Methodists to Offer Marriage Celebrations to Same-Sex Families

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Oct 21, 2011

Nearly a thousand United Methodists are ready to defy their denomination and offer marriage ceremonies to same-sex couples in the name of love and family parity.

The membership of a Methodist group called the We Do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality issued a media release on Oct. 17 in which they declared their willingness to recognize and celebrate deep lifetime commitments between people of the same gender. The group includes members from New York and Connecticut, the release said. The marriage equality movement the group has committed itself to is called the We Do! Project.

"In an unprecedented move in any major religious denomination, We Do! is not only bypassing the formal rules of the church, but also reaching out directly to LGBT groups in New York and Connecticut to let them know about the new network," the media release said.

"This morning the group published a list of all its members: Clergy members who will perform weddings for gay couples, lay members of the denomination who support them, and congregations who have adopted policies to formally make weddings available to all couples," the release added.

"We refuse to discriminate against any of God's children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the New York Annual Conference, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression," read a statement by the group titled A Covenant of Conscience.

The statement was "signed by 164 clergy members, 732 lay people and six entire congregations," noted the release. "In all, 74 congregations within the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) are represented among the signers. NYAC is the regional church body representing United Methodist congregations from Long Island to the Catskills and in southern Connecticut."

"The recognition of the full humanity, sacred worth, and equal rights of gay and lesbian people is crucial to the civil rights struggle of our time," the Covenant of Conscience reads. "Gay, lesbian, and straight United Methodist laity and clergy are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

"The continuing denial of full access to all the rights and privileges of church membership in the United Methodist Church is causing deep spiritual harm to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and is a threat to us all," the Covenant's text continues.

"We cannot tolerate the Church's injustice and discrimination any longer and, out of our Christian faith and Wesleyan love, we feel bound to respond and together to make the following declaration:

"Pastoral care and the sacraments and rituals of the church are means of grace by which the lives of all Christians are blessed by God. Therefore we, as congregations and as individual laypersons and clergy, declare our commitment to offer such means of grace to all persons on an equal basis. We refuse to discriminate against any of God's children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the New York Annual Conference, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression," the Covenant of Conscience adds.

"My ordination vows require me to minister to all people in my congregation," said the Rev. Sara Lamar-Sterling, who serves at New Haven's First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven.

"This is about pastoral care, about welcoming all people, but especially the marginalized and the oppressed, like Jesus did," added Lamar-Sterling.

The release noted that pastors such as Lamar-Sterling had put their careers as United Methodist clergy on the line by signing on to the Covenant of Conscience and declaring themselves ready to officiate at same-sex weddings, which are legally valid in both New York and Connecticut.

"Over the years, many individual United Methodist clergy have defied the church's ban, but the We Do! Project marks the first time an organized network of clergy has done so, and done so with the support of many hundreds of lay members of the church," the release noted.

The release cited the denomination's Book of Discipline, which is "the rulebook that governs the country's third largest Christian denomination," quoting one relevant anti-gay passage in which the Book of Discipline declares, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

"It is one of several anti-gay provisions of the church, which since 1972 has declared 'the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,' " the media release said.

"The We Do! Project has been over a year in the making and has been followed by similar efforts in 11 other conferences within the UMC," added the release. "All told, over 1,000 clergy in 19 states and the District of Columbia have signed a pledge vowing to extend their ministry to all couples seeking the church's blessing for their relationships.

"The growing pastoral movement has caused a stir within the church and is expected to have reverberations at the upcoming General Conference," added the release. "The church General Conference meets quadrennially to revise the Discipline and the issue of LGBT exclusion has been hotly debated at each General Conference in the last 40 years," the release went on. "The next General Conference will be April 24 through May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Florida."

While some people of the cloth have stood up for the human and family rights of gays and lesbians and mounted theologically informed arguments against the Biblically-based anti-gay positions taken by many evangelicals, others have taken just as fiercely to the opposite point of view, denying that gays and lesbians are part of God's plan just as they are and claiming that it is contrary to God's will for gays and lesbians to form deep, long-lasting bonds that include a rich and rewarding family life.

Even as new books reconciling the sexuality of gays and lesbians with Christian doctrine, such as "Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics" by Jonathan Dudley and "God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality" by Jay Michaelson have come to the shelves, so have books that portray gays as suffering from some form of pathology. Some such tomes make the claim--contradicted by emerging science and by mental health experts--that homosexuality is either a "choice" or some form of dysfunction in which naturally heterosexual individuals only think that they are innately attracted to others of the same gender.

Next: Are Gays 'Broken?' Do They Need 'Repair?'


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