A Service of Celebration of the Holy UnionJeanne and Ellie
of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton

Sacramento Community Theater 1:00 PM, January 16, 1999

'HOLY UNION' -- Jeanne Barnett (left) and Ellie Charlton are blessed by a laying on of hands during a ceremony of 'holy union' at the Sacramento (California) Convention Center. The service, lead by the Rev. Don Fado of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, challenged the denomination's policy against its clergy performing same-sex union ceremonies. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.


Duets: Jane Howard and Jim Parr
"Now Sing We Joyfully" G. Young, arr. O. Young
"Close to Thee" S. J. Vail, arr. O Young
"Nearer Still Nearer" C. H. Morris, arr. O. Young
"Rise Up Ye Saints of God" W. Walter, arr. O. Young

DIVA (Diverse Individuals Vocalizing Affirmatively) Mixed Chorus of Yolo and Sacramento Counties, directed by Jim Parr, Jr. and Jane Howard, accompanied by Dan Stern, and joined by members of local United Methodist Church choirs "Siyahamba" South African, arr. Nyberg
"This Is the Day of New Beginning" Brian Wren, Carlton Young
"In This Very Room" Ron & Carol Harris

SOLO: Jane Howard "The Lord's Prayer" Malotte

DIVA Chorus: "Within Christ's Light" Jim Parr, Jr., arr. Dan Stern

SONG: "Part of the Family" Jim Manley

Come in, come in and sit down, you are a part of the fam'ly.
We are lost and we are found, and we are a part of the fam'ly....

[remainder of song omitted, due to copyright concerns]

GREETING ONE ANOTHER: Song: "The Spirit in Me" Strathdee
The spirit in me greets the spirit in you, Alleluia
God's in us and we're in God, Alleluia.

INVOCATION: Don Fado, Host Pastor
Recognition of gay and lesbian partnerships

THE LIGHTING OF THE CANDLES: Sacred Dancers, St. Mark's UMC, Sacramento

PROCESSIONAL HYMN: "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"


Names co-officiants are listed here.

Right aisle:


UNISON AFFIRMATION: Written by Barbara Troxell, led by Rev. Ronna Case, a special friend

We are unique human beings linked with all of creation and gathered from diverse places
to share a ministry faithfully,
to raise questions hopefully,
to work for justice lovingly . . .

We believe in the church, community of faith and caring, covenant and promise,
which nurtures our pilgrimage and
through which we are called to be witness to
God's truth, love and justice

We believe our believing affects
our daily walking and talking,
our doubting and struggling,
our decisions and choice-making,
our responses to persons and systems.

We intend in this community in these days
to raise questions hopefully,
to work for justice lovingly,
to share a ministry faithfully,
and, by God's grace, passionately!

POEM: "A New Covenant"
written and read by Rev. Dr. Jeanne Knepper
Director of Shalom Ministries, Portland, Oregon

DUET: "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera
Jeanne Ann Howard (Jeanne's niece) and Michael Dearth (Jeanne's cousin)

PRESENTATION: Wanda Charlton (Ellie's daughter-in-law) and Bobbie Charlton (granddaughter)

DUET: "The Ballad of Ellie and Jeanne"
written and sung by Jean and Jim Strathdee

SCRIPTURE AND WITNESS TO THE WORD: 1 John 4:13-5:4 Randy Miller
Randy felt called by God to ministry in the church, felt discouraged in ministry by the church

SONG: "People Like You" Si Kahn

THE WORDS OF LOVE AND COMMITMENT: Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton

O God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we bow before you to ask your blessing upon Ellie and Jeanne, whom we now bless in your name. Their commitment to one another grows out of their commitment to you, whose love is revealed through Jesus Christ. We pray for you to guide and strengthen them, that they remain open to your spirit and continue to grow in love. We thank you for Jeanne and Ellie's love and faith which they so readily share with us. We recognize in this service the place of family, friends, church and the entire human family; we are able to love because you first loved us. O God, our maker, we gladly proclaim to the world that Jeanne and Ellie are loving partners together for life. Amen.

HYMN: "Walls Mark Our Boundaries" Duck/Strathdee
So build us a table and tear down the wall!
Christ is our host. There is room for us all!

[chorus only printed on web, due to copyright concerns]




  • First United Methodist Church, Hollywood, California. The bells will ring over the city at 1:00 PM
  • Trinity United Methodist, Berkeley, California
  • Centenary-Chenango Street United Methodist Church, Binghamton, New York
  • Kings Highway United Methodist Church, Brooklyn, New York
  • Hobart United Methodist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Christ's Church: Methodist and Presbyterian United, Salem, Oregon
  • Wesley Foundation, Mount Pleasant, Michigan
  • Seeking sanctuary, two members of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas, celebrate a service of holy union in a United Church of Christ today.
  • St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Sacramento, service of prayer next door concurrent with our service.

Thanks to: Songleaders: Jean, Jim and Michael Strathdee
Piano: Dorothy McKibben ASL Interpreter: Polly Wagner
St. Mark's Brass Group: Steven David, Rick Eaton, Tom Roehr, Erik
Schmucker, Darrel Schmucker
St. Mark's Sacred Dancers: Andrea Bunch, Samantha DeVol, Jennifer
Frazier, Ashley Hart, Emily Jaske, Emilie Nichols, Deanna Reese, Jenna
Ricks, Kelly Stockton, Christy Stoughton, Rachel Strathdee
DIVA: For information about joining our chorus or having our group sing for your event, call DIVA (Diverse Individuals Vocalizing Affirmatively), LGBT and Friends Mixed Chorus

Thanks to the hundreds of volunteers who made this event possible, including

  • those who led the service
  • each of you who have come to join in this celebration
  • with special thanks to co-ordinators:
    Registration of guests - Carol Edwards
    Decorating - Idel McCollum, Robert Shively
    Security - Patricia Fado, Mark Bristow
    Circle of Love - Sarah Hubinsky, Elane O'Rourke, Judy Shook
    Media - Karen Humphrey, Gwen Schoen
    Staging and sound - Steve Kepler, Christy Stoughton
    Local arrangements - Steve Skiffington Housing - Toni Eaton
    Organizing Reconciling Congregations - Barbara Hall
    Organizing clergy - Andrea Gillman, Pam Roberts
    Non-violence training for participants - James Lawson, Chris Hartmire
    Ushers - Jacquie Taber Reception music - Jeanne Ann and Michael Howard

Special thanks to Barb Chandler and members of Episcopal Integrity of Northern California for preparing and providing lunch for the clergy co-officiants who have been here since early this morning.

