Bishop rules two LGBTQ clergy candidates ineligible

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling preaches on unity during worship at the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 30. Photo by Tony Richards.
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling preaches on unity during worship at the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 30. Photo by Tony Richards.

Baltimore-Washington Area Bishop LaTrelle Easterling ruled that two individuals the Board of Ordained Ministry had approved were not eligible for ordination and commissioning because they are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

She issued the ruling during the conference’s clergy session on May 30, after the Rev. Mark Gorman asked for a ruling.

Gorman asked for the bishop’s ruling after discussion about the board’s report which contained two names of individuals the board had approved but who he said did not meet the criteria set by the church’s Judicial Council for “full examination” of a candidate.

In a statement issued after the ruling, the bishop said she believes the Discipline is wrong when it states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. “I pray that in 2019, we move away from the restrictive language in our Book of Discipline, and allow for all to really find a full and complete home within the United Methodist Church,” she said.“The matter that was causing us to not be able to move forward was the concern that the board had not done a full inquiry, as some believe the Book of Discipline requires, and some say that Judicial Council says is required,” the bishop said. “Typically, I have 30 days to rule, but I can’t wait 30 days here tonight.”

But she said that she believes the opportunity for change is just nine months away with the special General Conference. “I will not upend that process to impose what I believe the right and just outcome to be.”

“Therefore, in good conscience and against what I believe to be an error in our Book of Discipline, I will not violate its current law. I reserve the right to reach a different conclusion if the circumstances change in the future. To those who feel harmed and violated by my decision, I offer my deep and sincere apologies, and hope you can at least understand my rationale. Again, there are no winners here,” she said.

The bishop noted that members of the board met with all 29 eligible candidates during the dinner hour on May 30 while the clergy session was in recess, and asked each for full disclosure.

The Rev. Tony Hunt, chair of the board, said that no one came forward with additional information that the board did not have already.

Two individuals, he noted, had previously stated in writing that they were married to a person of the same gender.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, under its new policy adopted last October and disclosed this past April, had decided not to ask questions of candidates around sexuality other than if they were faithful in marriage or celibate in singleness. It was that policy that was initially called into question during the clergy session.

The Rev. John Rudisill questioned Hunt, asking whether the Board acted in harmony with Judicial Council decision 1344. “Was the BOOM faithful to that decision,” he asked. “Did BOOM ask candidates if they were practicing homosexuals?”

Hunt said the board had not asked that question. “We asked if they were faithful or celibate,” he said.

Easterling, presiding at the clergy session, ruled in the afternoon session that the part of the board’s report dealing with ordination, consecration and commissioning of people to the clergy session was “out of order” because it failed to ask these mandated questions.

Hunt said that no candidate was asked any additional questions related to sexuality or practice during their earlier examinations. He added that the “full examination” consisted of psychological reports, credit checks, effectiveness in ministry reports and recommendations from numerous persons. “It includes multiple facets of a person’s life,” he said.

The bishop issued her ruling of law, based on Judicial Council decision 1341, the current language of the Board of Discipline, and the rules of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

In a statement, Tara “T.C.” Morrow, a candidate for deacon’s orders and full membership who is married to another woman, said that she was not going to give up her quest.

“I am convicted now as ever that God is calling me to continue to put myself forward as a candidate,” she said. “I pray above all else for grace and fortitude to be faithful as a disciple of my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Morrow is a member of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, and that church issued a statement in full support of Morrow. “We affirm that T.C. is called by our Creator into ordained ministry,” the church statement read in part. “We firmly stand by her as she continues to faithfully respond and serve.”

Alsgaard is managing editor in the Ministry of Communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. To get more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

News contact: Vicki Brown, 615-742-5472 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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