|Western Jurisdiction challenges homosexuality stance|
The United Methodist Western Jurisdictional Conference convenes in Portland, Ore. UMNS photos by Linda Sullivan.
By Marta W. Aldrich*
July 22, 2008 | PORTLAND, Ore. (UMNS)
Challenging the United Methodist stance on homosexuality, the church’s Western Jurisdictional Conference approved four statements aimed at changing denominational policies and beliefs on human sexuality.
With no debate, the legislative assembly voted July 18 in favor
of resolutions that presenters said will serve as "a witness to the
One resolution celebrated a May 15 ruling by the California
Supreme Court clearing the way for gay marriages, which began in that
state June 16. It states, in part, that the conference supports
"same-gender couples who enter into the marriage covenant and
encourage(s) both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace and
provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families."
Another asks that church leaders look for "creative ways" to
"be in full ministry with all who come to us" and declares an intention
not to penalize clergy or churches "for being agents of this ministry in
A third resolution challenges decisions last April by General
Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, that kept intact
the church’s position that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian
"We stand with our gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender brothers
and sisters, both lay and clergy, who have been shunned by The United
Methodist Church in polity and deed," the resolution states. "… As a
welcoming and reconciling jurisdiction, we will take steps of inclusion
in the sacred trust of marriage, ordination and leadership roles for
A fourth resolution affirms a statement approved by the human
sexuality subcommittee of General Conference. That statement, which was
not approved by the churchwide assembly, says United Methodists and
other Christians "have struggled to find principles for applying
traditional teachings to contemporary understandings of human
sexuality." The resolution encourages "the medical, theological and
social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to
understand human sexuality more completely."
As the only body that speaks for the entire church, General
Conference affirmed its stance while holding that all people are
"individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God." Meeting in
Forth Worth, Texas,
the denominational assembly also retained statements asking "families
and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and
General Conference represents a worldwide denomination of 11.5
million people. Of those, 390,000 United Methodists are in the Western
Jurisdiction, which covers the Western United States and some U.S. territories in the Pacific.
Pushing for change
In the wake of the California
high court's ruling, the Western Jurisdiction’s resolutions followed
others passed in June by the California-Pacific and California-Nevada
Annual (regional) Conferences. Those resolutions include support of
United Methodist clergy who choose to perform same-sex marriages,
including one that lists and commends 82 retired clergy who have offered
to perform such ceremonies.
The Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, meeting during the
same week as the Western, voiced support for those clergy as well.
In a ruling of law issued earlier in July, Bishop Beverly J.
Shamana said California-Nevada's statement commending those pastors was
"void and of no effect." Her ruling said the conference does not have
the power to offer clergy services that could be chargeable offenses
under church law, which prohibits United Methodist pastors and churches
from conducting ceremonies celebrating homosexual unions.
A minority in the church
Leaders of the Western Jurisdictional Conference and its annual
conferences have become increasingly vocal about including and
affirming people of diverse sexual orientations in the life and
sacraments of the church.
Bishop Mary Ann Swenson presides over one session of the legislative gathering.
"As the population has grown in the Western Jurisdiction,
people have increasingly come to know more and more people in our
Christian community who are gay and lesbian people, and so there is a
desire … to be a home for all of God’s people," Bishop Mary Ann Swenson told United Methodist News Service.
"It’s been a growing vision over time, and the majority of people in our leadership would wish for the Book of Discipline
and the denomination’s position to change," said Swenson, of the
church’s Los Angeles Area. "But the majority of people in our
jurisdiction are a minority of people for the whole church."
Leah Gallardo Switzer, one of two jurisdictional delegates to
vote against the four resolutions, said she represents "that silent
voice in the California-Pacific Conference" that sides with the
"I believe everyone is welcome at God’s table," said Switzer.
"My issue is marriage. I believe marriage is a sacrament that God
intended for a man and a woman. At the same time, I believe there are
many more important issues, such as poverty and human trafficking, that
God is calling us to address. These are the things I’d like to see us
spending more of our energy speaking to."
*Aldrich is news editor of United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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