A Most Unusual Methodist
September 1st, 2009
David Weekley is a bit unusual for a United Methodist Church pastor. For one thing, he’s a Caucasian pastor of a historic 95% Japanese-American congregation. And for another, he has for the past 27 years kept the secret that he was born female. (WestLinn Tidings)
Standing behind his pulpit, Weekley began his usual worship service. About halfway through, he paused to share a personal message he called “My Book Report.”
He told them that in 1984, just nine years after undergoing extensive sex-reassignment surgeries, he was ordained by the Methodist Church without telling anyone of his original gender at birth.
Following his story, the congregation, who had remained silent throughout his talk, broke into thunderous applause. Church members then proclaimed their support for their pastor.
Days may be difficult ahead for Weekley, as the UMC is one of the more conservative branches of mainline Christianity. But at present he has a supportive family, supportive congregation, and supportive region. And his testimony can perhaps reach hearts that already know and love him and serve to open eyes and expand thinking.
What Does Ex-Gay Consolidation Mean?
August 12th, 2009
Exodus International is growing. Or, to be exact, they are going to be taking over functions previously administered by other organizations.
The largest and best know of these is the Love Won Out conferences previously run by Focus on the Family. Blaming a lack of finances, Focus is reassigning the conferences to Exodus. This is a move that is logical and will probably help both organization focus on their own mission.
But there was another consolidation that occured last month that is even more interesting. on July 17, Focus’ news site CitizenLink announced:
One by One, an outreach equipping the Presbyterian and Reformed faith communities to compassionately and effectively address biblical sexuality and Transforming Congregations, a likeminded ministry to The United Methodist Church, announced plans to merge with Exodus International. Exodus is the world’s largest Christian outreach to those dealing with same-sex attraction.
Together, the ministries will form a new division under the leadership of Exodus that will equip church leaders worldwide to break the polarizing debate over homosexuality through an approach that is both biblically orthodox and truly compassionate.
One by One came out of a Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) conference in 1994. They are a ministry within the Presbyterian and Reformed faith communities and, as such, have traditions and religious perspectives that are a bit outside the fundamentalist/charasmatic/megachurch affiliations that seem to dominate Exodus’ spiritual sphere. One by One’s website expresses an intention to establish a church network, but there does not seem to be one in place. They seem, to my eyes at least, to be less harsh and less political than either Exodus or Transforming Congregations.
Transforming Congregations was founded in 1988 to address the issue of homosexuality within the United Methodist Church. At one time it had at least 75 congregations that affiliated with the organization. However, now Transforming Congregations is a national education and lobby group within the church and they have for some while left individual ministry to Exodus.
Over the years, we have found that to be impractical. A change in pastors or lay leadership often resulted in an “about face” on the issues of human sexuality. Because most of these churches did not request removal, it became virtually impossible to keep our list accurately updated. So now we refer folk to the Exodus International Church Network.
Neither organization appears to be focused primarily on individual one-on-one ministry or even on addressing the specific needs of same-sex attracted congregants. Rather, they seem to be organizations within their denominations that seek to support and encourage those who have an anti-gay theology and to encourage others who may not yet have addressed the issue of the roll of gay men and women within the body of faith.
One by One’s mission statement is:
OneByOne’s mission is to educate and equip the church to minister the transforming grace and power of Jesus Christ to those in conflict with their sexuality. OneByOne’s goal is therefore two-fold: (1) to serve as a resource for educational material; and (2) to help create and/or support local ministries to those struggling with sexual brokenness, including but not limited to homosexuality. OneByOne representatives are available to provide seminars and workshops for church leaders and/or members who want to learn how to minister Christ’s compassion without compromising Christ’s standards.
And that of Transforming Ministries is:
Our Purpose: Equipping the Church to model and minister sanctified sexuality through Biblical instruction … Personal and Public Witness … Compassionate Outreach
So it seems clear that Exodus is not merging with external collections of congregations to increase their base size. Nor are they establishing new relationships; these two organizations – along with Focus’ Love Won Out – already work closely with Exodus.
What they are getting, is two mainline denomination affiliated groups that are, as best I can tell, dropping the denomination affiliation and becoming a “project” of Exodus, an outreach to mainline churches under the Exodus label. They are picking up two voices for anti-gay theology from a mainline perspective.
I can, of course, only speculate. But here’s what I think is happening:
Mainline churches are adopting a welcoming and affirming approach to gay Christians at an astonishing rate. While neither the PC(USA) or the UMC are as fully inclusive as, say, the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church, they are steadily marching in that direction. “Compassionate” condemnation, such as that coming from such Presbyterians as Dr. Robert Gagnon or Methodists like Karen Booth is increasingly seen by their fellow worshipers as bigotry and outside of the message of Christ.