And to The Reverend Elisabeth Seeger and St. Paul's Episcopal Church for providing an oasis the entire day for participants in the service and the circle of love.

Expert Testimony on Holy Unions for the UMC Clergy Committee on Investigation

Tolbert, Mary A.
Executive Director, Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion; George H. Atkinson Professor of Biblical Studies

In early February 2000, PSR faculty members Jeffrey Kuan, Karen Lebacqz, and Mary A. Tolbert served as expert witnesses in the "Holy Union" hearing held by The United Methodist Church California-Nevada Annual Conference Committe on Investigation for Clergy Members. The hearing was held to determine whether 67 Annual Conference clergy should be tried for their participation in the public Holy Union blessing of two women in January 1999. The following is the testimony of Mary A. Tolbert.


I presently serve as the George H. Atkinson Professor of Biblical Studies at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California, a post I have held since 1994. Prior to that time, I was for thirteen years Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. I received my doctorate in Biblical Studies from the University of Chicago in 1977 and have been teaching mainly professional ministerial students and Ph.D. students for most of the twenty-three years since that time. I am presently the Convener (chair) of the Biblical Studies Area of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. My published works concentrate on the New Testament gospels, including especially the parables of Jesus and the Gospel of Mark, and more recently on the issues of social location and biblical interpretation and the ethics of biblical interpretation.


In my testimony before the Committee, I wish to concentrate on three points, all developed from the standpoint of New Testament studies, which is my area of expertise. Since the ministers who participated in the holy union service on January 16, 1999 believed that their actions were taken against an unjust Social Principle of the church, which prohibits ministers from celebrating homosexual unions, I will discuss the New Testament grounds for that Principle. While I recognize that in the Methodist tradition the Bible is only one source of authority in the "quadrilateral" view, it is an important source nonetheless, especially in this case. I will investigate the "thinness" and uncertainness of the New Testament material rejecting homoeroticism (1) and will contrast that to the "thickness" and certainty of the New Testament material rejecting divorce and remarriage, ceremonies not prohibited by the Social Principles.

Secondly, because the ministers being investigated claim that their actions of disobedience stem from an attempt to follow the example of Jesus in the gospels, I will briefly discuss the ethical stances of Jesus vis-a-vis religious tradition and established religious authority.

Finally, I wish to conclude with a few comments about the ethics of biblical interpretation; in other words, I want to reflect on how we can use this ancient and foreign set of texts, the Bible, in the 21st century as a blessing on God's creation and not as a curse.

The New Testament on Homoeroticism:

The first point that must be made about the views of the New Testament writers on homoeroticism is the general absence of such views. Jesus in the gospels says nothing at all about the topic, nor can we find any discussion in Acts, Revelation, or any of the later general or catholic epistles. Indeed, there are only three possible references to homoeroticism in the entire New Testament, two from Paul and one in a Deutero-Pauline epistle; these are Romans 1:26-27, I Cor 6:9 and I Tim 1:10. The two latter references, which are part of vice lists, are particularly problematic because they rely on an interpretation of a Greek work, arsenokoites, whose actual meaning is unknown. As far as scholars have been able to determine, Paul's use of arsenokoites in I Cor is its first usage in all of Greek literature. Moreover, most of the extant occurrences of the word after Paul are dependent on him. While some scholars associate the word with homoeroticism by hypothesizing that it is derived from the Septuagint translation of Lev 20:13, which contains both arsenos (male) and koiten (bed) in the same sentence, (2) the most recent and thorough historical and linguistic investigation of the term has thrown considerable doubt on the adequacy of that hypothesis. Professor Dale Martin of Yale University, pointing out that deriving the meaning of any word from its component parts is a "naive and indefensible" linguistic practice (think, for example, of trying to determine the meaning of "manhood" from "man" and "hood"), has instead investigated all of the extant uses of the term, including those few which may not be dependent on Paul, arguing that the meaning of any word must be determined by its contexts of usage. (3) Drawing on the work of many other scholars, Martin contends that vice lists tend not to be random listings but rather ordered groupings in which sins of similar types are mentioned together (e.g., sexual vices, economic vices, sins of violence, etc.). Oddly, if the word means simply homoerotic sex acts, arsenokoites appears not in the expected groupings of sexual vices, but most often in the grouping of sins "related to economic injustice or exploitation" (4) (e.g., stealing, kidnaping, robbery, defrauding, etc). Occasionally, as in 1 Cor 6:9, it appears on the border between sexual sins and economic ones. Based on his careful study of the contexts in which all known examples of this word appear, Martin concludes that arsenokoites must have had a more specific meaning in Greco-Roman culture than just homoerotic activity in general. While no sure meanings can now be determined for this allusive word, Martin judges that "it seems to have referred to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex, perhaps but not necessarily homosexual sex." (5)

Our inability to be able to say with any assurance what this single word in the vice lists of 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1 actually means, removes these verses completely from any usefulness in the discussion of homoeroticism in the New Testament, leaving as the sole basis of an appeal to New Testament authority for a church principle rejecting lesbians and gay men, Paul's brief assertion in Rom 1:26-27, and that passage, too, is filled with controversy. (6) Let me mention only a few of the problems in the passage. In v. 26, Paul speaks of "their women exchanging natural intercourse for that which is against nature (para physin)." If Paul is speaking here of female homoerotic behavior, then it is the only verse in the entire Bible even to mention that subject. But is that what Paul is referring to? Most of the Early Church Fathers who discussed this text and some modern scholars as well assume that Paul was speaking about what we today would call heterosexual relations, in which these women were exchanging normal sexual intercourse with men, which could lead to pregnancy, for sexual relations which could not, such as anal or oral sex. (7) Conversely, several modern scholars, citing the parallel with verse 27, which explicitly says that men were exchanging natural relations with women for lust for other men, argue that Paul was indeed referring here to female homoeroticism, even if later Church Fathers did not always read him that way. (8)

