In a precedent-setting test of a new section of the denomination's Book of Discipline, United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor Gregory Dell of Chicago has been suspended from all pastoral duties, effective July 5. By a 10-to-3 vote, a church trial jury of 13 UMC pastors found Dell guilty March 26 of disobeying church law for performing a same-sex "holy union" ceremony for two homosexuals at his Broadway UMC congregation last year.
The suspension is to remain in effect until Dell is willing to sign a document to the UMC Judicial Council saying he will comply with church law banning same-sex unions or until the ban is lifted or changed by Judicial Council action.
In 1996, the denomination's top legislative body added a statement to the church's Social Principles stating, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." However, because of confusion over whether the language constituted a strong guideline or a strict prohibition, the Judicial Council, the denomination's top court, last August made performing such unions a chargeable offense (CT, Oct. 5, 1998, p. 18).
Dell acknowledges conducting 33 such ceremonies in the past 18 years of his 29 years of ministry. However, the ceremony last September marked his first since the stricter language went into effect. Jimmy Creech had been acquitted on similar charges in Nebraska before the Judicial Council rendered its judgment (CT, April 27, 1998, p. 14).
DELL REFUSES OPTION: During the penalty phase of Dell's trial, church prosecutor Stephen C. Williams asked Dell whether he would promise not to conduct any more same-sex services. Dell answered, "I will not abandon the gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered ...1