The Rev. William McElvaney, a retired pastor and seminary president, followed through Saturday, March 1, on his earlier promise to defy United Methodist Church law by presiding at a same-sex union.
McElvaney, 85, conducted a wedding for George Harris, 80, and Jack Evans, 84. The men have been partners for 53 years and are longtime members of Dallas’ Northaven United Methodist Church.
A crowd of more than 200 attended the service at Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas, applauding several times, including when Harris and Evans kissed after McElvaney led them through vows.
“I feel good about it,” McEvaney said afterward of his decision to do the service. “It was a rare privilege.”
Asked if he expects to have charges filed against him under church law, McElvaney said, “I have no idea. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
Since General Conference 1972, The United Methodist Church has declared the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching. Church law says United Methodist clergy must not officiate at same-sex unions and United Methodist cChurches must not host such services.
McElvaney announced in a Jan. 19 Northaven worship service that he would risk a church trial and the possibility of losing his clergy credentials by officiating at a same-sex service. Evans and Harris stepped forward to have him do a service for them.
Midway Hills Christian Church, part of the Disciples of Christ denomination, agreed to host. The reception Saturday was at Northaven United Methodist.
Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Conference has not commented publicly on McElvaney’s actions. Officials of Good News, an unofficial caucus that supports church law regarding homosexuality, earlier appealed to McElvaney not to do the service, saying such an act would be divisive.
'A gift, a challenge'
McElvaney is pastor emeritus of Northaven United Methodist, and led other churches in North Texas. He also was president of Saint Paul School of Theology and a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. Both seminaries are United Methodist.
McElvaney has liver cancer, and underwent a radiation treatment Wednesday. He walked down the aisle Saturday but sat as he officiated, using 1 John: Chapter 4 (“There is no fear in love”) as his text.
Later, McElvaney said, “It’s not my intention to politicize this service, but …” — drawing laughs with his pause.
He went on to thank Evans and Harris, his voice breaking as he said their wedding represented “a gift, a challenge and an invitation to the United Methodist Church to become a fully inclusive church.”
The Rev. Eric Folkerth welcomed those at the service to the reception at Northaven, but lamented that The United Methodist Church would not let Northaven host the wedding itself. “It’s not just,” he said.
Show of support
More than a dozen North Texas Conference clergy — some active and some retired — attended the service. Some United Methodist pastors from outside the conference attended as well.
“I’m here to stand with him,” said the Rev. Jack Soper, pastor of Arapaho United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas, is McElvaney's longtime friend and fellow advocate on social justice issues. “I’m here to stand with what he represents as well.”
The Rev. Mike Baughman, who leads Union, a United Methodist-backed coffee house church near Southern Methodist University in Dallas, brought his daughter Sylvia, 7, and son Thomas, 5, to the service.
“I’m here as a pastor so that Bill (McElvaney) won’t be alone,” Baughman said. “I’m here as a father so that my kids will know this (same-sex marriage) is OK.”
The Harris-Evans wedding occurred at the end of the same week in which U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down Texas’ constitutional amendment and statutory prohibition of such marriages. Garcia ruled Feb. 26 that Texas’ laws conflicted with the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process, but stayed the ruling until appeals can be decided.
On the same day of the Garcia ruling, the Public Religion Research Institute released results of a survey that found support by Americans for same-sex marriage has grown from 41 percent to 53 percent since 2003, when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize such marriages. The survey showed same-sex marriage is now supported by 62 percent of white mainline Protestants.
The number of states where same-sex marriage is legal has grown to 17.
But repeated efforts to change United Methodist Church law regarding homosexuality have failed at General Conference. At General Conference 2012 in Tampa, Fla., an “agree to disagree” measure put forward by the pastors of two United Methodist megachurches, the Rev. Adam Hamilton of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and the Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg Church in Tipp City, Ohio, lost as well.
Ready to get in line
The daunting prospects for those who would change church law were set aside at Saturday’s wedding, as the crowd of United Methodists and others celebrated with Harris and Evans and offered support for McElvaney.
“Fantastic” was how Harris described his mood as he paused between greeting well-wishers at the reception. “I feel like I’m 20 again.”
Should Texas ultimately be required by the federal courts to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Harris said, he and Evans would definitely get in line.
“We’ve been illegal for a long time,” he said with a laugh.
The couple planned to be at Northaven United Methodist for worship on Sunday.
*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected].