequences of our sins. As we claim the power of Christ to forgive for our failings and as we celebrate with you your acknowledgement of Christ's forgiveness we can begin to move forward, together.


2) Teach your church!

There is a crisis of authority in the United Methodist Church. Forces at work in the church seek to supplant the Wesleyan understanding of a dynamic sense of authority, in which scripture is primary but not exclusive. These forces seek to impose a static understanding of authority as wholly contained within the past through the decisions of the seven ecumenical councils, the ancient creeds and the consensual writings of the patristic period. They even go so far as to claim that these "authorities" themselves developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and are therefore free from error!

These forces want to use their non-Wesleyan understanding of "authority" to straightjacket the church into a uniform way of reading and understanding scripture. The current debate over the nature of sexuality, then, is less a debate over the nature of sexuality as it is a debate over the nature of authority.

Our denomination needs your teaching office to clarify the spectrum of views on authority that are legitimately held within an authentic understanding of the Wesleyan tradition. We need you to establish "teaching days" where misunderstandings about the nature of scriptural authority can be addressed and where both clergy and laity can learn how a non-condemning acceptance of homosexuality is a legitimate position within our Wesleyan tradition.

But we implore you, do not refer this action to a sub-committee. Do not ask for a "study" at the next General Conference. Do not defer your involvement in this issue to your colleagues. Take the initiative of your own office to gather those who can speak intelligently and knowledgeably about these issues. Use the resources that currently exist to create teaching opportunities for your areas and our entire denomination. Use this opportunity to help our denomination return to a common understanding of the broad boundaries of authority within the church. Reclaim the teaching office of Bishop to help our church reclaim a dynamic understanding of the power and authority of scripture as it continues to speak today.


3) Claim your full authority!

It is commonly assumed that if episcopal power is exercised, it must be exercised in a punitive manner. The context of Bishop Talbert's statement that, "we have to hold people accountable," (UMNS 8/14/98) seems to imply that the process of accountability is inherently negative and adversarial. This is not the case. History provides more than enough examples of civil disobedience within legal boundaries to enable a broad range of options. Guide the steps that precede trials, searching for processes that open up dialogue and are less adversarial than using formal grievances or complaints. Develop fair hearings that lead local United Methodists toward greater understanding of and appreciation for our faith and procedures.

Work with the defendants to turn the trials into "teachable moments" where the world can listen as the case for a broad, accepting view of honest sexuality can be made. Do not call on your colleagues who you know to hold narrow, condemnatory views on these matters, to assist in the trial process. Let the potential jurors in your areas know that there are no prescribed "sentencing guidelines" and they are free to decide that the trouble and expense that the defendant has already endured is sufficient "punishment" for the "crime." Let them know that you believe such a decision is not only allowable but appropriate. Use the power of the episcopacy to meet the bare minimum requirements of the law, while opposing the unjust, non-Wesleyan, un-Christ-like spirit of the law.


4) Celebrate holy unions!

The newest phrase that has caused such pain in our church reads, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." Many UM clergy have pledged to celebrate such unions and we know that some will do so directly and unapologetically, following the example of integrity set by Jimmy Creech. Others will do so outside the context of the appointment system and outside the role of "minister" in the United Methodist Church. Still others will do so within the letter of the law but in such a way as to be a clear witness to the exclusive stance of the church. Laity will celebrate unions on church yards. Clergy will stand in honor as "non-ministers" read certain words within a ritual. Clergy colleagues will stand together, supporting one another, in the celebration of these unions.

We urge you to become aware of where and when such unions are being celebrated, within the letter of the church law, and to join the celebration of those unions. Stand with those who will witness to the church that the current state of our church law is condemnatory and exclusionary. Be a witness, with us, to the God who comes to us in the integrity of a particular human relationship and is celebrated within the integrity of human relationships. Let the world know that those who lead the United Methodist Church are as courageously caring as those who worship within it.

These are radical and risky steps. They require the full measure of forgiveness to know that Christ enables us all, even those in the episcopacy of the United Methodist Church, to move beyond silence and inaction. We know that all of you will not be able or willing to engage in each of these actions. Just as we are on our own journeys of faith, so are you. However we expect that some of you will show, through the exercise of your episcopal authority, evidence of having claimed Christ's forgiveness and power in this most difficult time of our denomination's history. Many UM clergy have taken a radical, risky step by committing to celebrate "homosexual unions" within a context of condemnation and judgment. We expect that our leaders will find the courage to take similarly risky steps. As Bishops within the United Methodist Church you possess unique responsibility coupled with exclusive authority to make a powerful witness for Christ's love. We celebrate the positive potential of that unique responsibility and look forward to celebrating the more faith-full, loving denomination that you will lead.