Whatever the truth about Rom 1:26 might be, verse 27 seems to be a really clear rejection of male homoeroticism, and as such the only one the New Testament has to offer. However, it needs to be pointed out, even with this verse, that what Paul might have considered "natural" sexual relations are likely quite different from our concepts today. Paul's reference to the fact that these people "exchanged" natural relations for those "against nature," indicates his close affiliation with the understanding of sexuality of his time. In Mediterranean antiquity, sexual "orientation" was an unknown concept. Proper sexual relations were determined primarily by social standing or status rather than by gender or "orientation." Sexuality was always understood to be the combination of dominance and submission; consequently, "natural" sexual relations occurred only between socially dominant persons and socially submissive persons. Since women were assumed to be "by nature" submissive, the sexual relation of a free man with a woman was always "natural," as were sexual relations between free men and slaves (either male or female) and, at least in classical Greece, between free men and boys. What most upset ancient moralists, both Roman and Jewish, was any attempt to reverse those "natural" roles. For a man to have sex with another adult man meant one of them would have to be the "woman," the penetrated one, a shameful and degrading position. For women to have sexual relations with other women meant someone would have to be the "man" or "penetrator," a monstrous act of pride and shamelessness. (9) Paul, like his contemporary moralists, believed that all people were capable of natural sexual relations, in which the "natural" roles of the dominant person and the submissive person were honored, but that some men (and perhaps women) willfully gave up those natural roles to take the dishonorable position, which was against their "nature." In reflecting on this ancient moralistic argument against homoeroticism, which seems to lie behind Paul's own views, it is important for us in the present to notice the extent to which it rests on an overwhelming foundation of misogyny; because the submissive, penetrated role of women was so despised, any man who willingly took that position had to be deeply perverted. I fear that misogyny still lies behind much of the hostility directed toward gay men and lesbians, even in the church.

There is certainly more that can be said about the Romans passage. Since Paul's condemnation occurs in the context of his discussion of Gentile idolatry (see, Romans 1:18ff), it appears that Paul understands the origin of homoeroticism to lie in such idolatry, which may be why he does not consider it an issue for Jews or the nascent Christian community. Moreover, the entire point of Romans 1-3 is to convince everyone, Gentile and Jew alike, that they are all sinners who stand in need of the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is a sad perversion of Paul's purpose to read this passage as singling out homosexual people as sinners, while all others are somehow righteous in God's sight. But let us grant here that there is indeed at least one clear reference in the New Testament to the "sinful" nature of homoerotic desire. Does that justify the formation of a church principle excluding such people from the full fellowship and blessing of the church? In order to raise more sharply the question of justice, a short comparison with another controversial issue in the New Testament might be helpful: that of divorce and remarriage.

There is no rule, whether for guidance or as binding, in the Social Principles that prohibits United Methodist ministers from re-marrying previously divorced people or performing those services in United Methodist churches. However, if we look at the New Testament witness on this issue we find abundant confirmation of its sinfulness. In each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus forbids divorce and asserts that anyone who marries a divorced person commits adultery (Matt 5:31-32; 19:3-9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18), a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus twice issues this prohibition, once in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:31-32) and again in a controversy with lawyers who argue that Moses allowed such measures (cf., Deut. 24:1-4). While in Matthew Jesus seems to soften his decree by allowing a special exemption for "unchastity" (Gk: porneia), in Mark and in Luke the decree is categorical: no divorce is allowed and anyone who marries a divorced person commits adultery, a sin about which the entire Bible has very much to say, indeed. Even Paul knows of this "word of the Lord" and repeats it in its categorical form for the Corinthians (I Cor 7:10-11). Except for wondering what Matthew might have intended by "unchastity," there is no scholarly debate over the meaning of the words used in these passages nor the clear demands of the passages themselves. Thus, the New Testament authority of Jesus and Paul both are adamantly clear that divorce is forbidden to followers of Jesus and additionally that the remarriage of a divorced person constitutes adultery, a serious sin. Yet, in UMC churches all over this country, UMC clergy are conferring the church's blessings on unions which the New Testament clearly and unequivocally calls adulterous. (10)

Now, let us compare these two issues. On the one hand, we have one clear verse in Paul's letter to the Romans that condemns homoeroticism as sinful, which constitutes the entire reliable witness of the New Testament on the topic. Based at least in part on such biblical authority, the UMC has decided to prohibit its clergy from blessing unions of gay men or lesbians. On the other hand, we have clear sayings and stories in each of the synoptic gospels and in Paul's letters which categorically forbid divorce and remarriage for followers of Jesus, and yet, no Social Principle in the Book of Discipline forbids United Methodist churches or clergy from celebrating and blessing such unions; indeed, according to biblical authority, the UMC is in practice, weekly, if not daily, putting its blessing on adultery. The radically, even wildly, different treatment these two issues, and the people affected by them, receive under present rulings of the church would have to be evaluated by any fair person, I think, as profoundly unjust. (11) I judge that the deep inconsistency of the use of the Bible in present church policy has indeed created a situation of clear injustice, and thus, I agree with the 67 clergy accused here that their act should be seen as a protest against blatant injustice.

What would Jesus do?

In responding to this conspicuous situation of injustice, many of the accused clergy have claimed that their act of disobedience was the result of a higher call to "do what Jesus would do" in such a situation. In trying to evaluate the New Testament grounds for such a claim, one needs to recognize that knowing absolutely "what Jesus would do" in a contemporary situation is an impossibility; we must instead rely on the Spirit to guide our actions in these many new settings and situations. Having said that, however, it is certainly possible to look at the manner in which Jesus' actions are portrayed in the gospels for possible analogies to present conflicts and battles. Would the Jesus of the gospels side with those who have been marginalized, humiliated and excluded as sinners by some of the reigning religious authorities? If the question is put in that manner, the answer is most obviously "yes, he would."

The gospels agree on the fact that Jesus associated with and indeed often had "table fellowship" with a general group described as "tax collectors and sinners" or sometimes just "sinners" (see, e.g., Matt 9:10-11; 11:19; Mark 2:15-17; Luke 5:30; 7:34; 15:1; 18:13-14). Although historically pre-70 C.E. Judaism was a very diverse movement with shifting power relations between these groups, the NT gospels portray a fairly monolithic group of powerful Jews in authority over the beliefs of the people, including Pharisees, scribes (or lawyers), Sadducees, and temple authorities like chief priests. According to the gospels this group rejected some other Jews whom they defined as "sinners" and refused to have any contact with them because their actions violated the Law of Moses. The category "sinners" included people we might today think of as "sinners" like adulterers, thieves, murderers, etc, but the largest portion of the group were probably people whose occupations or living situations prevented them from keeping the Law, like tax-collectors (who were assumed to cheat and had close dealings with Gentiles, all of whom were unclean sinners), butchers, actors, all Gentiles, store owners, lepers, people of low status and/or low economic means, etc. In eating with these people, Jesus was not simply acting hospitably, he was acting radically and prophetically. To share table fellowship in ancient Jewish culture was a declaration of friendship and equal status. Thus, in eating with "sinners" Jesus was in effect declaring himself one of them and declaring them his equals in status and centrality. It is critically important to recognize that Jesus did not demand they change occupations or social status in order to have this fellowship with him, tax-collectors remained tax-collectors, Gentiles remained Gentiles, etc. Indeed, it is precisely his radical inclusion of those whom the majority of Jewish authorities rejected as unclean or unworthy that, according to the synoptic gospels, deeply angered the Jewish authorities and led to their rejection of him. As the NT gospels present the story, it would probably not be too much of an overstatement to say that Jesus' acts of disobedience to reigning religious authority, by his radical inclusion of those marginalized and rejected by that tradition, was one element that led directly to his crucifixion. To demonstrate God's equal love for those whom traditional religious authorities rejected as sinners, Jesus was willing to risk his life.

