Agreement resolves same-sex union complaint

Clergy and faith leaders gather outside Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia in support of  Richard Taylor and William Gatewood (at top of stairs in doorway) following their Nov. 9, 2013 wedding
Clergy and faith leaders gather outside Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia in support of Richard Taylor and William Gatewood (at top of stairs in doorway) following their Nov. 9, 2013 wedding

Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson announced Oct. 3 the resolution of a complaint filed against 36 United Methodist pastors who officiated at the Nov. 9, 2013, same-sex union of two men.

Both the United Methodists who filed the complaint and the pastors involved agreed to the resolution. The move eliminates the possibility of a church trial in this case.

The resolution calls for the pastors to acknowledge that they violated rules of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. In return, the complaint will be withdrawn.

Both sides will meet twice and have pledged not to discuss publicly any of the “debates or statements” that will lead to final statements.

“The complainants and respondents will meet for dialogue about the core issues on which there is disagreement and the role of the Discipline in our life together as United Methodist disciples of Jesus Christ,” Johnson said in a statement.

“Our goal is to humbly and steadfastly live out our call to follow Jesus Christ and do our best to keep the church faithful and healthy.”

Open dialogue

In a joint statement by both sides and the bishop, the pastors who participated in the same-sex ceremony said they did so in a “spirit of civil disobedience” — knowing they opened themselves to certain consequences.

“We took a stand in solidarity with our LGBT friends, family members, neighbors and church members and gave witness to what we understand to be ‘Jesus’s’ pattern of love and service.”

Those who brought the charges (not named) and the 36 pastors (also not named) involved agree to engage in dialogue designed to find ways that enable both groups to live together within the same communion with integrity.

In the resolution, both sides agree to refrain from defamatory language, acknowledging that all are “acting out of conscience and in an attempt to be faithful to the call of Christ.”

The first of the two meetings will define the process and will involve listening to each other before breaking into small groups with outside facilitators.

The second session will be for deciding next steps.

Looking for a way forward

The pastors officiating at the ceremony for Richard Kevin Taylor and William Robert Gatewood, also were standing in solidarity with the Rev. Frank Schaefer. Schaefer faced a church trial on Nov. 18-19 2013, also in Johnson’s area. The trial resulted in a 30-day suspension for Schaefer and provided that he surrender his credentials at the end of that period if he determined that he could not uphold the Discipline in its entirety.

The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals in June 2014 ruled the trial court’s penalty unlawful and reinstated Schaefer’s credentials.

The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who served as counsel for the conference in the church trial appealed the decision of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. The Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, will hear the case on Oct. 22.

“It is my hope that the dialogues will provide a way forward for us, and model for the church a way of engaging one another in love and respect in accord with the Discipline amid profound disagreement,” Johnson said of the just resolution reached Sept. 30.

She also said in future cases where clergy officiate or host a same-gender ceremony that results in complaints that those complaints will be handled “swiftly and with significant and appropriate consequences” in accord with the Discipline.

“It is my hope that persons from all perspectives will engage in future dialogues,” Johnson said.

Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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