WASHINGTON (RNS) Facing a wave of open defiance to church law, the top court of the United Methodist Church is set to consider rulings challenging church teaching on homosexuality.

Delegate Jo Ann Carlotto (second from left) of the New England Conference wipes her eyes with a rainbow stole after delegates voted to maintain the United Methodist Church's stance on sexuality during the denomination's at 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Delegate Jo Ann Carlotto (second from left) of the New England Conference wipes her eyes with a rainbow stole after delegates voted to maintain the United Methodist Church’s stance on sexuality during the denomination’s at 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The United Methodist Judicial Council will decide whether church ministries can advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality, whether ministers can officiate at same-sex ceremonies and whether a regional conference can urge members to ignore portions of Methodist law.

The rulings made by regional conferences are among 17 items the court will consider at its Oct. 23-26 meeting in Baltimore.

The United Methodist Church has repeatedly voted to retain language in its constitution, the Book of Discipline, that says “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and  that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are not allowed to serve as clergy.

In addition, the church explicitly says that churches may not host, and ministers may not celebrate, “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”

Multiple regional conferences called for greater acceptance of gay couples during the recent conference season, saying the church’s current teachings are unjust and ought to be ignored.

The Judicial Council hearings come as at least four United Methodist ministers — including the former dean of Yale Divinity School — are facing trial for officiating at same-sex weddings, and more than 1,500 clergy have signed a statement offering to marry gay couples.

The court has no power to change existing church policy — only the quadrennial General Conference can do that — but it can set boundaries on how far clergy and congregations can go in adhering to current policy.

Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president of Good News, a conservative group within the United Methodist Church, said he believes the high court will maintain church doctrine and that accepting the resolutions would entirely undermine church law.

The Rev. Kathryn Johnson performs a wedding ceremony between David Shumate and Andy Ragland.

The Rev. Kathryn Johnson performs a wedding ceremony between David Shumate and Andy Ragland. Photo courtesy Andy Oliver/Kathryn Johnson

This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“What is concerning to us at this point is that so many people are attempting to essentially disregard our church’s position,” Lambrecht said. “If people are putting themselves forward as United Methodist clergy and bishops and are not willing to abide by United Methodist policies, that seems to us to be somewhat dishonest and reflects moral confusion . . .  How can you claim to be a United Methodist and take actions that are contrary to that?”

The regional council rulings say the inconsistencies are instead within the Book of Discipline, which calls Methodists to minster to all people yet bans clergy from officiating at same-sex ceremonies, said Matt Berryman, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, an independent United Methodist group that advocates full inclusion of gay people.

Berryman said the rulings coming before the Judicial Council could be beneficial because they will further the conversation about the church’s response to gay people.

“We have to look at the tension between what’s in the Discipline and the reality of what’s going on,” Berryman said. “We have to decide what it means to love God and love our neighbor. And that’s not always clear, given the deep ambiguities in the Scripture.”

Also among the items to be considered is a review of the decision to remove a lesbian woman from the ordination process. Mary Ann Barclay (formerly Mary Ann Kaiser, before her August wedding to another woman) had been recommended for ordination by her district committee. She is appealing a decision by Southwest Texas Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry to remove her from the process without interviewing her.


        • In the past, Frank has claimed there’s no such word, now he says…

          Thanks for confirming your malicious intent, Frank. Shame on you. what did the United Methodist Church ever do to hurt you?

          • Actually, Carrott Cake…we’re all supposed to be God’s “spokespersons”. What we’re not supposed to do, is twist His word to fit our cultural trends. God is the same. He hasn’t changed. We don’t put words in His mouth…we simply repeat and deliver the message He has clearly spelled out already. So, FRANK, thanks for being a “spokesperson” for God!

      • Just because someone disagrees with a behavior does not make one “phobic” about it.

        Your comment is an example of the common rhetoric today to define the issue in such a way with hyperbolic language to initiate an emotional response favoring your personal way of viewing the issue while attacking those who who disagree as not worth listening to because they have a mental issue that leads them to be “phobic” on this issue.

        In this case what Peter says about Paul may say more about Peter than Paul.

        Is it possible your self-concept is so fragile it is threatened by people who disagree with you?

    • Actually Frank, outside of the US where it is more conservative the UMC is growing and thriving..only in the liberal annual conferences like Baltimore Maryland, Californiia Nevada, Iowa, and New England is the UMC is serious decline

  1. The major Christian, Jewish and other denominations that are marrying same gender couples now are being denied their right to practice their religion freely in 37 US States. These denominations will marry same gender couples in 14 US States and the District of Columbia:

    Affirming Pentecostal Church International
    Alliance of Christian Churches
    The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists
    Conservative Judaism
    Disciples Of Christ
    The Episcopal Church
    Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
    Global Alliance of Affirming Apostolic Pentecostals
    Metropolitan Community Church
    Reconstructionist Judaism
    Reform Judaism
    Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
    Unitarian Universalist Church
    United Church of Christ

    • It troubles me too. What everyone forgets when all this language like “love, acceptance, reform, etc” gets thrown around is that everyone who truly meets Christ is always changed when they do. No exceptions. No one who meets Christ is EVER the same from that moment on. What we are doing is changing up things so that “everyone is accepted” “everyone is loved”. And no one ever gets their toes stepped on, or feels uncomfortable. PEOPLE—-if you go to a church and NEVER get your toes stepped on, or NEVER feel you have been preached at to the point of conviction about something in your life, you are going to the wrong church. This is my opinion. The TRANSFORMATION you speak of, is the person who comes to Christ. Not the denomination transforming to meet the people. At least that’s how it should be. Instead, anyone who is not on board with these changes gets made out to be a “bigot”, “prejudice”, “hater”, “homophobic”. It’s really said….because actually that’s rarely the case at all in a true Christian church. Denying the right to be ordained and serve as clergy is not “hating” anymore than denying someone for not meeting other requirements set forth.

  2. If you don’t like the rules, you should change them, not violate them or abuse them. It is a morality question. How can a minister teach morals and then violate willfully the code or law?

  3. If Christian grace and love are just 100% acceptance and endorsement of human behaviors (even if the Bible says something that indicates such behavior is not healthy according to how God created people) how is the Christian message anything unique to the humanist message.

    Why would we need Jesus?
    Was Jesus just a really good humanist?
    Is the cross irrelevant?
    Is sin irrelevant?
    Is the Bible irrelevant if it says something we don’t like, don’t agree with, or it judges my behavior?

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