In Christ’s Peace,

363 signers whose names appear on the accompanying list


Patricia Dobbins - Juneau

Bill Hurr - Juneau


Cassandra E. Fraley - Tucson

Robert D. Fraley - Show Low

Ruth S. Fraley - Show Low

Richard E. Lyddon - Phoenix


Tom Atkin - San Rafael

Jacob Auer - San Rafael

Jeffery Auer - San Rafael

John Auer - San Rafael

Julie Auer - San Rafael

Patti Bartlebaugh - Brentwood

Diana Bethel - Santa Rosa

David Braaten - San Francisco

Barb Braithwaite - San Rafael

Charlene Bunas - Santa Rosa

Linda Carroll - Santa Rosa

Shirley Claire - Santa Rosa

Ona Coburn - San Rafael

Rolfe Conrad - Petaluma

Kristine Crawford - Santa Rosa

Dirk & Carol Damonte - Los Altos

John Davenport - Santa Rosa

Donna Morrow DeCamp - San Jose

Dolores Fitz - Santa Rosa

Kent Fossgreen - Santa Rosa

Jane Fossgreen - Santa Rosa

Myra Gaiser - Santa Rosa

Alice Ann Glenn - Monterey

Jeff Gunderson - San Rafael

Geneva Sansom Hadley - Santa Rosa

David Hansen - San Rafael

Sharyn Hansen - San Rafael

Carol L. Hasenick - Santa Rosa

Louis Nilsson - Santa Rosa

Margo Hoagland - Santa Rosa

Douglas G. Hogin - San Francisco

Cara Vincent Houck - Santa Rosa

Rebecca J. Irelan - Oakland

Alice Jann - Santa Rosa

R. Loren Jenks - Brentwood

Allen B. Jones - Santa Rosa

Rose Marie Leonard - Santa Rosa

Cheryl Longinotti - San Rafael

Susan Shipley Mason - Santa Rosa

Marilyn Mauck - San Rafael

I. Lee McClendon, Sr. - Yorba Linda

Olive McGinnis - San Rafael

R. J. Moriconi - Modesto

Esther Leatherwood - San Rafael

David Leeper Moss - Chester

Meg Linden - San Rafael

J. Lawrence Pearson - Napa

Linda Pearson - San Rafael

Bruce D. Pettit - San Francisco

Gayle Pickrell - Santa Rosa

Jessica Powell - San Rafael

Nancy Jim Poxon - Sacramento

Delia Pratt - Santa Rosa

John Reynolds - San Rafael

Sterling Rainey - San Rafael

Ellen Randall - San Rafael

Jo Anne Sanders - San Rafael

Rick Sapp - San Rafael

Richard A. Schlosser - Berkeley

Jim Scurlock - Albany

Judy Simpson - Santa Rosa

Carol Summers - San Rafael

Ginger Sylla-Egan - San Rafael

Else Tamayo - San Rafael

Elaine Walter - Santa Rosa

Joseph Waters - Santa Rosa

Glo Wellman - Santa Rosa

Joy Winters - San Rafael

Judy Wismer - Santa Rosa


Riley S. Grant - Lakewood

Jeanne Hoeft - Arvada

Bill Kirton - Denver

Ben Roe - Denver

Denise Whitesel - Denver

Sandy Young - Lakewood


Martha Rutland-Wallis

Robert & Rose Thomason


Carrie LaGree - Atlanta

Cliff Richards - Atlanta


Eileen Barthel - Urbana

Deirdre Breeding – Champaign

Randy Estes - Chicago

Miriam Foster - Urbana

Bruce Gladstone - Champaign

Arne Gullerud - Urbana

