Creech advocates for LGBT rights

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

Creech-11-Author-Photo-by-Natalia-Weedy

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

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) votes to allow openly lesbian, gay pastors to be ordained

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted tonight to amend the denomination’s Book of Order in a move that clears the way for the church to begin ordaining non-celibate lesbian and gay clergy, deacons and elders, according to a number of online reports, including this one from Reuters.

Michael Adee

The denomination’s General Assembly voted last summer to amend the Book of Order by removing a requirement that clergy live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” But the change had to be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 173 regional presbyteries, and the 87th and deciding vote was cast tonight by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Presbytery.

Ratification comes at the end of a long battle, including a vote just two years ago refusing the amendment. However, by the time the Minneapolis-St. Paul Presbytery voted tonight, 19 of the regions that voted against the change two years ago had already voted in favor of the amendment this time around.

Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians which has been pushing for the change for several years, on Tuesday told The Huffington Post, “This is quite a day of celebration. We’ve restored the longstanding Presbyterian understanding of ordination: that the most important qualifications are related to faith, not marital status or sexuality.”

—  admin

Church court upholds 3 of 4 charges against Spahr — but not because they wanted to

The Rev. Jane Spahr

The Permanent Judiciary Committee of the Presbytery of the Redwoods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has released its verdict in the church trial of lesbian minister the Rev. Jane Spahr who had been charged with performing same-sex marriages in violation of the denomination’s Book of Order. The committee voted to uphold three of the four charges against Spahr and to censure her by rebuking, adding that she is “enjoined to avoid such offenses in the future.”

The rebuke and injunction, however, will not be imposed until the final determination in the event that Spahr chooses to appeal the ruling.

In a statement released after the committee’s verdict was announced, Spahr said: “I’m sad for my  church. Think about the mixed-messages they are sending the faithful lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters in our community. Think about the mixed-messages they are sending to the next generation who overwhelmingly embrace God’s amazing hospitality and welcome. A great injustice has been done today.”

The committee voted 4-2 to uphold the charge that Spahr did refer to the same-sex weddings she performed during the five months such unions were legal in California as marriages in violation of church doctrine that declares “…officers  of  the  PCUSA  authorized  to  perform  marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same-sex  ceremony is a marriage.”

The committee also upheld, on votes of 4-2, that Spahr “persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience” by performing 15 same-sex marriages during the time those marriages were legal in California, and that the minister “failed to be governed by the polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in violation of [her] ordination vows.”

The committee, however, voted 6-0 not to sustain the charge that Spahr “failed to uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church” by “intentionally and repeatedly acting in violation of the Book of Order.”

Even in voting to sustain three of the charges against Spahr, the committee appeared to be siding with Spahr to some degree, almost seeming to say that even though she violated the Book of Order, Spahr did the right thing. In other words, the committee seems to say, quite plainly, that they had to uphold the charges because Spahr clearly violated certain sections of the Book of Order, but that they believe that Spahr is right and that the Book of Order is, at least in some cases, wrong.

You can download the full text of the decision in PDF form at RedwoodsPresbytery.org (look under the “Announcements” section on the home page),but here is the part I was describing:

“The Permanent Judicial Commission, in sustaining the first three charges, recognizes that while the Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr has indeed performed these marriages, which were and continue to be legal marriages, she did so acting with faithful compassion in accord with W­7.3004. These marriages were legal in the state of California, being civil contracts (W­4.9001), and are different from same-sex ceremonies. The testimonies of those at court clearly demonstrated this difference.

“We commend Dr. Spahr and give thanks for her prophetic ministry that for 35 years has extended support to ‘people who seek the dignity, freedom and respect that they have been denied’” (W­7.4002c), and has sought to redress ‘wrongs against individuals, groups, and peoples in the church, in this nation, and in the world’ ( W­7.4002h).

“In addition, we call upon the church to re­examine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (G­3.0401c) We say this believing that we have in our own Book of Order conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the Gospel.”

Later on in the ruling the committee members note although they had to find that Spahr had repeatedly violated the Book of Order and her ordination vows, they also believe that she “has also followed the Book of Order by remembering that our confessions and church is subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him.”

And they said that they refused to uphold the charge that Spahr failed to “uphold the peace, unity and purity of the church” because they believe that she should instead be commended for “helping us realize that peace without justice is no peace.”

AND, the committee members expressly asked forgiveness of the same-sex married couples “for the harm that has been and continues to be done to them in the name of Jesus Christ,” urging the Synod and General Assembly levels of the Presbyterian Church to “do what needs to be done to move us as a church forward on this journey of reconciliation.”

—  admin