A jury of Nebraska United Methodist ministers fell one vote short of convicting Omaha First United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor Jimmy Creech on March 14 of disobeying denominational rules by performing a same-sex ceremony uniting two lesbians in his congregation last September.

Although eight of the thirteen jury members voted to convict Creech, the tally was one vote shy of the requirement for a guilty verdict.

The trial is the first challenge of the current UMC policy against homosexual-union ceremonies. The result could shape the policy of the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination toward homosexuals.

Creech, 53, had been charged with violating the Social Principles found in the UMC's Book of Discipline, which forbids ministers from performing homosexual-union ceremonies. Nebraska bishop Joel Martinez suspended Creech last November.

Creech maintained the Social Principles are not binding. He says the verdict "shows we are guided more by God's grace and love than regulations."

But Jim Heidinger, publisher of the UMC's evangelical newspaper Good News, says the denomination remains sharply divided over the homosexuality issue. "It has really threatened the unity of the church," he says. Martinez adds, "The continuing division of opinion and convictions on this matter will require of us spiritual maturity." The evangelical Confessing Movement in the UMC stated, "It threatens the connection and the ties that bind us together in worship and ministry."

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