For more than a year, the Rev. Janet Ellinger, a United Methodist pastor, has been reflecting and waiting for the outcome of a complaint filed against her by a clergy colleague because she officiated at the same-sex wedding of two couples.
Wisconsin Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has announced a resolution was reached that did not take away Ellinger’s clergy credentials but required her to address the conference clergy session on June 10 and offer an admission, explanation and an apology for her actions.
Ellinger said her “apology” was in the spirit of Christian apologetics — giving an explanation and defense of her faith.
“I did not state regret for harming anyone,” she said. “My regret is for the spiritual violence and discrimination that is in the air we breathe as United Methodists because of our discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer persons.”
She explained that both of the same-sex couples desired a spiritual community for their families and wanted to be married in that same community — something their United Methodist pastor and congregation could not do because of church law.
Ellinger said she has been a United Methodist “since my conception,” and when she was old enough, she made the choice to be United Methodist largely based on church’s teaching of the quadrilateral —scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
“It was a faithful decision to officiate at the wedding of these couples. It was both my honor and my joy to do so,” she said.
The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, a clergyperson in the Wisconsin Conference, was present for Ellinger’s comments to the clergy session. He said he did not believe it was an adequate resolution of the complaint.
“Because there was no apology, expression of regret, or commitment not to repeat the offense, this resolution merely serves as a license to continue in disobedience,” he told United Methodist News Service. “For individuals to arrogate to themselves the right to nullify the Discipline is a schismatic action and only deepens the division in our church. It serves to make separation more likely in the next few years.”
Jung said he sought a resolution that “witnessed to mercy, grace, justice and an affirmation of the years of faithful service” of Ellinger.
“This is not a matter that can be resolved through legislative or judicial process; it is a matter for spiritual discernment and accountable grace,” Jung said in the just resolution statement. “I am ruling for forgiveness, grace and understanding rather than judgment and punishment.”
Current church law states homosexuals are people of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, LGBTQ people cannot be ordained and United Methodist clergy cannot officiate at same-sex weddings. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.
“However, The United Methodist Church is currently addressing the potential need for a change in theological interpretations,” Jung said.
“An Offering for a Way Forward,” approved by the 2016 United Methodist General Conference, put the debate on human sexuality on hold until the special commission appointed by the bishops can look at all the sections of the church’s Book of Discipline that deal with human sexuality.
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].