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.