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United Methodists to revisit Judicial Council gay-exclusion ruling

Timothy Kincaid

July 30th, 2010

United MethodistsSee Update below

In 2005, Ed Johnson, pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church in Virginia, refused church membership to a gay man that would not promise to live celibately. This exclusion based on solely sexual orientation was unacceptable to Bishop Charlene Kammerer, who put pastor Johnson on unpaid leave until such time as he recanted and accepted the man as member.

Anti-gay activists within the United Methodist (and without) saw this as defying a holy man’s stand for God and righteousness and sued before the Church’s Judicial Council. On October 30th of that year, the Judicial Council, controlled by conservatives, ruled that Edward Johnson had rightfully used his pastoral discretion in refusing to accept an openly gay man as a member of his church and reinstated Johnson as the head of South Hill UMC.

This proved to be a pyrrhic victory. Rather than quietly accept the decision, the Council of Bishops was infuriated. First it challenged the authority of Bishops to administer the flock in their region, and secondly (and more importantly) it sent out a message that the UMC was exclusionary and that it did not welcome worshipers unless they fit a certain criteria.

Within a week the Council of Bishops unanimously voted to issue a letter saying that, contrary to the Council’s decision, homosexuality was not a barrier to membership in the United Methodist Church. This letter had the support of both liberals and conservatives including some African Bishops (the part of the international church that is most conservative).

Shortly thereafter Johnson was relocated to another church and his replacement quickly invited the gay man to become a member of South Hill UMC.

In 2008, there was much hope that the United Methodist Church would adopt theological revisions that would be more welcoming to gay Methodists. Some UMC divisions, like those in California, are fierce advocates for gay Christians and sought a more inclusive gospel. However, conservatives Americans reneged on brokered deals by committees and banded together with African and Asian UMC representatives and blocked most progress.

However, one thing that was changed was the makeup of the Judicial Council. Prior to the 2008 convention it had a 6 to 3 conservative majority, but it left that meeting with a 7 to 2 liberal control. This newly comprised Judicial Council has decided to revisit the 2005 decision. (AP)

The highest court in the United Methodist Church will review its 2005 ruling that allowed a clergyman to bar a noncelibate gay man from joining a congregation.

The Judicial Council will take up the issue when it convenes Wednesday, Oct. 27, through, Saturday, Oct. 30, in New Orleans, according to United Methodist News Service.

UPDATE: Neill Caldwell, editor of the Advocate, a UMC publication, has provided some correction and clarification:

Rev. Ed Johnson first declined for the gay man to officially take membership in the congregation at South Boston, even though the man was already an active participant in the life of the church. Because of that refusal Johnson had charges filed against him by his immediate supervisor, called a District Superintendent, and the charges were then reviewed by his clergy peers at what’s called the Executive Clergy Session. Johnson’s clergy brothers and sisters overwhelmingly approved his being placed on involuntary leave of absence, which means that he was replaced as pastor of the South Boston church he’d been serving and suspended without pay. Bishop Kammerer then upheld the decision of the Executive Clergy Session when she was asked to review it at the Virginia Annual Conference by a question from the floor. No matter the subject, all such bishop’s “Decisions of Law” are automatically reviewed by the Judicial Council, which acts much like the denomination’s “supreme court,” so there was no “appeal” to the Judicial Council by anti-gay forces.

The Judicial Council, in a decision that was immediately and has continued to be very controversial, overruled the bishop and the action of the Executive Clergy session, and said that Johnson must be reinstated to his previous appointment. He was, but was soon appointed to another church in a different part of the state. The case has come before the Judicial Council at several times since in various ways, and each time the Council has reclined to revisit the case.

These latest appeals come from three other annual conferences (Minnesota, Arkansas and Northern Illinois) with a different tactic: At the 2008 session of the General Conference, the United Methodist Church’s official (and only) legislative body which meets every 4 years, the phrase in our Constitution was changed from “… a person may become a member …” to “… a person shall become a member…” to remove (hopefully) any ambiguity. The Judicial Council has a rule that a ruling may be revisited of the language in our Book of Discipline has changed that the council’s decision specifically dealt with. So these three conferences are appealing through that specific rule.

It’s a complex case that is not easily outlined!

There is also a “political” component: The Judicial Council is a panel with a 5-4 clergy/laity or laity/clergy split which is elected by the delegates of the General Conference. When the Judicial Council made its original decision, it had a 5-4 conservative majority. Then in 2008, four of the most conservative members were not re-elected, but were replaced by persons who would be considered much more progressive. This almost certainly was pushback due to the Ed Johnson decision by members of the general church.

Thank you, Neill. As you said, it is complex and I appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge of the case with us.

Comments

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TampaZeke
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

For the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be a member of ANY church that had such trepidation and required such vicious fighting to determine whether or not he was a worthy enough human being and worthy enough child of God to attend one of their churches.

No f*cking thanks.

Why not find a United Church of Christ where the local church and the national denomination have very publicly declared your welcome JUST AS YOU ARE. A church that FULLY supports your full inclusion in the church and your FULL civil rights (including marriage) as a citizen?

Some may argue that you stay in these churches and change them from the inside. I say NOTHING will change a church’s positions quicker than EMPTY pews and empty offering plates! As long as gay people are filling their pews and their offering plates, they are propping up the very system that oppresses them.

TampaZeke
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

This church that voted to allow a gay parishioner to be barred from attending one of their churches immediately launched a media blitz PR campaign with commercials extolling their claim that they were a church with,

“Open hearts, open doors and open minds”

How insulting! Allowing a gay person to be barred from one of your churches does not demonstrate open hearts OR open doors OR open minds.

They would have been better off to NOT do the media blitz until AFTER they rectified this disgraceful ruling.

Ben in Oakland
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

As always, it seems that for conservatives a badly translated and miniscule portion of their oh-soholy book is far more important than things that Jesus actually had to say.

As I always like to put it: what part of “Judge Not lest ye be judged” does not apply to a good Christian such as yourself?

Greg
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

Ben, I’d go with, “What part of attend to the beam in your own eye instead of the mote in your neighbor’s,” don’t you understand?

How about, “If you have offended someone, turn the other cheek.” The message there is that if you are hurting people, it is up to you to seek out how to make amends, not up to the person hurt to prove to you that you hurt them.

T.J.
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

The man that accepted church membership after the church had originally voted him out is demonstrating grace and forgiveness, thoroughly Christian virtues, and it is a huge step toward reconciliation in the Methodist denomination. As a gay man myself, I realized that when people make mistakes and own up to it and try to make it right, I would then be the one in the wrong to withhold forgiveness and hold a grudge. Only grace and mercy is going to heal the rift in the church and in our society as a whole. No question about it: those that are exclusionary we should not participate with. But when someone realizes the error of their ways and repents, they should be extended grace just the same way we would want it to be done if the shoe were on the other foot. This holds true for ex-gays who had a hand in gay oppression at one point. We should welcome them home and forgive what they did to our community – and in doing that show Christians (of which I am one) what loving your brother really looks like. This gracious response would undermine some of the conservatives’ strongest arguments against us when they assert that we are ungodly and it would show those who are struggling with their orientation that we are a safe place to come even if they’ve formerly mistakenly spoken out against us while trying to convince themselves they are straight.

Timothy Kincaid
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

This church that voted to allow a gay parishioner to be barred from attending one of their churches immediately launched a media blitz PR campaign with commercials extolling their claim that they were a church with,

“Open hearts, open doors and open minds”

Perhaps you misread the article. The church did NOT vote to allow a parishioner to be barred. In fact, they voted out the Judicial Council that made the decision.

And the reason people stay in a church is because they like it. People don’t attend a national church, they attend a local church. Their home congregation is full of people who love them, welcome them, and include them. They are not willing to abandon their faith family over what some church in Alabama did at the national convention – especially when they know that their own delegates fought for them.

And those who live in California, for example, don’t have a clue what you are talking about. The United Methodist Church’s northern and southern CA divisions voted to Oppose Proposition 8.

TampaZeke
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

I, like Ann Rice, recently got tired of defending the indefensible and pretending that a sows ear was a silk purse.

I used to be defensive like Timothy is on all thing Christian. Not any more.

It is what it is and no amount of make-up can cover the ugly truth.

Timothy Kincaid
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

Sorry, Zeke, but you are just flat wrong on this. I know it feels good to rail at the UMC – especially after being defensive for so long.

But I’m not interested in doing either. I am interested, however, in presenting factual information. I cannot with any sense of integrity accuse the UMC in CA of being anything other than a proactive ally for our community.

And I cannot look at international politics and blame Hollywood Methodist for how the African and Asian UMC members voted.

The world isn’t black and white and neither is religion. And while we’d all be more comfortable to just know who we are supposed to follow and who we are supposed to hate, I can’t go there. That way leads to dragons.

Timothy Kincaid
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

And by the way, I dont have a dog in this fight. I’m not UMC.

I only briefly attended at UMC church because it was literally across the street from where I lived at the time and had a sign letting gay people know they were welcome. It was kinda sad; me, the pastor and his wife, and a few old women. Eventually it was too depressing and I went elsewhere.

But that church was more than just a Sunday service. It was also center where hot meals were prepared for AIDS patients in the entire Hollywood area. It had the largest AA and NA meetings. It was in use every day of the week and was everything that “Christian” is supposed to mean.

I also know that Hollywood Methodist (a different church) put up a giant AIDS ribbon on their church tower some 20+ years ago when other churches were saying that AIDS was a curse from God.

In my area, UMC is not being dragged slowing into the 21st century. They are marching ahead pulling others with them.

I am not so callous as to dismiss their efforts or to be unappreciative. I owe them more than that.

DaveM
July 30th, 2010 | LINK

UMC here, and one of a gay-friendly congregation. Pastor’s son participated in Day of Silence and is a member of the GSA.

All of our delegates came back disheartened from the 2008 General Conference when the conservatives blocked the adoption of gay-friendly policies.

We’re not all bad, Zeke. Sometimes we have to work from the _inside_ to change policy.

Paul
July 31st, 2010 | LINK

I really should keep up with this blog…

Zeke said:

Some may argue that you stay in these churches and change them from the inside. I say NOTHING will change a church’s positions quicker than EMPTY pews and empty offering plates!

Alas, that won’t work. Nearly all denominations (including the United Methodist Church, of which I’m a lifelong member) have lost membership in the last half century, the UMC dropping from 10 million members to under 8 million. My own local church used to have over 200 worshipers on a Sunday morning. Now we are lucky to get 100. Does this get the church leadership to examine what we are doing wrong? Not at all.

For many in the UMC (and in many other denominations) the reaction to loss of membership is a feeling that if we only tried harder and remained steadfast in our message we would stop the exodus. Yeah, right.

There are two possible futures of the UMC. Die out, or change from inside. The conservative members and much of the leadership aren’t going to lead that change. It has to come from the gay members and their allies. It is good to see our allies are increasing in number. The vote in 2008 that kept the anti-gay policies was by the smallest margin yet.

I’m in a leadership position at my church and one of my goals is to get my own congregation to declare themselves welcoming to gay people (and blacks, and AA members…). Alas, so far the effort is going nowhere. They don’t argue with me. They have simply refused to discuss in the topic at all.

I’ve got a few more ways to get the discussion started, so I haven’t given up hope. We may soon live up to our motto of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

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