Another Methodist pastor to be tried for officiating son’s gay wedding

UMCThe United Methodist Church has formally charged another clergyman for presiding at the same-sex wedding of his son, The Associated Press reported.

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree will be tried March 10 for violating church law against officiating at gay unions, his spokeswoman, Dorothee Benz, announced Friday. It’s the second high-profile United Methodist trial in recent months over same-sex relationships. In December, pastor Frank Schaefer of central Pennsylvania was defrocked after he officiated at his son’s gay wedding. The church considers homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Ogletree is a theologian, a former Yale Divinity School dean and a retired elder in the church’s New York district, or Annual Conference. Some clergy had filed a complaint after his son’s 2012 wedding announcement appeared in The New York Times.

Ogletree, 80, said he could not refuse his son’s request to preside at the wedding, which was held in New York, where gay marriage is legally recognized.

“It is a shame that the church is choosing to prosecute me for this act of love, which is entirely in keeping with my ordination vows to ‘seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people’ and with Methodism’s historic commitment to inclusive ministry embodied in its slogan ‘open hearts, open minds, open doors,’” Ogletree said in a statement.

Bishop Martin McLee, who leads the New York Annual Conference, could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

The Rev. Randall Paige of Christ Church UMC in Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., led the group of clergy who had filed the complaint against Ogletree, according to United Methodist News Service. An administrator at Christ Church said Paige was off Friday and could not immediately be reached for comment. Theologically conservative Methodists have said they file formal complaints reluctantly, hoping to find another resolution for their disagreements, but feel clergy must be held accountable when they violate church policy.

Like other mainline Protestant groups, Methodists have been debating for decades over whether the Bible condemns or condones same-gender relationships. However, other mainline groups, such as the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, have in recent years taken key steps toward accepting same-sex couples. The top Methodist policy-making body, General Conference, has repeatedly rejected changing church law on homosexuality, including in their most recent vote at a 2012 meeting.

In the last few years, as gay marriage has gained legal recognition by U.S. states, Methodists advocating for gays and lesbians have intensified their protests, hosting gay weddings in Methodist churches or officiating the ceremonies elsewhere.

Two other similar cases are pending within the Methodist church. The Rev. Stephen Heiss of the Upper New York Annual Conference is expected to face a church trial for presiding at same-sex marriages, including officiating at his daughter’s 2002 wedding. The Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy, of the New York Annual Conference, is facing a formal complaint that she is a “self-avowed practicing” lesbian, or lives openly with a same-sex partner, which is barred by church law.

Ogletree’s trial will be held at First United Methodist Church in Stamford, Conn.

The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant group in the U.S. and claims 12.5 million members worldwide.

—  Steve Ramos

Retired Northaven pastor stands in solidarity with LGBTs

The Rev. Bill McElvaney will soon marry longtime couple Jack Evans and George Harris, despite facing consequences from the church

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TWO OF A KIND | The Rev. Bill McElvaney, Northaven United Methodist Church’s emeritus pastor, right, plans to officiate at same-sex weddings. And Eric Folkerth, Northaven’s current pastor, said he will likely do so in the future as well. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

 

ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

At first glance, retired Methodist pastor the Rev. Bill McElvaney appears to be a soft-spoken, genial man of faith.

But at 85, McElvaney has had enough with the United Methodist Church’s anti-gay teachings, so he decided to speak out about the injustices the church teaches with a declaration from Northaven’s United Methodist Church’s pulpit Sunday.

McElvaney, Northaven’s emeritus pastor, stood before the congregation and told them he “would consider it a privilege to officiate at a same-sex wedding.”

“To be a friend is to become an advocate, one who by word and deed translates heartbreak into pastoral and prophetic action,” he said during the sermon.

The announcement earned him a five-minute standing ovation. But the act is against the church’s beliefs, which considers homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Pastors who have defied the church have faced severe consequences. In December, Pennsylvania Methodist pastor  the Rev. Frank Schaefer was defrocked for presiding over his gay son’s Massachusetts wedding.

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WEDDING BELLS | George Harris, left, and Jack Evans, who celebrated their 53rd anniversary Sunday, have attended Northaven for 20 years. They plan to have McElvaney marry them as soon as possible.

Northaven has a long history of supporting LGBT equality. In the late ‘80s, the church began welcoming LGBT people and became the first local reconciling church in the 90s. Now there are four reconciling churches in the area.

McElvaney, who grew up attending Highland Park Methodist Church, was baptized in the church, ordained by the church and is well aware of the action the church could take against him. The church could convene a trial and defrock him when he performs a same-sex wedding — but he doesn’t care at this point in his life.

“All of those vulnerabilities kind of pale to standing in solidarity with our GLBT friends,” he said.

Many LGBT couples he’s known in the church and throughout his life have impacted him to take a stance on same-sex marriage.

“They have taught me a lot,” he said, adding that he took a public stand when the time was right for him. “You have to grow into a position over time and have the Holy Spirit guide you to take a position.”