While this is not the only analogy the life of Jesus might provide to this current situation, it is certainly a dominant one in scripture. Lesbians and gay men are currently marginalized, prevented from ordination, treated as an under class, even seen by many as unclean sinners. The official authority of the UMC has formalized their marginalization and humiliation by preventing its clergy from blessing their unions of love and life-long fidelity. To offer this group not simply hospitality but radical inclusion in the full life of the Christian community as they are, without demanding that they become who they are not, would seem a fitting analogy to Jesus' prophetic acts of table fellowship with "sinners" in the New Testament. Thus, it seems to me that the New Testament depiction of Jesus does provide grounds for the claim that disobedience to church rules that stigmatize and marginalize one group as worse or more unworthy than any others because of who they are, would indeed be "what Jesus would do." To take such prophetic action, Jesus was willing to risk his life, and these 67 ministers were willing to risk their careers. It would be a profound shame, if almost two thousand years after Jesus' crucifixion, the church founded by him should similarly punish those who are attempting to follow his prophetic example.

The Ethics of Biblical Interpretation

I believe how we interpret and especially how we apply biblical mandates to contemporary situations must be understood, not solely as an exegetical activity, but as a theological and ethical one as well, and our resulting use of scripture must be judged by clearly argued Christian ethical and theological criteria. Biblical exegesis, which is my area of expertise, is designed to determine, or try to determine, the most historically probable construction of what an author might have meant in writing what he or she did. Paul might well have believed that some forms of homoeroticism known to him were sinful, and he most certainly did believe that slavery was morally neutral, that chastity was the best form of Christian life (with marriage only a grudging option as a remedy for lust [see I Cor 7]), that it was "against nature" for men to wear long hair, etc. And it is quite probable historically that both he and Jesus taught that divorce and re- marriage constituted adultery. All of these positions carry some portion of historical probability, as determined by contemporary biblical scholarship. The question facing the church, however, is not whether Paul or even Jesus believed these things but whether or not contemporary Christians, guided by the Spirit, do or should believe these things.

At the very minimum, contemporary application of biblical mandates by church bodies must be consistently applied. If some biblical assertions, which affect the majority of church members, are dismissed because of considerations of supposed cultural difference, then cultural difference must be taken seriously for all biblical mandates, even those affecting only a minority within the church. Listing side by side, as the Book of Discipline now does, article # 65C, which prohibits United Methodist clergy from performing holy unions for gay men and lesbians and thus rigidly enforces a woefully skimpy and contested New Testament "teaching," and article # 65D, which recognizes, sadly, the prevalence of divorce and explicitly permits remarriage, thus completely ignoring a heavily witnessed, historically probable biblical mandate of Jesus himself, can only be judged as a radically inconsistent use of the Bible. Indeed, even more might be said because ignoring a biblical rule that affects the heterosexual majority of United Methodists, while enforcing a much "thinner" biblical rule that affects only a minority of United Methodists, it seems to me, could quite justly be designated an act of profound hypocrisy, undermining the integrity of both the church and the gospel it is in the world to preach.

See also:


1. I prefer to use the term "homoeroticism" when discussing antiquity because "homosexual" and "heterosexual" are 20th century creations used to define one's "sexual orientation," a concept completely unknown in antiquity. For a good general discussion of the various understandings of homoeroticism in antiquity, which forms the cultural context of all the biblical passages, see, Martti Nissinen, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1998).

2. For this view, see, e.g., Robin Scroggs, The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), pp. 83, 106-107 and more recently Mark D. Smith, "Ancient Bisexuality and the Interpretation of Romans 1:26-27" JAAR 64/2 (1996): 247, although Smith disagrees with Scroggs' conclusion about the meaning of the word. For a similar reading of the word, though on somewhat different grounds, see also David Wright, "Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of arsenokoitai (1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim 1:10)" VC 38 (1984):125-53.

3. "Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences" in Robert L. Brawley, ed., Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), pp. 118-123. For similar cautions about defining this word, see Nissinen, pp. 113-122.

4. Martin, p. 120.

5. Ibid.

6. The most thorough and detailed recent exegesis of this passage in Romans can be found in Bernadette Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. 215-66; see also, Nissinen, pp. 103-113; Stanley Stowers, A Re-Reading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994); and Smith, "Ancient Bisexuality."

7. The most recent argument for this position, which also cites much of the ancient discussion, can be found in James E. Miller, "The Practices of Romans 1:26: Homosexual or Heterosexual?" Novum Testamentum 37 (1995):1-11.

8. See, especially, Brooten and Smith, "Ancient Bisexuality."

9. For more in-depth discussion of these issues, see, e.g., Brooten, and Nissinen.

10. The very next section of the of the Book of Disciple following the prohibition against holy unions for homosexuals, section # 65D, contains the following blatant contradiction of scripture: "Divorce does not preclude a new marriage." Indeed, in the UMC, divorced and re-married people can be ordained, can be bishops, and can hold all the offices of the church. If we follow the clear meaning of scripture, we would be forced to say that the UMC is riddled throughout with adulterers.

11. In addition to divorce and remarriage, Walter Wink in a recent article lists thirteen other biblical sexual mores that contemporary Protestant Christians either reject or ignore; see, Wink, "Homosexuality and the Bible" in Walter Wink, ed., Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999), pp. 33-49.


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Expert Testimony on Holy Unions for the UMC Clergy Committee on Investigation

Lebacqz, Karen
Robert Gordon Sproul Professor of Theological Ethics

In early February 2000, PSR faculty members Jeffrey Kuan, Karen Lebacqz, and Mary A. Tolbert served as expert witnesses in the "Holy Union" hearing held by The United Methodist Church California-Nevada Annual Conference Committe on Investigation for Clergy Members. The hearing was held to determine whether 67 Annual Conference clergy should be tried for their participation in the public Holy Union blessing of two women in January 1999. The following is the testimony of Karen Lebacqz.

