April 11, 2014
(Submitted by Kevin Nelson, et al)
WHEREAS, the NEAC recognizes that its members are not of one mind regarding God’s will in relation to relationships between persons of the same gender, and we desire to respect that there are those among us who believe that relationships between persons of the same gender are against the will of God, and we do not wish to force such members to take their own individual actions that violate their conscience; and,
WHEREAS, we ask that reciprocal respect be given to the individual right to engage in scriptural study, deeply heartfelt prayer and discernment—specifically as it relates to God’s will on matters connected to sexual orientation and relationships between persons of the same gender—and to arrive at different scriptural interpretations and thus different conclusions regarding God’s will and calling to us in relation to how to be in ministry within the world and offer pastoral care within United Methodist congregations; and,
WHEREAS, this sort of reciprocal respect is not exemplified in The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline and instead a policy of rigid legalism reigns, seeking to force the adoption and enforcement of a particular viewpoint; and,
WHEREAS, ¶¶161.B, 161.F, 304.3, and 341.6 of the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church contain provisions that formally sanction heteronormativity/heterosexism and condemn marriages of partners of the same gender as well as more broadly “the practice of homosexuality”; bar individuals married to and in loving relationships with persons of the same gender from candidacy certification, ordination and appointments; bar our clergy from officiating at weddings of couples marrying partners of the same gender; bars our church facilities from being used for ceremonies celebrating the unions and marriages of couples of the same gender; and,
WHEREAS, ¶¶ 2702.1(a), (b), and (d) lift the following offenses to such grievous levels that bishops, clergy members, local pastors and diaconal ministers, can be brought before church trials for: faithfulness in a marriage to a partner of the same gender; being a “self-avowed, practicing” gay or lesbian person; and disobeying any of these provisions or potentially even any of the ones in the preceding paragraph; and,
WHEREAS, ¶¶ 2702.3(a) and (c) lift the following offenses to such grievous levels that laity, including deaconesses and home missioners or more broadly any professing member of The UMC, can be brought before church trials for: faithfulness in a marriage to a partner of the same gender; being a “self-avowed, practicing” gay or lesbian person; and disobeying these provisions or potentially even any of the ones two paragraphs above; and,
WHEREAS, a majority of the New England Annual Conference (NEAC) believes that the laws and policies of The UMC, exemplified above, that condemn “the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” (see ¶ 161F) damage the lives, bodies and souls of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children of God; and,
WHEREAS, the NEAC recognizes that this damage occurs because the official UMC position, regardless of any good intentions and how much we try to nuance it, conveys certain messages to LGBT persons, including: that they are somehow intrinsically wrong as human beings; that they are, at best, second-class Christians, if they can even be considered real Christians at all; that God may even hate them; and that some of us hate them too; and,
WHEREAS, the NEAC recognizes that as these laws send such unconscionable messages to our fellow children of God, they play a role in shattering mental health, shattering lives, shattering families, shattering bodies, and shattering relationships with God, leaving spiritual carnage in their wake; and,
WHEREAS, the NEAC rejects scriptural interpretations that do violence; embraces the radical and life-altering love that Jesus preached, taught and exemplified throughout the Gospels; and the NEAC chooses to take a step toward adhering to what the NEAC understands biblical obedience to mean; and,
WHEREAS, many clergy members of the NEAC have officiated, or expressed their availability to officiate, at weddings of couples of the same gender in violation of ¶ 2702.1; and,
WHEREAS, the NEAC’s DCOM’s have certified for candidacy and the BOM has recommended for ordination persons in relationships with and/or married to partners of the same gender; the NEAC clergy session has approved for ordination persons in relationships with and/or married to partners of the same gender; the NEAC’s Episcopal leaders have ordained persons in relationships with and/or married to partners of the same gender; and the Episcopal leaders of the NEAC, with the consent of the various cabinets, have in the past and continue in the present to appoint clergy members in relationships with and/or married to partners of the same gender, in direct violation of ¶¶ 304.3 and 2702.1; and,
WHEREAS, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the following excerpt to some of his fellow clergymen—including Methodist Bishops Paul Hardin and Nolan Bailey Harmon of the Alabama-West Florida and North Alabama Annual Conferences—in his Letter From a Birmingham Jail, and although MLK was speaking during a context of segregation in the 1960’s, his letter contains principles that are applicable to our context today;
One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
WHEREAS, out of this reasoning, the NEAC calls out the above cited church laws as unjust;
WHEREAS, church trials related to this context damage the mission and witness of the church and drain its temporal resources away from ministry; and
WHEREAS, our Episcopal leaders, under ¶¶ 47 and 401 are entrusted with caring for and overseeing the temporal and spiritual interests of the Church; and,
WHEREAS, under ¶ 363.1(e)(1), Bishop Devadhar is not required by the Book of Discipline to forward unresolved complaints to a counsel for the Church, and thus Bishop Devadhar is not required to make a similar commitment to ecclesial disobedience in order to honor the will of the NEAC on these matters;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the New England Annual Conference not only asserts our moral responsibility to break these church laws but we express our exasperation that the very existence of these laws and the reality they have created demands that they be broken; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we request extreme restraint among our members in relation to filing complaints against each other pursuant to the above referenced Disciplinary provisions; correspondingly, the NEAC continues to respect the right of individual clergy to the ongoing exercise of their judgment in determining which couples that approach them are ready to be married; and of our Board of Ordained Ministry and District Committees on Ordained Ministry, we continue to respect their authority and ability to judge which individuals exhibit evidence that God has called them to ministry within The UMC, which is reflected in the affirmation of those callings and the fruits of their ministries; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NEAC formally expresses its position that our Resident Bishop, Bishop Devadhar, should not refer such complaints—meaning those filed under ¶ 2702.1(a), (b), or (d) related to clergy officiating at weddings of couples of the same gender or a clergy person marrying a partner of the same gender, or the similar provisions related to laity—to a counsel for the Church;
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that when complaints are made against clergy or laity pursuant to the reasons cited above, and they are not able to be resolved during a just resolution process, the NEAC urges Bishop Devadhar to look to his responsibilities for the temporal and spiritual interests of the church under¶¶ 47 and 401 and to exercise his authority under ¶ 363.1(e)(1) and to “dismiss the complaint with the consent of the cabinet giving his reasons therefore in writing…”
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NEAC will proudly stand with Bishop Devadhar, supporting him in such actions, and will embrace him as he joins with others in the United Methodist connection to seek non-judicial means of resolving our differences within the church over how pastoral care is offered to our LGBT members; the act of LGBT persons answering God’s call to ministry, regardless of whether or not they are married to partners of the same gender; and more broadly The UMC’s role in being in ministry with and to LGBT persons in a world that is too often hostile and as a church that has too often contributed to the spiritual, mental and physical harm done to LGBT persons.
Signatories: Scott Campbell, Sean Delmore, Leigh Dry, Becca Girrell, Marion C. Grant, Will Green, Vicki Woods, and New Wineskins.