Conservative United Methodists are relieved, but not overconfident, after the recent ruling by the church's highest court that a prohibition against ministers performing same-sex unions for homosexuals is binding church law.
"We cannot be too jubilant," says James V. Heidinger II, executive director of Good News, the oldest conservative coalition of United Methodists, based in Wilmore, Kentucky. "We know the fight is not over. But it is a bit of encouragement that we have at least clarified this."
After a special session in August in Dallas, the nine-member United Methodist Judicial Council ruled that a statement saying ministers "shall not" conduct homosexual unions is ecclesiastical law. Methodist delegates approved the statement at the 1996 general conference in Denver.
"Conduct in violation of this prohibition renders a pastor liable to a charge of disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church," the decision states.
Heidinger expects more battles, though. The 8.5 million-member church is deeply split over the issue, he says, noting that 240 United Methodist ministers earlier this year signed statements saying they would conduct same-sex unions if asked.
"I'm going to guess someone will try ecclesiastical disobedience and push a test case," he says.
CREECH VERDICT FOLLOW-UP: Controversy over the ban erupted when Jimmy Creech, former pastor of the First United Church of Omaha, Nebraska, was narrowly acquitted in a church trial earlier this year after he defied the church's ban and conducted a same-sex ceremony (CT, April 27, 1998, p. 14).
Conservative groups roundly condemned the jury's verdict (CT, June 15, 1998, p. 15), and several Methodist bishops asked the Judicial Council to review the case.