Ernest Gullerud - Champaign

Lois Gullerud - Champaign

Kerry B. Heimann - Champaign

Mary C. Hruska – Monticello

Diane Jeffers - Urbana

Linda A. Linke – Champaign

Tim Lowe - Chicago

Lynette L. Marshall - Champaign

Jean Peters - Champaign

Eric A. Stone - Champaign

Pat Tymchyshyn – Champaign

Barbara Zachow - Urbana

Bev Zollinger - Champaign


Linda Van Horn - South Bend


Mike Buckman - Cedar Rapids

John Cairns - Cedar Rapids

Robert Crandall - Des Moines

Chester Gunn - Des Moines

Allan B. Jones

Linda L. McGrew - Cedar Rapids

Mary Lou McGrew - Cedar Rapids

Ashley Super - Cedar Rapids


Joseph H. Coachman - Lyndon


Gilbert Schroerlucke - Louisville


S. Graham DeCoster

Liz Vernon - Easton


Magon Boykin - Silver Spring

Harry C. Kiely - Silver Spring

Thomas Starnes - Gaithersburg


Bruce Angus - Lawrence

Arlene Bodge - Edgartown

Judy Jenkins Kohatsu - Andover

Sharon L. Link - Amesbury


Kenneth Dunstone - Hermansville

Jonathan Gardner - Dearborn

Carol C. Godwin - Farmington Hills

Doug Little - Novi

Steven M. Smith - Mt. Pleasant


Jean Beck - Minneapolis

Kenn Beck - Minneapolis

Faith M. Buss - Minneapolis

Ray W. Cabaniss - Golden Valley

Mae Belle Doty - Minneapolis

Vera Engle - Minneapolis

Gayle Englund - Minneapolis

Sara M. Evans - Minneapolis

Marjorie Chan Goebel - Minneapolis

Jack Fithian - Minneapolis

Marylee Fithian - Minneapolis

Morris Floyd - Minneapolis

Fred Husky - Minneapolis

Phyllis Husky - Minneapolis

Walter Lockhart - St. Paul

Larry Nielsen - Minneapolis

Mary Ellen Nielsen - Minneapolis

Clarence Schadegg - Minneapolis

Steve Schultz - Minneapolis

Mark Sobotka - Woodbury

Janet M. Westlee - Minneapolis

Judith J. Westlee - Minneapolis


J. Philip Cox-Johnson - Columbia

Gerald Heckel - Kansas City

Russ & Helma Hawkins - Kansas City


Winifred B. Keefer - Billings


Carol Beaty - Omaha

Richard & Phyllis Burroughs - Omaha

Roberta Coss - Omaha

Tom & Donna Dobson - Omaha

Betty Dorr - Omaha

Dave & Kathy England - Omaha

Ray & Sally Farqhur - Omaha

Tim Fickenscher - Omaha

R. Benjamin Garrison

J. Michael Herrington - Omaha

William Jenks - Omaha

Diane & Larry Jensen - Omaha

Don & Eileen Johnson - Omaha

Mark Kemling - Lincoln

Dwight W. Kemling - Lincoln

Ruthie Lees - Omaha

Elna Peirce - Omaha

Ivan D. Richardson - Omaha

Sue Rood - Omaha

Alice Rushton - Omaha

Orv & Arlene Sherman - Omaha

Judy Torrens - Omaha

Douglas J. Williamson - Omaha

Emily Joan Zetterman - Omaha


Richard W. Smith - Boulder City

New Hampshire

Mark Henderson - Sandwich

New Jersey

Anne Carey - Lawrenceville

Lisanne Finston - Monmouth Jct.

Frieda Hamer - Haddonfield

Kirk Kinkade - Jersey City

Mary-Edna Krutchkoff - Fair Lawn

Claudia Perry - Jersey City

David Roberts - Jersey City

Duncan Smythe - Westfield

Jeffrey R. Spelman

Tim Tyler - Morristown

New York

Crystal Minugh Brutsch - Waverly

Peggy R. Gaylord - Windsor

Amy Gregory

Bob Hitchcock - Binghampton

Donald Robert Hoff

Elsie Lewis - Oneonta

Charlotte Patton - New York

Brian Rotach - Amherst

Tom Schmid - New York

William W. Schnippert - Elmira

North Carolina

James F. Allen - Flat Rock

Jimmy Creech - Raleigh

David J. Irvine - Henderson

Nancy Mamlin - Boone


Mary Ann Carlson - Cleveland

David A. Kappenhagen - Cleveland

Jan Kappenhagen - Cleveland

Jean Kappenhagen - Cleveland

Sherri Kinkade - Cleveland

Jessica Lee - Cleveland

Bonnie K. McMahon

Mark Poole

Robert Robinette - Cincinnati

Walter G. Schlosser - Cleveland

Rick & Dr. Kandi Stinson - Cincinnati

Marge Townsend - Windsor


Robin Anderson - Oklahoma City

Karen L. Beard - Oklahoma City

Robert C. Bjorklund - Oklahoma City

Kathy Brown - Norman

John R. Calhoun - Oklahoma City

Jeni Markham Clewell - Edmond

Donna Cloud - Norman

Bob Danielson - Oklahoma City

Alan Dobbs - Oklahoma City

Russell Dyer - Brookline

Tim Fields - Oklahoma City

Tony Francis - Oklahoma City

Valerie Gutherie - Oklahoma City

Charla B. Gwartney - Oklahoma City

Kurt Gwartney - Oklahoma City

Howard Harris - Oklahoma City

Shelly E. Hart - Tulsa

Sue Hill - Oklahoma City

Jim Houk - Oklahoma City

Bill James - Edmond

Monte Kesterson - Moore

Eursey Lenoir - Bethany

Linda Malcolm - Oklahoma City

Beatrice Martin - Oklahoma City

William Martin - Oklahoma City

Ron Miser - Oklahoma City

Barbara Mitchell - Oklahoma City

Marla Olson - Oklahoma City

Edgar Rueda - Oklahoma City

Ralph Shafer - Oklahoma City

Harold Swink - Oklahoma City

Kent Taylor - Oklahoma City

Wendell Vandever - Oklahoma City

Eddie Walker - Oklahoma City

Kem Norman Wallace - Oklahoma City

Jerry Watson - Oklahoma City

Randall Yates - Oklahoma City

Carla Young - Oklahoma City


Richard Burdon

Don Frueh - Portland

Paul & Ruth LaRue - Salem

Larry Monk - Oregon City

Mary Ann Sanford - Portland


R. Craig Bennett - Pittsburgh

Arthur Brandenburg

J. Howard Cherry - Pittsburgh

Robert G. Coombe - Havertown

Jean Kozul - Jermyn

Jim Palmquist - Allentown

Laura Montgomery Rutt

Pat Williams - Lancaster

Mary Ann Williard - Mifflinburg

Rhode Island

Nancy C. Hetherington

South Carolina

Elizabeth Collier


Margery Mayer - Brentwood

Charles H. Lippy - Chattanooga


M. Michael Bledsoe

Bob Fisher - Houston

L. Annette Jones - Houston

Kathy Massey - Denton

Lynn McCreary - Denton

Julie Murphy - Arlington

Margaret Nunley - Coleman

Gary M. Shephard


Deborah Robinson - Essex Junction

Wesley Sheffield - Hubbardton


Chip Aldridge - Alexandria

Richard Hilshman - Woodbridge

Scott Hopping - Arlington

Randy S. Shannon - Vienna

Richard Wager - Falls Church


Dorothy Baker - Edmonds

Paul Binneboese - Seattle

William Blake - Seattle

Marlene A. Boone - Seattle

Nellie Briggs - Seattle

Linda K. Condit - Seattle

Stephen H. Condit - Shoreline

Helen Finch - Seattle

Lewis Finch - Seattle

Linda Gasparovic - Seattle

Charles R. & Dora M. Haight - Ellensburg

Sonja J. Ingebritsen - Seattle

Larry & Betty Lowther - Ellensburg

Deborah L. Martin - Seattle

Kathleen M. MCowan - Seattle

Sharon Moe - Seattle

Patricia Naumann - Seattle

Pat Noonan - Seattle

Sherry Pangborn - Bremerton

Janice A. Perry - Seattle

Chuck S. Richards - Seattle

George Sell - Seattle

Jane Soder - Seattle

Washington DC

Michael K Beard

Rachel A. Cornwell

Banton Creaser

William S. Foling

Laura J. Folkwein

Greggery Garlen

Ray M. Goodrows

Susan Gundling

Rick Huskey

Alan McLain Ivy

Rachel Kesfer

Preston Lap

Jody McPherson

Phillip H. Miller

Ron Ragland

Scott Robinson

Thomas Russell

James H. Williams

Ralph Williams

West Virginia

Lynda Ann Ewen

Diann Hoffman

Michael A. Ragland - Charleston

David E. Shumate - Charleston

H. John Taylor


Robert Millner Adams - Milwaukee

Greg Baer - Kenosha

Shannon Donnally - Madison

Doug Dowling

Cecil Findley - Madison

Walter Earl Jackson - Madison

Brian Rice McCarthy - Madison

Steven Earl Webster - Madison


Jan Anderson

Karen Anderson

Elizabeth Collier

James Conn

George Gay

Gerry Hill

Doug Monroe

Brian Soper