If I had to guess, I’d suppose that Exodus is recognizing that anti-gay activism is losing the home front. Perhaps they are wanting to let up on some of the anti-gay political activism and bolster their forces in the pews. And that may be reflected also in Exodus pulling a bit away from the highly political Focus on the Family.
So it may well be that these groups are experiencing fatigue and losing heart. Perhaps they think it best to retreat and consolidate resources so as to present one face of anti-gay protestant Christian response to same-sex attracted persons.
But that comes at a cost. Those who fight from without are never as strong as those who fight from within. I very much doubt that Exodus can be as effective a lobbyist on church policy in either the PC(USA) or the UMC as were One by One or Transforming Ministries. And neither organization was, frankly, doing that great of a job to begin with.
We’ll have to wait and see what eventually happens as a result of this transition.
What Mainline Clergy Believe
May 22nd, 2009
“Mainline Christianity” has deep roots and wide branches. With about 18% of Americans (and 24% of all voters), the denominations that makeup this more-liberal end of the Protestant Christian world trace to the founding of our nation. When Americans think of church – the steeple, the stained glass windows, the minister in a clerical collar – these are probably the Christians that come to mind.
However, in today’s sound-bite driven media and take-no-prisoners politics, moderate Christians with nuanced positions and non-combatant values don’t make for good television. Instead the fire-breathing “Bible believing” family values culture warrior gets to speak for all of Christianity. So to non-believers, the impression is that Christianity is at war with the rest of the world, and gays are enemy number one.
But a recent survey of Mainline ministers finds quite another Christian response to gay and lesbian Americans. On most issues, these denominations are quite supportive.
The six denominations included, in order of support are:
- United Church of Christ
- Episcopal Church
- Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Evanglical Lutheran Church in America
- Presbyterian Church (USA)
- United Methodist Church
- American Baptist Churches (USA)
(for those unfamiliar, American Baptist Churches is a smaller Baptist organization that is not affiliated with the very conservative Southern Baptist Convention)
Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey was released this month. And it provides us with better understanding of the beliefs of clergy in Mainline Denominations.
In general, these ministers are supportive of gay civil rights. Additionally, they are fairly supporting of the inclusion of gay persons into the body of the church – though that differs by denomination.
Some of the more interesting public policy issue findings are:
- 79% agree with the statement “Homosexuals should have all the same rights and priveleges as other American citizens”
- 67% support passing gay-inclusive hate crime laws
- 66% support employment non-discrimination laws
- 55% support adoption by gay persons
The one area where there is not majority support is for marriage equality. Only 33% support gay marriage with another 32% supporting civil unions. However, as I discuss in another commentary, support for marriage goes up to 46% when religious assurances are given.
There is also a large variance between denominations on this issue.
- 67% – United Church of Christ
- 49% – Episcopal
- 42% – Disciples of Christ
- 38% – Presbyterian
- 37% – Lutheran
- 25% – Methodist
- 20% – American Baptist
After clergy were reassured that churches and ministers would not be forced to conduct such marriages, support for civil marriage laws were over 50% for all denominations other than United Methodist and American Baptist.
The report goes on to break Mainline Christianity into three camps in relation to gay and lesbian issues; 29% are a supportive base, 30% are an opposing base, and 41% are in an uncertain middle. They find that on most issues the middle tends to side with the supporting base.
They also found that 45% of mainline clergy report that they are more supportive than 10 years ago. Only 14% are more conservative. The following is how those who became more supportive explain the change.
Among clergy who reported becoming more liberal on gay and lesbian issues, the top factors they cited as being very or extremely important to this change were discernment through prayer and reflection (66%), having a friend, congregant or colleague who is gay or lesbian (58%), and additional Bible study (55%).
We have long known that coming out is a valuable way to influence public opinion. Those who have real life examples from which to draw – rather than lies and stereotypes from anti-gay activists – are more likely to find that gay men and women are a valuable part of the social fabric.
But those within the Christian fold will also find it interesting that prayer, reflection, and Bible study can yield greater support for gay persons. Religion, when applied by devout and sincere people seeking to find meaning from sacred Scriptures for real life situations, need not be the enemy of freedom and equality.
As for the inclusion of gays and lesbians into religious life, the study found
- 94% – welcome gay persons in their church
- 63% – believe that the gospel requires their full inclusion in the church
- 51% – believe the church should not work towards making homosexuality unacceptable
- 45% – support ordination of gay and lesbian ministers without special requirements
- 13% – lead congregations that have formally become “open and affirming congregations”
These denominations have the potential to become strong allies in our question for civil equalities. Already many ministers from these denominations are active in showing legislators and voting citizens People of Faith who do not agree with the political agenda of “Christian” and “Family” groups that seek the exclusion of gay persons from civil equalities.
As time goes on, it is increasingly likely that Mainline Christianity is going to move in the direction of fuller acceptance, inclusion, and support. We should, as a community, be appreciative of their help and proactive in efforts to build bridges to these churches.
Another Perspective on the Ocean Grove Pavilion
December 30th, 2008
The Transplanted Lawyer at Not a Potted Plant blogsite provides another perspective about the decision to allow a lesbian couple to go forward with their lawsuit against the Ocean Grove Meeting Association for its refusal to rent the couple the boardwalk Pavilion for their civil union. In my commentary, I focused on the finding of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights that one lesbian couple’s suit could advance. He finds more relevance in the fact that another lesbian couple was denied.
That two couples suing the Association with different results brings a contrast, one that should provide comfort to those worried about the infringment on religious rights and one that further illustrates the dishonesty in the way in which anti-gays have spun the story.
In Bernstein v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a lesbian couple wanted to perform a civil union ceremony at a beachside facility owned and operated by a [Methodist] faith organization (it appears to not be a church per se, but it affiliates and identifies with [Methodist] Christianity). The New Jersey agency investigating the complaint found probable cause to permit the charge of discrimination proceed. But, in Moore v. Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, another lesbian couple wanted to perform their civil union ceremony at the exact same facility. In that case, no probable cause was found. Both case results were announced on the same day — yesterday.
Same facts, same defendant, same facility, decided on the same day, but different results.
The reason for different results is because the circumstances had changed. When Bernstein requested usage, the Pavilion had been used for a wide variety of purposes – religious and non-religious – including weddings of people of all faiths or no faith at all. All that was required was to pay a fee. Thus it was a “public accomodation”. And the sole reason for rejection of Bernstein’s usage of this public accomodation was that their union was of persons of the same sex.
But when Moore requested usage, the Association had changed their policy and tightened the purpose of the Pavilion. They no longer allowed weddings in the space at all and limited those who were allowed use of the space based on religious affiliation. Thus, the space was no longer a public accomodation but private property with restricted use. Therefore, religious exemptions again applied.
He further noted that this process, presenting one’s discrimination case before a board before a lawsuit, is further protection for religious bodies.
The Transplanted Lawyer found three lessons:
the first lesson is that someone who claims to be the victim of discrimination cannot immediately walk into court and file a successful lawsuit. They must present their charge to a state or federal agency for investigation first, and that agency has to investigate and decide if there’s any merit.
there is the second lesson about the law of discrimination. You are subject to the requirements of non-discrimination only if you are engaged in something called a “public accommodation.” So if you don’t want same-sex wedding ceremonies in your church, don’t rent your church out to people who are not members of your church’s congregation.
That’s the third lesson — [when invoking freedom of expression,] commercial activity does not enjoy the same level of Constitutional protection as expressive activity.
I found the arguments well thought out and easy to comprehend. And I think that the Tranplanted Lawyer very well expressed the moral of this story:
When the church stops being a church and starts being a banquet hall, then yes, it is vulnerable to a discrimination lawsuit because it’s not acting like a church anymore. The message to churches that are opposed to same sex marriages is “stay true to your faith and the law will be on your side.”
Religious Business, Public Access, and Discrimination
December 29th, 2008
The recent campaign against civil marriage equality for gay people was rife with misinformation, spin, falsehoods, and downright lies. And one story which was repeated to great effect was a legal dispute over the use of a privately-owned public pavilion in New Jersey.
Seldom were the claims accurate.
Take, for example, Charlene: a single-mother of two who warned on her website of the dangers of gay marriage that she had learned at church. Amidst a heap of campaign propaganda and homophobic bogus statistics was this rather hysterical retelling:
Our Pastors would be arrested for preaching against homosexuality according to the BIBLE. God’s word would be restricted! Recently, a Methodist church in New Jersey refused to marry a lesbian couple and they were sued and LOST! Now they lost their tax exemption and the government actually TAXES their tithes! That is God’s Money!!
And it was not just frantic repetition of misunderstood sermons by those who rely on their church for their information; the anti-gay media also joined in the chorus.
The Christian Examiner ran an article – ironically titled Proposition 8: Separating the Fiction from Fact – in which they delared:
CLAIM: Current California law exempts churches and other religious organizations from having to perform marriages for same-sex couples or conduct other services against their religious beliefs.
FACT 1: New Jersey’s Ocean Grove Camp, lost its tax-exempt status after refusing to allow a same-sex couple to marry on its grounds.
The problem with these astonishing facts? They are not factual.
The LA Times explained it this way:
Another “Yes on 8″ canard is that the continuation of same-sex marriage will force churches and other religious groups to perform such marriages or face losing their tax-exempt status. Proponents point to a case in New Jersey, where a Methodist-based nonprofit owned seaside land that included a boardwalk pavilion. It obtained an exemption from state property tax for the land on the grounds that it was open for public use and access. Events such as weddings — of any religion — could be held in the pavilion by reservation. But when a lesbian couple sought to book the pavilion for a commitment ceremony, the nonprofit balked, saying this went against its religious beliefs.
The court ruled against the nonprofit, not because gay rights trump religious rights but because public land has to be open to everyone or it’s not public. The ruling does not affect churches’ religious tax exemptions or their freedom to marry whom they please on their private property, just as Catholic priests do not have to perform marriages for divorced people and Orthodox synagogues can refuse to provide space for the weddings of interfaith couples. And Proposition 8 has no bearing on the issue; note that the New Jersey case wasn’t about a wedding ceremony.
The facts of the story are these:
- The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, while a religious ministry, is not a church.
- The association lists two sites available for weddings on its website: Thornley Chapel and Bishop Janes Tabernacle, both of which are restricted to usage that is consistent with the United Methodist Church book of Discipline and both of which ban smoking or alcoholic beverages on the premises. The lawsuit did not involve either of these church buildings.
- SEE UPDATE BELOW – The structure where the lesbian couple requested rental was the Auditorium Pavilion. The Pavilion was not designed as a place of worship but rather was built in the 1880′s as a covering for “a scale model of 1st Century AD Jerusalem”. The Historical Society of Ocean Grove reports that the model was removed about 1950 and that “Today the Pavilion is used by the Camp Meeting Association, the Historical Society and various community groups.” It did offer its services as a wedding site until April 2007, shortly after the complaint.
- The Association owns all of the land in Ocean Grove (one square mile) but by no means is all of this property dedicated to religious use. There are a number of homes on the land who lease from the association, along with stores, restaurants, and hotels, in 99 year leases, and a beach boardwalk along the public beach.
- The Association rents out the religious meeting facilities to various groups, although it does maintain a ban on smoking and drinking on those properties. However, Ocean Grove was known as a location that was very gay-friendly and welcoming.
- The Association made the beach, the boardwalk, and the boardwalk pavilion public access property. A 1908 ruling referenced that they “had been dedicated years ago by the association as a public highway”. As privately-held public lands, the beach properties were available for a number of benefits including federal state and local funds for repairs and maintenance and exemption from local property taxes through participation in the state’s Green Acres Program.
- After a lesbian couple was rejected by the Association when they tried to rent the space for a civil union ceremony in March 2007, they contacted the State Division on Civil Rights to make a discrimination complaint.
- The State of New Jersey reinstated the Association’s exemption from property tax for the beach and the rest of the boardwalk, but stated that it could not continue to exempt the pavilion as it was not truly open to the public. (NY Times)
“When people hear the words ‘open space,’ we want them to think not just of open air and land, but that it is open to all people,” said [Lisa Jackson, state commissioner of environmental protection]. “And when the public subsidizes it with tax breaks, it goes with the expectation that it is not going to be parsed out, whether it be by activity or any particular beliefs.”
As we can see, the situation in no way mirrors the “facts” as presented by anti-gay activists and those who choose to believe them. No church lost its exempt status, no tithes were taxed, and it wasn’t related to a same-sex marriage in New Jersey (the right to which remains denied to New Jersey residents).
But we can expect even more distortion and truthiness in the days to come. In a move likely to inspire more untruthful rants in the anti-gay media, today the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ruled further in favor of the lesbian couple (AP)
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights said its investigation found that the refusal of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association to rent the oceanfront spot to the couple for their same-sex union in March 2007 violated the public accommodation provisions of the state’s Law Against Discrimination.
The legal resolutions on this case are far from settled.
Meanwhile, the parties in the dispute are awaiting a ruling from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether the issue should be decided in the division on civil rights or in federal courts. A lower federal court has ruled that the state could consider the case.
This case highlights some of the conflict between religous and civil separations.
Churches can and do often operate outside the realm of the faith and doctrine. A church may own performance halls, bookstores, restaurants, or a great many other establishments, some of which have little to no religious function. And the further away they get from their central purpose, the more gray and hazy become the distinctions that allow them to claim religious exemption from civil rights laws.
A Catholic bookstore, owned and operated by a parish for use by parishoners, is probably exempt from hiring those who do not share Catholic faith. But it becomes much less clear that a Catholic-affiliated hospital who accepts Medicare and insurance payments can refuse to hire a Jewish doctor or provide care to a black Muslim.