One of the LGBT couples at Northaven who inspired McElvaney are Jack Evans and George Harris, who heard his announcement on their 53rd anniversary. They’ve been active in the church for 20 years and were called on stage and recognized  Sunday as a longtime couple.

Evans said they’ve seriously discussed going and getting married in another state but have wanted to wait to legally wed in Texas.

“I don’t know if we’ll live that long,” Evans said.

Although the marriage performed by McElvaney wouldn’t be legal in Texas, the couple said they’ve decided to have him marry them. They’re just waiting on logistics.

“We’re waiting to hear from the pastor and Rev. Bill about when it could take place,” Evans said. “It’s possible that something will come very quickly.”

The service won’t take place at Northaven. Eric Folkerth, the current pastor, said he’s not ready to break the church’s rules yet by performing same-sex weddings himself or allowing them to take place in the church. However, he’s worked with two area churches close to Northaven, Midway Hills Christian Church and Central Congregation Church, that have agreed to host his congregation’s services.

Folkerth said same-sex marriage is the “most gut-wrenching decision about my ministry.” A recent survey of the church discovered that 14 couples had been married outside the state, with seven of those taking place in the past year.

“That tells me something as a pastor,” he said. “Same-sex marriage is becoming an issue in this church that we need to pay attention to as a pastoral issue and as a justice issue.”

Jim Lovell and Bill Stoner are one of the 14 couples who’ve already married. They made a day trip in August 2010 to Iowa to make their union legal.

They attended Northaven several years ago before moving to France. But they come back once a year to visit friends and attend church. They happened to pick the Sunday when McElvaney made his announcement.

“We didn’t know there was a big announcement until we were at church,” Lovell said.

Stoner said it caught them by surprise.

“I literally gasped, and I think the reason I gasped was to keep from crying,” Stoner said.

Having known McElvaney for years, though, Stoner said they know the work he’s done for social justice and are proud he made a bold statement.

“He’s been fighting for a lot of people that he’ll never meet,” Stoner said. “With this announcement, for him to come out at this point in his life in his 80s and face possible charges by the church, we just admire this man so completely for what he’s done.”

In the future, Folkerth said he’d “very likely at some point” be willing to officiate a same-sex union in his church, but he doesn’t want to face the consequences of doing so at this time.

“Right now it’s a choice between my GLBT family and my own family,” he said. “There will come a time when I will, but now is not that time.”

Evans and Harris support Folkerth’s decision and are glad to have the option of being married by someone in the Northaven family.

“We would certainly love for it to have been in the church, in our own church, and our own pastor, but that’s not a possibility,” Evans said. “He’s not in a position to do it at all.  We welcome the opportunity to be married by [McElvaney]. [Folkerth] has too much to lose. We would not encourage him at all.”

Both McElvaney and Folkerth think the Methodist Church will be forced to accept LGBT clergy and perform same-sex weddings as more and more Methodist leaders take stands for equality.

“This issue needs to be addressed,” McElvaney said. “The American United Methodist Church needs to get a grip. They’re so behind the times it’s pathetic.”

Folkerth said the response from the Northaven congregation has been 100 percent positive, further proof of how far attitudes have come.

“I think that tells us something,” he said. “I think people are very ready for this church to move forward on this and understand why we need to.”

The earliest a vote to change the church’s stance on homosexuality in the Book of Discipline is the General Conference in 2016. Folkerth said the majority of American Methodists would vote to change the views, but the international Methodist community would prevent the church from moving forward.

In the meantime, Folkerth said he wishes the church would change how it handles rule breakers, like McElvaney will soon be, and not defrock them for a social stance.

“There’s no way the church can bring all these people to trial,” McElvaney added.  “We can’t go on this way without extensive bleeding on all sides.”

And while McElvaney is appreciative of what the Methodist Church has given him in the four decades he’s preached and taught seminary classes, he said he can’t continue to follow its outdated teachings blindly instead of doing what he feels is right.

“I owe the Methodist church a lot, but what I do not owe the Methodist Church is my soul,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 24, 2014.

—  Anna Waugh

Rev. Amy Delong, tried by Methodists for being a lesbian, to preach at Bering Memorial Methodist Church

Rev. Amy DeLong

Paperwork can be the bane of any job. For Rev. Amy Delong a simple annual report catapulted her into the maelstrom of the United Methodist Church’s debate on accepting LGBT people. DeLong visits Houston’s Bering Memorial United Methodist Church (1440 Harold) on Sunday, Feb. 12 to preach at both the 8:30 and 10:50 service.

In 2009 DeLong was approached by two women who wanted to get married. After conducting premarital counseling with the couple Delong agreed to perform the ceremony. As a clergy person, DeLong was required to report on her activities at the end of the year, including any weddings she had performed. She knew that the Methodist Church did not allow same-sex marriage but thought “I don’t know if anybody even reads these.” Boy, was she wrong!

With-in three days she was hauled into the her boss’s (the bishop) office. DeLong’s relationship with her partner Val was well known to her colleagues. “I’ve never had a bishop or a leader in the church or a pastor who didn’t know that I was gay,” says DeLong. “Everyone knows Val.” But the church was determined now to make an example of her, and DeLon’s relationship would now be an issue.