Background and Credentials:

I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ through the Bay Association of the Northern California Conference. I am also Robert Gordon Sproul Professor of Theological Ethics at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA, where I have been on the faculty since 1972. Pacific School of Religion has official relations with three denominations, including The United Methodist Church. I have therefore worked with students and clergy from The United Methodist Church for many years, and have read significant portions of the Book of Discipline. My field is Christian ethics, particularly social ethics. In this capacity, I teach courses on Sexual Ethics, Professional Ethics, and Theories of Justice.

Summary of Testimony:

According to the Book of Discipline (#65C, p.87, 1996), "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." This section has been interpreted by Judicial Council Decision 833 as binding on (rather than guiding for) clergy. Two issues therefore confront the UMC in the light of the holy union ceremony held on January 16, 1999.

The first is what constitutes a Christian understanding of marriage: What is the role of the church ceremony in that understanding, and should marriage include an affirmation of unions between gay or lesbian couples? Drawing on the theological ethics of Methodist theologian, Dr. Paul Ramsey, I will argue that marriage is not a matter of ceremony or legality, but of commitment and responsibility. Further, it is not for purposes of procreation, but for union. Hence, gay and lesbian couples can legitimately be 'married' in Christian understanding. Further marriage ceremonies do not create marriages but merely bear witness to an already existing marriage. Hence, to allow ceremonies for heterosexual couples but prohibit them for gay and lesbian couples is unjust: it constitutes discrimination. The second issue is whether clergy who believe that their denominational guidelines and policies are discriminatory and unjust are justified in engaging in 'ecclesial dissent' or 'disobedience.' I will argue that there are grounds in ordination vows and clergy ethics to support such dissent or disobedience. Drawing on the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., I will further argue that, under some circumstances, disobedience is not merely permitted but required and that it should be public. Finally, I will argue that it is incumbent upon clergy to witness to the covenantal nature of human life, and that the church should not stifle but encourage covenantal commitments among its members. Doing so is good theology: it embodies the God presented to us in Scripture.

The Meaning of Marriage in Christian Tradition

Because of the explicit prohibition against ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions, it seems at first glance that marriage in the United Methodist tradition is limited to the "love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman." (#65C; emphasis added) However, drawing on the work of the eminent (United) Methodist theologian Dr. Paul Ramsey, I would like to offer an alternative understanding. Some 35 years ago, Ramsey declared:

"A Christian view of sex and of marriage never was a theology of the marriage ceremony. Ours is not the task of defending bourgeois respectability or legal paper.... The man and the woman marry each other in fact when their consents are the response to and the responsibility for each other's reality...." (1)

Ramsey's definition of marriage focuses on the commitment and response of the couple to each other. It is this commitment and response that constitutes a Christian marriage, not legal status or ecclesial ceremony. Marriage is about a couple's standing before God and each other. It does not require legal approval in order to be approved by the church. Further, it does not require church approval to be valid. Marriage happens when the couple commit to each other; the church merely witnesses to the marriage that has already taken place.

My own understanding of marriage has been shaped significantly by Ramsey's view. Because my primary ministry is teaching, I do not perform many wedding ceremonies. When I do, I tell the couple that the wedding ceremony does not 'marry' them; we merely witness to a marriage that has already taken place. This understanding derives directly from Ramsey's Methodist interpretation of the meaning and structure of marriage.

The importance of this church witness to an already existing covenant of marriage should not be underestimated, nonetheless. The wedding ceremony helps to position the couple publicly, in the eyes of the community, as a couple committed to each other before God. For those who are already members of the church, the ceremony is a crucial public witness. Even for those who are not members of churches, such a public statement of their commitment is an important step in honoring and securing the benefits of covenant commitment. Thus, although I would argue that the ceremony does not 'marry' the couple, but rather witnesses to a marriage that has already taken place, that does not mean that such ceremonies can simply be ignored. They are an important part of the public proclamation of covenant, to be addressed below.

Can Gay or Lesbian Couples be Married?

Ramsey had in mind heterosexual relationships. (His phrase "the man and the woman marry each other" makes this clear.) Can his understanding of marriage as the commitment between the couple extend to any couple taking responsibility to and for each other?

"Marriage ... may be defined as the mutual and exclusive exchange of the right to acts that of themselves tend to establish and nourish unity of life between the partners."(2)

In Ramsey's view, marriage gives a claim to sexual acts; the meaning of these acts is the union of the couple rather than procreation. A union need not be procreative in order to be understood as a proper marriage. What makes it a proper marriage is the exclusive claim to sexual practices that nourish unity of life between partners.(3)

Thus, though Ramsey had in mind heterosexual couples, the internal logic of Ramsey's understanding of marriage extends to cover gay and lesbian unions. Since marriage is not about legalities or religious ceremonies but about commitment and responsibility between two persons, Christian marriage does not require that the couple be legally permitted to marry. Since the primary purpose of sexual acts in marriage is not procreation but union between the partners, Ramsey's argument implies that it is not necessary that one be male and the other female. In short, there need be no distinction between gay and straight couples. (4)

Thus, I believe that there is good reason, grounded in Christian theology and ethics, to recognize gay and lesbian marriages and to endorse ceremonies that witness to such marriages. This position is not particularly radical; it is merely the logical entailment of ethical and theological reflections offered some years ago by the eminent and somewhat conservative (United) Methodist theologian, Dr. Paul Ramsey. Covenant responsibility is the internal meaning of Christian marriage, and this meaning need not be limited to heterosexual couples. Marriage ceremonies do not 'celebrate' marriage in the sense of creating marriage; they witness to the reality of a marriage that is already there.

Prohibition as Injustice

The explicit prohibition of Section 65C violates this understanding of marriage. Further, it is discriminatory: it prohibits some couples, but not others, from receiving from the church the blessings of a witness to their marriage.

Such discriminatory prohibitions are unjust. Martin Luther King, Jr., defined unjust laws or rules as those that 1) degrade human personality, or 2) are applied unequally to two categories of people. (5) Rules prohibiting public recognition of marriage for gay and lesbian couples, but permitting it for heterosexual couples, are unjust on both counts: they are discriminatory between categories of people, and they degrade the human person. They are discriminatory because they treat two classes of persons differently, without theological justification for the distinction. They degrade the human person because they create, ipso facto, a 'second class' citizenship for gay and lesbian people in the church.