As anti-discrimination laws run up against anti-gay theology, churches will have to decide whether they wish to ‘uphold their doctrines’ or keep their sideline businesses. This will become particularly sticky when those sidelines seem to be part of their mission and when those businesses are facing competition from secular sources. And public financing only complicates the matter.
Take, for example, the feeding of the poor.
As an act of Christian charity, many churches or other religious organizations make an effort to provide food to the less fortunate. Not always, but quite often, this charitable act comes with the price of listening to a sermon or having someone pray with/over/about the hungry. And while most of these efforts are voluntary, some are large enough and sufficiently well funded so as to employ staff.
This is not a problem when its a local church helping out the neighbors. But churches have, in many instances, ceased thinking of their efforts as a duty or an outreach of their faith and have instead began to view their efforts as a service provider for the needy. And, as such, they see the government and public funds as a logical source for paying for their efforts.
What would have been considered bizarre but a century ago – “faith based” initiatives funded by taxpayers but managed according to religious doctrines – now seems quite acceptable and even laudable. And religious organizations are clamoring for their place at the public trough, while simultaneously demanding exemptions from government strings or any duty to the taxpayers.
The Ocean Grove Pavilion is but a very visible instance of a religious body seeking the benefits of taxpayer largess while demanding the privileges of religious exemption. I expect many more such conflicts will arise.
UPDATE – 1/26/10
The Auditorium Pavilion is a separate structure from the Boardwalk Pavilion, the location requested by the couple for their civil union ceremony.
Council of Churches Ad
October 27th, 2008
The Santa Clara County Council of Churches is so committed to the Christian principle of justice and compassion that they ran a full page ad in the San Jose Mercury News giving their brothers, sisters, neighbors, and parishioners the following message:
As people of faith,
We believe that all people are made in the image of God.
We believe in loving, faithful and committed relationships.
We affirm everyone’s right to the freedom to marry.
We urge you to..
VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION 8.
Don’t eliminate marriage for anyone.
The ad was signed by 23 member churches. There is also an accompanying videowith statements from ministers from Unitarian Universalist, Disciples of Christ, MCC, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist and Jewish congregations. The Council is also running phone banks for No on 8 out of local churches.
Too often anti-gay activists coopt the name Christian or Religion in the same way they seek to control the word Marriage. It is encouraging to see people of faith willing to stand up for principles that are inclusive and based on love, compassion, and a deep desire to treat their neighbor as they want to be treated and declare to the world that neither faith nor Christianity is any barrier to equality and decency.
LA Times Article on Methodist Support
July 18th, 2008
We told you earlier about the support that marriage equality is receiving from United Methodists in California. An anecdote shared by the Los Angeles Times may shed some light on at least one reason why these ministers are willing to face punishment from their national denomination in order to bring joy to the lives of gay couples.
The Rev. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett of Claremont United Methodist Church joined a retired deacon from her congregation to co-officiate at the July 5 wedding of two longtime members, Howard Yeager and Bill Charlton.
The wedding was held off site — at a Claremont complex for retired clergy and missionaries — to avoid violating the rule against such ceremonies in churches.
Rhodes-Wickett, who led the Lord’s Prayer and gave a homily, said she hoped to avoid discipline by stopping short of actually pronouncing the couple married. That action was performed by the retired deacon, who also signed the marriage license.
Rhodes-Wickett said she did not want Yeager and Charlton to leave her church to exchange vows.
“This is my flock,” she said, adding that the men have been together 40 years, 22 of them as members of her Claremont congregation. “It’s a matter of integrity and a matter of what it is to be a pastoral ministry.”
We as a community owe a debt of gratitude to Howard Yeager and Bill Charlton. As best I can tell neither man is an activist. But they have for at least the past 22 years been living activism with an impact that no form of marching or protest can achieve.
California United Methodists Support Marriage
July 10th, 2008
Highland Boulevard is a major street running through Hollywood. And due to a bend in the road between the Kodak Theater and the Hollywood Bowl, those drivers heading north have centered in their windshield the tower of the Hollywood United Methodist Church adorned with a twenty foot high red AIDS ribbon.
This symbol, now a landmark in Hollywood, went up when many others who claim Christianity as their private domain had rejected and demonized those who were afflicted by HIV and AIDS. Fifteen years later, it tells the many thousands of commuters who pass by that this Christian congregation in its beautiful traditional sactuary remains committed to the words that the denomination has adopted, “open hearts, open minds, open doors”.
And this body of believers, a Reconciling Congregation that marches in the Gay Pride parade, appears to be representative of the UMC churches in the state. While national church considers homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching” and rules prohibit the UMC churches or ministers from conducting same-sex marriages, the California Methodists are declaring their defiance of these rules and their support and welcome of gay couples.
A United Methodist News Service article, via the Dallas Morning News, reports
The church’s California-Pacific Annual Conference [Southern California], convening June 18-22 in Redlands, approved three measures that support same-gender couples entering into the marriage covenant. Each “encourages both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families,” according to a June 27 letter to the conference from Bishop Mary Ann Swenson and other conference leaders.
That same week in Sacramento, the California-Nevada Annual Conference [Northern California] approved two measures on the same issue, including one that lists 67 retired United Methodist clergy in northern California who have offered to conduct same-gender marriage ceremonies. The resolution commends the pastors’ work in offering continued ministry.
A Guardian article places the number of Northern California retired UMC Ministers offering to perform same-sex weddings at 82. By congregations declaring their support for the retired ministers, they can express their support for gay couples without the threat of having their active pastor defrocked.
The Southern California conference also voted to oppose Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage amendment.
The support of the state’s United Methodists is most welcome. As more houses of worship declare their opposition to exclusionary political efforts, this debate becomes less a battle between the Holy and the Profane and becomes better understood as an effort by a few to introduce discrimination into the state’s constitution.
Methodists Reject Inclusive Theology
This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
May 1st, 2008
Last night the delegates to the United Methodist Church’s General Convention voted to reject a proposal from their committee to be more inclusive of gay Christians. Instead they voted to accept a minority recommendation with harsher language.
The Rev. David McEntire, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, said he was not happy with either alternative presented to delegates.
“It was a very painful decision. I had hoped we would reject the minority report so we could return to the present language. The minority report is a little harsher,” he said. “In the church in Lakeland, there are gay persons and families of gay persons. This statement is not going to change my actions. I’m still going to be a loving, inviting pastor.”
However, conservatives in the United States were strongly supported by Methodists from Africa and Asia to push through the more prohibitive wording.
Delegates from Africa spoke several times, strongly supporting the position against homosexuality.
One man from Africa said that “we love homosexuals, but we detest what they do.”
The Convention did, however, take one tiny step forward.
They also approved a new resolution opposing homophobia and heterosexism. In a separate resolution, the General Conference asked the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church’s social advocacy agency, to develop educational resources and materials on the effects of homophobia and heterosexism, the discrimination or prejudice against lesbians or gay men by heterosexual people.
Yet, interestingly, a third of the delegates voted against opposing discrimination and homophobia.
I believe that the vote of the Methodist Convention illustrates a problem that exists and will continue to grow within international religious movements.
I think it likely that had the delegates all been from within the United States, there would have been significant change to the policy. While there may not have been a change in policy on marriages or civil unions, the declarations about immorality and the proud exclusions of gay persons would have disappeared.
But conservative elements within the American church ally with Africans and play upon cultural biases to force their views on their fellow American Methodists. And while they play on African homophobia, they do nothing to address the murder and violence against homosexual persons on the African continent. Rather than condemn brutality, they reject the message of Christ so as to entrench their political alliances and continue their assured success in the politics of their church.
We see this also in the Episcopal / Anglican debate. Conservative Episcopalians looked away when their allies in Nigeria advocated jailing those who even met to discuss discrimination against gay persons. They never objected when Anglican allies in Zimbabwe propped up strongman Robert Mugabe and his campaign of terror against homosexuals.
And it gives us a warning of what is likely to happen within the Methodist Church. Conservative Methodists are just as likely to place victory over the faith of their more liberal brothers as more important than upholding human rights and decency. Sadly, the battles within the churches have become less about the gospel of Christ and more about the gospel of coercive and restrictive power.
But I believe that American Methodists will, within the next decade, become both aware of and disgusted by the treatment of gay men and women in Africa. They will see the violence, hear the dehumanization, see the discrimination, and begin to empathize with their gay brothers and sisters. This will become more pronounced as younger people grow into positions of authority and as traditionalists retire and the churches as a whole become more liberal.
And they will begin to resent that their church’s policies of discrimination and condemnation are being dictated by foreign delegates who are operating from within a culture of bigotry.
However, the current growth of most Christian churches is from Africa and Asia. And with growth comes influence and power.
I think it is nearly inevitable that there will be scism and division in most American mainstream churches, especially those who are part of a larger international body. The minorities within those American churches that seek to hold to tradition and rejection of gay persons will align with African and Asian movements and those who believe in an inclusive theology will find fellowship with European affiliates.
Further, it is likely that there will be consolidation of the divided churches, with the liberal branches melding into a united protestant Christian church. Evidence of such a direction was visible even within this Methodist Convention by the vote for a full communion agreement with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The ELCA already has five full communion relationships with The Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.
I believe that within the next decade or so, the face of religion in America will be far different than it has been for the past few centuries. We live in interesting times.
- Approved, 517-416, keeping the statement that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
- Rejected, 574-298, a measure that would have changed the church’s definition of marriage to include same-sex unions.
- Approved, 544-365, a resolution opposing homophobia and discrimination against lesbians or gays.
United Methodist Church May Change Policy on Homosexuality
April 30th, 2008
The United Methodist Church meets every four years in a General Conference. Currently they are meeting in Fort Worth, TX.
A legislative committee of the UMC met for about seven hours on Monday and came up with a proposal to change the church’s statements on homosexuality. Though they began as liberals and conservatives, they reached concensus as centrists.
The Ledger reports on the proposal
The church’s current policy declares, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” A legislative committee has proposed a sweeping change to that policy, taking a neutral stance, calling “all members of our community of faith to commitment, integrity and fidelity in their sexual relationships.”
The proposal also acknowledges the strong disagreements within the church and asks “the Church, United Methodist and others, and the world, to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices until the Spirit leads us to new insight.”
Almost 1,000 delegates will vote today whether to accept the proposal of the committee. In 2004 a different proposal to soften opposition was defeated 55% to 45%. Supporters of the change are hopeful but not yet confident in a positive vote this year.
Regardless of the outcome of the vote, this conference has already yielded results that can only be seen as promising for those who believe in full inclusion within the church.
The Star-Telegram reports that the ideological center of the Judicial Council has shifted to one that could be supportive of LGBT Methodists.
Five newly elected members to the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council — the denomination’s “supreme court” — could change the dynamics of the nine-member council on such issues as homosexuals in leadership roles, denomination insiders said Monday.
The council previously had a 6-3 conservative majority. But only one of the council members elected Monday is conservative, joining the sole conservative member remaining on the council, said Mark Tooley, director of the UMAction program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative and evangelical organization.
Time will only tell whether about the Council’s decisions. However, as homosexuality was a central dispute in the fight over the Council members, this may be a hopeful indicator for today’s vote.
Petition Before UMC to Censure James Holsinger
April 27th, 2008
When last we heard from Dr. James Holsinger, President George Bush’s Surgeon General Nominee, it looked like his nomination was stuck in limbo. This came after Box Turtle Bulletin examined Holsinger’s 1991 white paper for the United Methodist Church’s Committee to Study Homosexuality, a paper which significantly misrepresented the bibliographic sources that he cited.
I forwarded a copy of our findings to several Senators on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee which held hearings on Holsinger’s nomination. Coincidentally or not, some of our findings appeared to make their way into the hearing. Needless to say, things did not go very well for Dr. Holsinger.
Since then, allegations have arisen of Dr. Holsinger’s possibly questionable financial dealings and conflicts of interest involving grants to the University of Kentucky’s Chandler Medical Center (while Holsinger was its Chancellor) from the Good Samaritan Foundation (while Holsinger was a trustee of the GSF board). According to these allegations, the grants were drawn from $20 million earned from the 1995 sale of the United Methodist Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, to a for-profit corporation. According to complaints, the hospital was the property of the Kentucky Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and GSF should have handed the money over to the church.
The United Methodist is currently meeting in Fort Worth, and among the business before its various committees is a petition to censure Dr. Holsinger for his involvement in the Good Samaritan Hospital sale. The petition was submitted by Rev. Andrew Weaver, Ph.D. of Brooklyn, NY, and will go before the Judicial Administration Committee.
I spoke with Rev. Weaver over the phone, and he acknowledged that if Holsinger was censured, it would be a very unusual event in the church. He also pointed out that the allegations against Holsinger were also unusual, going against the “trust clause” which he described as being an important part of UMC property governance going back to the days of John Wesley himself, who set up the system of trustees for the governance of chapels and organizations. According to Rev. Weaver, Dr. Holsinger’s actions on the GSF board were contrary to these principles.
