Same-sex wedding complaints reach resolution

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The North Texas Conference announced just resolutions in complaints against a retired pastor for officiating at a same-gender wedding and another pastor for hosting the wedding. The action averts a church trial.

The Rev. Ben Marshall, who retired in 2000, officiated at the wedding on April 22 at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas. The Rev. Eric Folkerth, the senior pastor of Northaven, also faced a complaint because his church hosted the ceremony. The couple who wed are members of the congregation.

The Rev. Fred Durham, another retired clergy member, filed the complaints.

In the resolutions, the conference said, Marshall and Folkerth said they are “sorry for any harm … caused to those who disagree with [their] understanding of [their] pastoral calling and covenant.”

Durham, Folkerth and Marshall all declined to comment on the resolutions.

Since 1972, the church has stated in its Book of Discipline that all individuals are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The denomination defines marriage as a covenant “between a man and a woman.” The denomination also bans pastors from officiating and churches from hosting ceremonies that celebrate same-gender unions.

However, in recent years, the denomination has seen a number of United Methodist clergy, including a retired bishop, publicly defy the wedding ban as more countries, including the United States, have legalized same-sex civil marriage.

In 2015, after the U.S. Supreme Court made recognition of same-gender marriage the law of the land, Bishop Michael McKee described what was permissible for clergy to do in such wedding ceremonies. Seven other bishops offered similar advice.

General Conference, the denomination’s top policymaking body, last year authorized the formation of the Commission on a Way Forward, which is striving to find a way through the denomination’s impasse around marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

In 2016, the North Texas Annual Conference adopted a resolution that stipulated conference members would uphold the Discipline while the commission did its work. The commission’s recommendations will go to the Council of Bishops, who will then present any resulting proposed changes for a vote at a special General Conference in 2019.

A church-trial conviction can result in clergy losing their credentials or lesser penalties. However, the Book of Discipline also calls church trials “an expedient of last resort” and keeps the door open for “a just resolution” through much of the complaint process.

The Discipline states that a just resolution “focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties.”

The conference said in its statement, “The successful completion of the just-resolution process in these matters has accomplished these goals.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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