An open letter signed by 363 United Methodist clergy and laity calls for the church's bishops to "move beyond silence and inaction" and allow same-sex marriages.
"Our church is adrift, buffeted by forces that seek to steer our course away from the prophetic, just, and compassionate course of Christ," states the letter, released October 11.
In August, the denomination's Judicial Council ruled that a Social Principle prohibiting homosexual marriages has the force of church law (CT, Oct. 5, 1998, p. 18). The decision came after Jimmy Creech, former pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Nebraska, performed a ceremony for two women (CT, June 15, 1998, p. 15). The 325 members who left Creech's church to protest his stance are forming a new congregation.
Despite church law, the letter states some clergy will perform ceremonies "directly and unapologetically, following the example of integrity set by Jimmy Creech." Other clergy will permit laity to use church yards for the ceremonies and will "stand in honor as non-ministers read certain words within a ritual."
In response to the letter, Bishop George Bashore of Pittsburgh, president of the church's Council of Bishops, says the council must uphold the denomination's Book of Discipline. If charges are brought against any clergy in his area, they will be processed immediately. "I can't do otherwise," he says.
The letter calls on bishops to "receive the forgiveness of Christ" for "sins of omission." Instead of silence, the signers ask the bishops to teach the church how to address "misunderstandings about the nature of scriptural authority" so that members can learn how "a noncondemning acceptance of homosexuality is a legitimate position within our Wesleyan tradition."
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