Here is the full text of the petition:
Whereas, James W. Holsinger, MD, was elected to our church’s Judicial Council in May, 2000, and has been president of the Judicial Council since 2004, and
Whereas, the duties of the Judicial Council include “determining the legality of any action taken by any body created by or authorized by the General Conference” and the General Conference has therefore recognized as a matter of critical importance that members of the Judicial Council avoid conflicts of interest, as illustrated by the prohibition on service on other boards and agencies of the church, and
Whereas, following election to the Judicial Council in May 2000, Dr. Holsinger joined the board of trustees of the Good Samaritan Foundation (GSF) of Lexington, Kentucky, in July 2000, knowing that GSF had, three months earlier, in May 2000, become the subject of litigation by the Kentucky Conference of the United Methodist Church, and
Whereas, two former members of the Judicial Council who worked with Holsinger from 2000-2004, Sally C. Askew, Esq., and Sally B. Geis, Ph.D., stated that Holsinger never mentioned having joined an organization that was being sued by a constituent body of the United Methodist Church, nor did he at any time address possible conflicts of interest involved in being a member of the UMC’s Judicial Council while engaged in significant litigation against the UMC, and
Whereas the essence of the lawsuit between the Kentucky Annual Conference and the Good Samaritan Foundation related to church property ownership issues, and the Court found there was an “express trust” on behalf of the United Methodist Church, based on the surrounding facts and circumstances, and safeguarding property trust being a central duty for United Methodist leaders to protect, and a topic of Judicial Council decisions, and
Whereas, the GSF trustees which Dr. Holsinger, member and subsequently chair of the Judicial Council, joined, and of which he became chair in 2003, were in violation of their fiduciary responsibilities as trustees of United Methodist hospital property in the amount of $20 million realized from the sale in 1995 of 330 bed United Methodist Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, to a for-profit corporation, and which trustees refused to hand over the proceeds to the rightful owners, the Kentucky Annual Conference (KAC) of the UMC, and
Whereas, according to court records, the foundation’s trustees refused to tell the KAC what happened to the $20 million from the sale of the UMC hospital for nearly five years and as late as June of 2006 the lay and clergy members of the KAC felt compelled to pass a resolution formally seeking necessary “[i]nformation on assets, income earned, tax issues…investment practices, conflicts of interest, and other information” from the foundation, and
Whereas, despite his Judicial Council responsibilities as one of the highest elected officials of the United Methodist Church, and in apparent ignorance of Methodism’s commitment to building dozens of hospitals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide care for the poor and indigent Dr. Holsinger in a letter to GSF grantees questioned the motives and integrity of the UMC, publicly stating his belief that the UMC was “only interested in the Foundation’s money, not its cause” [health care for the poor and disadvantaged], and
Whereas, Dr. Holsinger was not a bystander in these events, but the dominant personality among the trustees and the driving force in the prolongation of the lawsuit, as evidenced by the lawsuit’s rapid conclusion two weeks after Dr. Holsinger’s resignation from the trustees in May, 2007, and
Whereas, during the period of this litigation, Dr. Holsinger was affiliated with the University of Kentucky as Chancellor of the Chandler Medical Center from 1994-2003, and the University of Kentucky’s programs in medicine, nursing, dentistry and public health were awarded 63% of $8,430,363 in grants awarded by GSF from July 1, 1997 through June 30, 2006 including the endowment of two academic chairs valued at a million dollars each, despite GSF’s own policies that, “[major organizations" such as "[h]ospitals, [c]olleges and [u]niversities are not eligible as a general statement,” although exceptions could be made by the trustees, and
Whereas during the time Dr. Holsinger was chair of the GSF trustees, additional conflicts of interest were permitted by other trustees, as admitted by GSF in a May 23, 2005 letter to the Kentucky Annual Conference namely that three GSF trustees who worked at Lexington-area financial institutions were involved in managing or had previously managed the assets of the foundation while serving on the board., and
Whereas the Kentucky Annual Conference told the GSF that it was “unconscionable” that after a decade this gross conflict of interest continued and that the funds were still not being professionally managed by experts with no personal relationship to the board putting Dr. Holsinger in violation of the standards of ethics set by the UMC for trustees of church organizations, and in gross violation of the basic tenets of accepted ethical conduct , and
Whereas, the litigation by GSF against the United Methodist Church, much of it under Judicial Council president Holsinger’s tenure squandered $1,083,133 in legal fees from July 1, 1997 through July 1, 2006, which Dr. Holsinger had a duty to protect for the benefit of GSF’s beneficiaries,
Therefore, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church:
1. Censures Dr. James Holsinger for conduct which we consider to be in grave conflict with his duties as member and president of the Judicial Council, conduct which has dissipated United Methodist resources, which has brought disrepute to the church, and which constitute “relationships and/or behavior that undermine the ministry” of United Methodists;
2. Calls for heightened commitment by all Judicial Council members to ethical standards of conduct, especially regarding conflicts of interest, for full disclosure of pre-existing potential conflicts of interest and for commitment not to enter into new responsibilities after election to the Judicial Council which may conflict with their Judicial Council duties;
3. Calls for all Boards of United Methodist affiliated institutions and agencies to review their by-laws, affiliations and legal documents to assure compliance with Disciplinary paragraphs 2501, 2503, and 2506 and to minimize the potential for conflicts such as KAC V. GSF;
4. Calls for the Judicial Council newly elected in 2008 to review all Judicial Council decisions during the time of Dr. Holsinger’s tenure, recognizing that such decisions are final, but nevertheless reporting to the General Church its findings as to whether any decisions now appear questionable in light of Dr. Holsinger’s conflicts of interest and his litigation against the United Methodist Church while serving as a high elected official.