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Almost daily, evidence mounts of defiant United Methodist clergy breaking church law on behalf of gays and lesbians as the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination struggles with what may be its most vexing rebellion in decades.
- A retired seminary president, the Rev. William McElvaney, said Sunday (Jan. 19) that he is willing to officiate at same-sex weddings. The 85-year-old former president of St. Paul School of Theology made the announcement at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas. He called church trials “the Methodist version of inquisition in the 20th and 21st centuries.”
- After the Jan. 14 federal ruling striking down a gay marriage ban in Oklahoma, a group of Methodists favoring same-sex marriage took out ads in the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman praising the ruling and inviting people to Methodist churches.
- Every week, another Methodist minister “comes out” and acknowledges performing a same-sex wedding on the website of the New York-based Methodists in New Directions. So far, 14 clergy have made such disclosures; none has faced a church complaint, said Dorothee Benz, MIND spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, Frank Schaefer, the former Pennsylvania pastor stripped of his clergy credentials after presiding at a same-sex ceremony, continues to receive emotional and financial support. A collection organized by Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., raised more than $30,000 for Schaefer.
The ongoing crisis over gays is embarrassing to the denomination, says a Southern California bishop who offered Schaefer a job working in her conference.
“The defrocking of Frank Schaefer brought great shame to our denomination and much pain to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” said Bishop Minerva G. Carcano of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.
“It saddens me and many others that we continue to use trials as a way of addressing this. It does not look good at all,” she said.
She sees the growing movement challenging church policy as a turning point.
“People are stepping up and expressing what they feel in ways I have not seen before,” she said. “It is a moment of real possibility for change in the church.”
Carcano’s comments follow the Jan. 17 news that a second United Methodist pastor faces a church trial for officiating at the wedding of his son to another man. The Rev. Thomas Ogletree, 80, retired pastor and former Yale Divinity School dean, faces a March 19 trial in Stamford, Conn.
United Methodist law since 1972 has defined marriage as between a man and a woman. It bans clergy from performing and churches from hosting same-sex ceremonies.
Carcano said Schaefer met with her and her Cabinet on Jan. 12 to discuss his potential hire in California, but no decision has been made.
The Rev. Bill Bouknight, associate director of the Confessing Movement, an evangelical group, said church trials are necessary to hold clergy accountable.
“The developments sadden us because they are clearly contrary to Scripture and to doctrines of the United Methodist Church,” said Bouknight, a retired pastor who lives in Columbia, S.C.
Bishop Melvin Talbert, the only bishop known to have presided at a same-sex marriage, said the number of people challenging what he considers unjust church law encourages him.
“Biblical obedience means we decide to do the right thing no matter what,” he said.
Several other clergy are likely to face church trials soon.