The Question of "Disobedience."

For Martin Luther King, Jr., unjust laws required civil disobedience. Here, King stands in long Protestant tradition. Calvin himself declared that our obedience to human rule must never become disobedience to God, and that we must "suffer anything rather than turn aside from piety." (6) It is in general, therefore, a Christian obligation to stand up over against injustice, even at personal price.

Do unjust rules within the church similarly require disobedience? If clergy believe that the official polity or social principles of the church are not in accord with the best understanding of Christian marriage, and are indeed discriminatory and unjust, are they obligated to uphold the policy and principles nonetheless? Is there room for disobedience, and if so, of what sort?

Ordination Vows

At first glance, it might appear that The United Methodist Church makes little room for ecclesial dissent or disobedience. Those seeking ordination are specifically asked whether they will (1) support and maintain the government and polity of The UMC, and (2) observe the direction not to mend rules but keep them. (#327, p,199, 1996 Book of Discipline) Such affirmations suggest that, in the very process of being ordained, Methodist clergy have taken vows to uphold the principles and polity of the Church. Disobedience to such principles and polity would appear to be a violation of ordination vows.

But the matter is not quite so simple. First, these 'historic' ordination questions are to be interpreted in 'spirit and intent' by the bishop at the time of examination for ordination. The possibility of interpretation of the 'spirit and intent' of the questions suggests that keeping all of the rules and principles of the Church is not necessarily required as a vow of ordination. Indeed, it is generally the case that Social Principles are for guidance and are not binding on clergy. While judicial interpretation has given this particular Social Principle the force of law, that stands as an anomaly in the history of the Church. The fact that this principle has been so singled out contributes to the perception of a deep injustice at work.

Such an injustice bears particular burdens for clergy who were ordained before the explicit prohibition was added to the Book of Discipline. These clergy are being asked to honor a principle that was not present when they took their vows. It is one thing to take ordination vows knowing and understanding that one may not extend the blessings of the church to a group of people; it is another to take vows believing that the blessings of the church may and should be extended to all, and then discover that one group is to be singled out for exclusion.

Indeed, many clergy and bishops believe that specific ordination vows are intended to undergird the fundamental vow of clergy, which is to serve God by upholding and maintaining covenant with the church. Recognizing that the primary loyalty is to God, and that churches are human institutions and hence, fallible, there is good reason to believe that 'reverent dissent' can be part of the sustance and sustenance of that basic covenant. In a study of selective obedience in the Catholic church, Shannon argues that there can be a 'loyal opposition' to church teachings.(7) Since the teaching authority of the magisterium is held in very high regard in Roman Catholicism, it is significant that Catholic theologians understand that not every authoritative teaching of the church "can be ascribed automatically to the Holy Spirit." Church authority is held in tension with the demands of conscience, even in a church polity that generally gives significant authority to the magisterium. Even more so, then, in Protestant tradition, might church authority be held in tension with an informed conscience, and even more so might church teaching be subject to occasional correction or 'reverent dissent.'

Finally, I would note that The United Methodist Church itself- as is true of almost all denominations- began with acts of ecclesial dissent! It is because devout Christians found doctrine or polity of their churches to fail as an expression of the core Christian message that they started new modes of worship and fellowship. Ecclesial dissent is at the heart of the renewal of God's reign, witnessed in the very founding of The United Methodist Church. (8)

Professional Ethics

To these concerns that come from Methodist tradition, I would add only a few words from my discipline of professional ethics.

First, as is true of all professionals, clergy have an obligation to serve those in their parishes. As is true of all professionals, this obligation to serve requires the professional to put the needs of the client first and to take risks on behalf of the client. So strong is this requirement for clergy that Paul Camenisch in his review of clergy ethics suggests that clergy bear all the burdens of other professionals, but often lack the protections that professional groups generally provide for practitioners. (9) Such an obligation to serve parishioners can be understood to require that clergy offer services even when doing so puts the clergy person at risk of disobeying Church teachings and having to face consequences of that disobedience.

Second, in their study of clergy ethics Walter Wiest and Elwyn Smith propose that one of the special responsibilities of ordained ministers is 'watching' over the purity of the church's proclamation: "The pastor has a special... responsibility to see that...what [the congregation] does is consistent with the gospel and is fitting for the body of Christ taking shape in the world." (10) Part of the professional ethics of clergy, then, is ensuring that congregations are enacting a gospel of justice and love. Wiest and Smith do not specifically address dissent and disobedience, but their call for 'watching' over the life of the church suggests that dissent and disobedience might be countenanced when necessary to ensure consistency with the gospel. Some would go even further. Rebecca Chopp proposes that churches should be engaged in 'emancipatory transformation.' The church must be a visible sign of God's grace in the world, and it must be a community of justice and reconciliation. In this understanding, clergy become not simply prophets who focus on social justice issues, but watchdogs of the institution itself. Clergy must be 'in the church but not of it' - that is, able to see and name the faults and flaws of the church itself. (11) The suggestion that clergy should be 'in but not of' the church seems to make clear room for ecclesial dissent and disobedience.

Finally, those who follow liberation tradition might suggest that clergy have a particular mandate to listen to the voices of the oppressed. As the church proclaims justice, and justice cannot be done without hearing the voices of the oppressed, leaders in the church are called to lift up and honor perspectives that are not generally heard. The exclusion of a group from any of the benefits of the church gives particular force to the need to act in ways that lift up and recognize that group. (12)

Thus, there are grounds not only in the ordination vows of clergy but also in a broad-based understanding of clergy ethics and ecclesiology to propose that dissent and disobedience can be not only legitimated but required of those in leadership positions in the church.

Proper Modes of Disobedience

It is therefore no surprise that there have in fact been many acts of disobedience to section 65C. Many clergy do perform commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. They do it quietly and secretly, without fanfare. We must now ask whether the particular act of Jan 16, 1999, can be supported. The act under consideration was not done quietly but publicly, openly, in deliberate defiance of Church rules. This may seem offensive. Can it be justified?

Here again, I think there are reasons grounded in professional ethics for explicit, public challenge to Church teachings. First is the issue of integrity. To be duplicitous - practicing one thing privately but another openly - seems contrary to the very nature of the church and its ministry. Methodist ethicist Stanley Hauerwas once said, "A Christian ethic is ultimately an ethic of truth or it is neither Christian nor an ethic substantive enough to deal with the human condition." (13) The church, he argued, must live truthfully, or it is not being the church. Should clergy not model for our churches a willingness to be open and honest about core faith commitments? Martin Luther King, Jr., said: "One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly...." (14) The purpose of disobedience is public and hence disobedience requires public display. The deliberate intent to challenge the rules of the Church is a prophetic statement about the seriousness of the justice issues at stake.

Second is an issue of kairos - of understanding the fullness of time and its ethical demands. In describing Rosa Parks' historic refusal to give up her seat on the bus, King said: "she was planted there by her personal sense of dignity and self-respect. She was anchored to that seat by the accumulated indignities of days gone by and the boundless aspirations of generations yet unborn." (15) Those who participated in the ceremony explicitly forbidden by the Social Principles did so in this same spirit of recognizing that the kairos required an end to silence. Responding to kairos is a matter of dignity and self-respect.

For these reasons, I deem both the general understanding of disobedience and the particular acts of disobedience to be justified by the best of theological ethics.

The Covenantal Character of Human Life

But there is yet another reason, more fundamental and more theological than any of the above, for supporting the acts of January 16, 1999.

Justice will not be enacted in this world unless and until we affirm our interconnectedness and our mutual responsibility for each other. In Christian tradition, we express this in the language of covenant. Here again, I find Ramsey instructive:


"I hold with Karl Barth that covenant-fidelity is the inner meaning and purpose of our creation as human beings.... This means that the conscious acceptance of covenant responsibilities is the inner meaning of even the 'natural' or systemic relations into which we are born and of the institutional relations or roles we enter by choice..." (16)

The lens of covenant then becomes the lens through which Ramsey considers the question of role responsibilities, and the self-consciously biblical principle of fidelity to covenant becomes his overriding norm for determining when action is ethical and when it is not. The sacredness of human life could not, for Ramsey, be sustained unless the demands of covenant or 'steadfast love' (hesed) underlie the way in which we live with each other. It is partly for this reason that Ramsey defined marriage in terms of covenant commitment.

To affirm gay and lesbian unions is not simply, therefore, to enact justice by ensuring 'equal treatment' of gay and straight couples. Justice alone is sufficient reason for disobedience to exclusionary policy. But more than this, I believe that it is important for the Church today to underscore the importance of fidelity, steadfast love, and covenant. Gay and lesbian couples who have committed themselves to each other - taking responsibility to and for each other- are exhibiting the covenantal meaning of life. Precisely because gay and lesbian couples cannot be married legally, their commitments shine as a form of testimony to covenant rather than contract. They exercise fidelity and steadfastness in the face of enormous social pressures to do otherwise. The courage to exercise covenant in the face of opposition is a bestowing of God's grace among us; the Church should not stifle but encourage and rejoice in such covenants. In so doing, the Church witnesses to the fundamental covenantal character of human life and to what is most central to Christian tradition.

In sum, I argue that clergy participating in the ceremony on January 16, 1999, were not in violation of Christian practice. If wedding ceremonies do not marry people but only witness to a marriage that has already taken place, and if such marriages are not limited to heterosexual couples, then to deny such witness to one group of people while permitting it to another is to discriminate and to exercise injustice. Ordination vows and professional ethics require clergy to serve those in their charge, even at risk to themselves. Further, it is a mandate of professional ethics that clergy 'watch' over the Church to ensure that it is a liberatory community of justice and love. By lifting up the covenantal character of human life proclaimed in the Gospel, those who engage in ecclesial dissent or disobedience proclaim and assist the Church to embody the God of justice and truth presented to us in Scripture, the foundation of United Methodist tradition. (17)

See also:


1. Paul Ramsey, "On Taking Sexual Responsibility Seriously Enough," first published in Christianity and Crisis, v.23, no.23, Jan 6, 1964; reprinted in Gibson Winter, ed., Social Ethics: Issues in Ethics and Society, NY: Harper and Row, 1968. Quotes are from the Winter volume. Ramsey was responding to a view promulgated by a group of Friends. In 1964, pre-marital sex was the hot debate. A group of Friends published a document entitled Towards a Quaker View of Sex. This document argued that when engaged couples enter into a genital sexual relationship, "their marriage begins then and there." The Friends also argued that "when two people are deeply committed to each other, but for some reason [are] unable to marry...they may, in fact, live as husband and wife and their union may, in its inherent quality, be indistinguishable from that of a legally married couple." In short, the Quakers argued that there were circumstances in which 'pre-marital' or 'non-marital' sex was acceptable, and that such acts of sex between committed couples created and constituted a 'marriage' in Christian eyes. Ramsey argued that the Friends had not gone far enough in their understanding of Christian responsibility. Once marriage is understood as the commitment between the couple, there is no such thing as 'pre-marital' or 'non- marital' sex for those whose sexual activities are within the context of committed relationship.

2. Winter, 49.

3. Here, Ramsey follows Protestant tradition in general, which tends to stress the unitive rather than the procreative purposes of sexuality.

4. This position also implies that there are many 'marriages' that are not valid Christian marriages, even though they may have both state and church approval. Legal paper does not create a Christian marriage. But that's a subject for another time....

5. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in James M. Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (HarperSanFrancisco, 1986), p.293.

6. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book IV, chapter XX, #32, in John T. McNeill, editor, The Library of Christian Classics, vol. XXI: Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), pp.1520-21. Calvin quotes Acts 5:29: "We must obey God rather than men [sic.]."

7. Thomas A. Shannon, Render Unto God: A Theology of Selective Obedience (NY: Paulist Press, 1974), p.87. For his study, Shannon drew heavily on two of the most revered Catholic theologians: Karl Rahner and Bernard Haering. C.f. Karl Rahner, Obedience in the Church (Washington, D.C.: Corpus Books, 1968)

8. The Book of Discipline skirts lightly around this issue, noting merely that "Wesley's ordinations [of Coke and others] set a precedent that ultimately permitted Methodists in America to become an independent church." (p.11, 1996 Book of Discipline) In fact, Wesley ordained Coke and others against the strictures of the Church of England - i.e., he practised ecclesial disobedience! Thus, ecclesial disobedience undergirds Methodist tradition.

9. Paul F. Camenisch, "Clergy Ethics and the Professional Model," in James P. Wind, et.al., eds., Clergy Ethics in a Changing Society (Westminster/John Knox, 1991), p. 130.

10. Walter E. Wiest and Elwyn A. Smith, Ethics in Ministry: A Guide for the Professional (Minneapolis: Fortress press, 1990), p. 64.

11. Rebecca Chopp, "Liberating Ministry," in James P. Wind et.al., eds., Clergy Ethics in a Changing Society (Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991), p.97.

12. I draw here on my own previous work Justice in an Unjust World and also on the important work on oppression by Iris Marion Young in Justice and the Politics of Difference.

13. Stanley Hauerwas, Vision and Virtue: Essays in Christian Ethical Reflection (Notre Dame, In: Fides Publishers, 1974), p.117.

14. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in James M. Washington, ed., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (HarperSanFrancisco, 1986), p.294.

15. King, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (NY: Harper and Row, 1958), p. 29; quoted in the editor's introduction to A Testament of Hope, p.xvii.

16. Paul Ramsey, The Patient as Person (Yale University Press, 1970), p.xii.

17. The primacy of Scripture in Methodist tradition is made clear in the statement of 'theological task' at the beginning of the Book of Discipline: "...Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine." (#63, p.75) The authority of tradition "derives from its faithfulness to the biblical message." (#63, p.74) Though Scripture is interpreted in light of experience, "Scripture remains central in our efforts to be faithful...." (#63, p.79)

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Rhodes, Lynn Nell
Associate Professor of Ministry and Field Education

Excerpts from a statement to the Committee on Investigation by Lynn Nell Rhodes, PSR Associate Professor of Field Education.

I did not participate in the Holy Union to challenge a law of the church. I participated in blessing the committed love of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton because I considered it the ethical response to a situation of injustice within The United Methodist Church.

I also participated because I believe that our church needs to address how we respond to the gift of sexuality. I do not believe that God created human beings to experience genuine love and sexual desire and then condemn them for expressing that gift. I am probably more cautious than many around sexual ethics. As a teacher and former campus minister, I have heard many stories of abuse and sexual exploitation. I was part of a research group that investigated clergy sexual ethics. I was appalled at what I learned about the misuse of power and role. I was upset that so many clergy had not thought about the relationship between what they profess and their personal sexual actions. I am very concerned about people using sexual activity as a way to control others, and in my work have had to confront those who use their power and role to engage in sexual acts that harm the less powerful. I do believe that our sexuality is a powerful force and that we must be careful that our sexual activity is loving, mutual, non-exploitative.

As a church, one of the most powerful witnesses we can make is to bless relationships that reveal our understandings of love, commitment, non-exploitation of our sexuality, and our desire to create family units that support and nourish people over time. It is out of my gratitude to the church and its teachings that I felt I had to participate in blessing the love of Ellie and Jeanne, who demonstrate so clearly what I affirm about committed, Christian relationships.

I am one of those whose ministry in the church was empowered through the work of Bob Cary, Youth Director for the Northern California Annual Conference. As a youth, I experienced his care, integrity and ethical leadership. In 1963, I participated in discussions with gay men in San Francisco through a Wesley Foundation program. It was the church itself that gave me the opportunity to talk with people who were shunned by society. My mentor, a Methodist pastor and faculty member of Boston University School of Theology, wrote an article in 1964 on Biblical interpretation that addressed and countered the attacks on gays and lesbians. My local church is a Reconciling Congregation and my Conference has been a Reconciling Conference.

My experience of the church has been as an advocate for the decision I made to participate in the blessing of the Holy Union. I have been part of a movement within the church that began for me at least 35 years ago. This is not a rash act nor one made without first spending many years working on advocacy and education to change laws. I believe that my actions were made within the meaning of our covenant together. I know that my insight and understanding is limited. I believe in communal discernment. My decision to participate came out of my belief that my convictions have been tested within the covenant and that I was being called by my colleagues to this action.

I know how the Bible has been used against women's participation in leadership and women's roles in family and society. Therefore I have to protest when the Bible is used as a weapon to deny to others what we claim for ourselves. In the past, my church has denied ordination to women, has perpetuated racism and done many other things that we now acknowledge as sinful. I believe homophobia is destructive to the soul. I want the church to advocate for all relationships that are mutual, loving, committed, and non-exploitative.

When I became ordained, I was one of only two ordained women in my Conference. I was also the only woman on the faculty at Boston University School of Theology. Many women had struggled to give me that opportunity. My local church advocated for my rights as a woman to be ordained. I therefore cannot turn around and say to others, "It would hurt my ministry or cause division if I advocated for you." To not participate in the blessing would be to turn my back on others who are being excluded now. When I was ordained I was especially proud of The United Methodist Church because it acknowledges that it doesn't have the final truth of God. It urges us to examine conscience and be willing to face the consequences. Thus, I understand that there may be consequences for my actions because of the ruling of the Judicial Council. But I don't believe that I have gone against the teachings of my church. I believe the church has enacted a law that is contrary to its own basic teachings.

I believe that for me to be silent leads to complicity in the violence that is perpetuated against people who are gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual. I don't believe this issue is just about holy unions, but about the sacred worth of human beings. For me, at heart, this is not a legal issue, but a theological issue. It will not be solved in the courts. I do understand that the law has a place. But the law in the church has a different function than it has in civil society. Law is always subservient to the Gospel. I believe that law in church life is our best attempt to keep us from harming each other and all of creation. It is made in specific contexts. I believe that the laws that have recently surfaced around homosexuality were created to deny people full participation in the church based solely on their sexual orientation. If they cannot partake of its blessings and rituals and offices, then they are not really in the community of believers. To say that homosexuals are welcome but cannot be in ordained leadership or have the church's blessings for committed relationships is like declaring that women can't be ordained but the church would still like their service, money, talent and love.

I want our church to be spending time on the issues that are really destroying lives- a culture that sacrifices people to an international economic system; a nation that seems to revert to killing others when international order is threatened as almost our first line of defense; our inability to provide basic food and shelter for the children of the world. I wish with all my heart that all the time and energy that has been spent on the issue of two women who desire the church's blessing for their faithful love could be spent instead on the things that really kill the body and the soul in our fragile world. That for me is the real tragedy of this time.


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Jean (left) and EllieObedience to Jesus Christ; God's Good News of Love

Photo: Jeanne Barnett (left) and Ellie Charlton (right). Photo by Charles Jackson. Copyright: © 1999 St. Andrew's United Methodist Church, All Rights Reserved.

Five years ago, on Saturday, January 16, 1999, a service blessing the holy union of Ellie Charlton and Jeanne Barnett, a lesbian couple, was performed by The Rev. Donald Fado, pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church of Sacramento. He was joined by 150 clergy, including those who co-officiated "in absentia" and ecumenical representatives. Read the ongoing news about the "Sacramento 68" and the aftermath of the Committee on Investigation's decision of February 2000.


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