In 2011 DeLong was tried in the church’s court with violating the Methodist “Book of Discipline” by being in a same-sex relationship and by performing a same-sex wedding. During the trial she refused to answer pointed questions about her and her partner’s sex life. “No heterosexual couples are ever asked if they
still engage in genital contact in their marriages,” says DeLong. That refusal left the court with no evidence against her on the first charge.

She was convicted of performing the wedding and suspended from ministry for 20 days. The court also required DeLong to work with a group of ministers to prepare a statement on how to “help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an advesarial spirit or lead to future trails.” “This sentence is complicated,” says DeLong. “It doesn’t lend itself well to media soundbites. So a lot of folks have been saying to me ‘I can’t tell, is this penalty good?’” DeLong responds with a resounding “Yes!” Saying that she welcomes the opportunity to write, teach and study on a topic dear to her heart.

DeLong recalls that during that initial meeting in the bishop’s office one of the bishop’s assistants referred to her as a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” To which she responded “Val and I aren’t practicing any more… we are pretty good at it by now.” The assistant laughed. More than anything that is the impression one gets of DeLong: someone with a lot of humor and aplomb who is unwilling to back down from a fight for justice.

After the jump watch a clip of DeLong talking about her experience.

—  admin

Creech advocates for LGBT rights

Pastor lost his ordination in 1999 for performing same-sex wedding

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The Rev. Jimmy Creech (Courtesy of Natalia Weedy)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
It was in the 1980s that a member of  the Rev. Jimmy Creech’s  church came out to him as gay, it didn’t just turn the Methodist minister into an LGBT equality supporter, it also set him onto a path of advocacy that eventually cost him his ordination

“It changed my perspective and attitude,” Creech, who will be in the Dallas area speaking at several area churches Oct. 31-Nov. 2, said this week of that coming out moment. “It began to challenge my ideas about homosexuality.”

One of Creech’s early triumphs advocating for the LGBT community was lobbying the Raleigh, N.C., City Council to include sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policy in 1988. He said that passage of the ordinance while

Jesse Helms was still the state’s senator made the victory so much sweeter.

But most of Creech’s work has been within the Methodist Church.

“I was concerned the messaging [about homosexuality] was condemnatory,” he said. “Everything you heard a religious leader say was negative.”

So he sponsored conferences about “Homophobia and the Bible,” in an attempt to “educate about the damaging theology in Christian tradition,” he said.

In 1990, Creech performed his first holy union.

“Two men asked if I’d do it,” he said. “I agreed without hesitation. How can you support an individual and deny their relationship?”

He performed more ceremonies over the next few years, and it was no problem since the Methodist Church had no prohibition against doing so — until 1996.

That year, Creech moved to a church in Nebraska where he continued welcoming LGBT people and honoring their relationships. But after he presided over a holy union for a lesbian couple in 1997, charges were brought against him for violating the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

He was acquitted in a church trial.

Creech said the reason was very technical. The prohibition was added to the social principles rather than to religious law. Social principles guide moral behavior.

“My defense was that it was not law,” he said.

And that defense was successful. However after his trial, the one sentence prohibiting Methodist clergy from performing a same-sex wedding was given the weight of law. Creech said it is the only sentence in the social principles to have that designation, something he called “institutional bigotry.”

After his acquittal, Creech moved back to North Carolina and in 1999 charges were filed against him again after he presided over the wedding of two men in Chapel Hill. This time, a jury found him guilty of “disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church” and withdrew his credentials of ordination.

Since then, Creech has been writing and speaking about LGBT rights. His recently released book, Adam’s Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gays, deals with his experiences with the church’s struggle to welcome and accept LGBT people.

In his book, Creech explains that he defied church law to do what he thought God would want him to do.

“As a pastor, my mission was to help people overcome whatever damaged them spiritually, whatever diminished their capacity to trust God’s love, to love others and to love themselves,” he wrote.

Although heterosexual, Creech has appeared on Out Magazine’s Out 100 list several times, and he received the HRC Equality Award in 1999.

Northaven United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Eric Folkerth said, “Jimmy Creech stands as a powerful witness to those who have been standing up for social justice.”

Folkerth said 1,000 Methodist clergy have recently signed a pledge that if asked, they would perform a same-sex wedding. Many were in marriage-equality states New York and Connecticut.

And while performing a same-sex wedding remains “absolutely still a chargeable offense,” according to Folkerth, the church courts hearing the charges have differed in their response.

Creech said that each of those pastors could be charged.

“But do you want to spend all of the church’s resources on this?” he asked.

He said each one would have to be tried individually.

“Bishops will find a way to get around it,” he said.

Folkerth called it “open dissent against what is church law.”

He said that although this region is more conservative than some others, gays and lesbians are welcome not only at his church but a number of other Methodist churches in the area.
Celebration Community Church, 908 Pennsylvania Ave., Fort Worth. Oct. 31 at 7 p.m. Reception follows.
Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
Cathedral of Hope, 5910 Cedar Springs Road. Guest preacher at contemporary worship service, Nov. 2 at 7:15 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas