The United Methodist Judicial Council will decide late October if its clergy and local church regions can hold different opinions on the issues of homosexuality and marriage and will also decide the fate of four priests who have been charged with marrying same-sex couples.
A 1972 rule in the United Methodist Church’s internal law book states, ‘The UMC does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,’ and bars its clergy from officiating same-sex marriages but many United Methodist churches have been doing so anyway.
569 United Methodist Churches have formed an LGBT welcoming Reconciling Network and over 1,500 United Methodist clergy have signed onto a statement saying they are willing to perform same-sex marriages.
In addition, the church’s Western Jurisdiction, which covers an area from Hawaii to Alaska and down to Colorado passed a resolution in July last year saying that the central church’s leadership were ‘in error’ on the issue and decided to ignore church rules on homosexuality and marriage.
The central church cannot change its laws before its next quadrennial conference in 2016 but ruling against priests who are marrying same-sex couples would put the church in a difficult position with so many dissenters.
One of the priests up on charges, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a former dean at Yale University, was the subject of an official complaint after he was listed as the priest in a marriage announcement notice in the New York Times for a same-sex couple.
Another, the Rev. Steve Heiss, is in hot water with his bishop after performing six same-sex marriages since same-sex marriage was legalized in New York state and has not ruled out performing more.
Earlier this week Melvin Talbert, a retired United Methodist bishop announced plans to marry a same-sex couple in Alabama in October.
He says he is not conflicted in doing so because be believes the United Methodist law book contradicts itself on sexuality.
Talbert points to other church rules which be believes carry more weight such as one that reads, ‘Inclusiveness means openness, acceptance, and support that enables all persons to participate in the life of the Church, the community, and the world. Thus, inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination … We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God.’
Another reads, ‘All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured … We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.’
Talbert, who was once jailed with Dr Martin Luther King Jr for his role in the US civil rights movement, will marry Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw on October 26 – the same day as the United Methodist Judicial Council is likely to rule on the issue.
The United Methodist Church is the second largest Protestant denomination in North America.