Consultation will study impact of 2 church court rulings
Oct. 12, 2006
By Vicki Brown*
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — A United Methodist agency is sponsoring a
February consultation to study rulings by the denomination’s highest
court in the case of a pastor who blocked a homosexual man from church
The United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry will gather
a diverse group of bishops, seminary professors and pastors to probe
the implications of Judicial Council decisions that upheld the right of
the Rev. Ed Johnson, pastor of South Hill (Va.) United Methodist Church,
to deny membership to a practicing gay man.
The Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top staff executive of the Nashville
agency, said the heated debate across the denomination in the wake of
the council's decisions highlights the need for focused, careful and
deep-running dialogue about the theological, ecclesial and pastoral
implications of the council's action.
"What is needed now is less emotional heat and more theological light," Del Pino said.
Johnson was placed on involuntary leave in 2005 by his clergy peers in
the Virginia Annual (regional) Conference after he blocked a practicing
gay man from taking membership vows in the church. Bishop Charlene P.
Kammerer upheld the action, but at the Judicial Council's fall meeting
last year, the court found in favor of Johnson and reinstated him.
The Rev. Ed Johnson
In Decision 1031, the Judicial Council ruled that Johnson's due process
rights were violated when the conference transformed an administrative
complaint against him into a judicial complaint. And in Decision 1032,
the council ruled that the pastor in charge of a local church has the
authority to determine a person’s readiness for membership. The council
rejected appeals to reconsider those decisions.
Working group participants
Hendrik Pieterse, director of scholarly research and book editor, is
organizing the Feb. 15-16 consultation, to be held at the Learning
Center at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship in Nashville.
Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker of the Florida Annual Conference and retired
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert of Brentwood, Tenn., have agreed to take part
in the discussion.
Bishop Timothy Whitaker
Other participants will include scholars William Abraham, Perkins School
of Theology, Dallas; Leicester Longden, University of Dubuque (Iowa)
Theological Seminary; Rex D. Matthews, Candler School of Theology, Emory
University, Atlanta; and Elaine Robinson, Brite Divinity School, Texas
Christian University, Fort Worth.
The working group will also include Cheryl Jefferson Bell, a district
superintendent from the Kansas West Annual (regional) Conference, as
well as pastors Sandra Cabrera of Dallas, Mark Horst of Stillwater,
Minn., Martin D. McLee of Boston, and Melissa Meyers of Sheridan, Ill.
In addition, several staff members of the Board of Higher Education and
Ministry will be part of the working group.
"The issue of
homosexuality is important in its own right and merits ongoing,
thoughtful analysis, but this consultation is not a referendum on
homosexuality," Pieterse said. "Instead, our aim is to offer a space for
careful reflection on a set of theological issues raised by the
council's decision that can have far-reaching implications for how
United Methodists understand the meaning of membership, the nature of
the church and the integrity of the church's appointed leadership."
"Our hope in gathering a theologically diverse group of church leaders
in Nashville next February is not only for much-needed theological
clarity on the issues but also for a shared theological framework that
can guide United Methodists across the globe as they engage these issues
in their places of ministry," Pieterse said.
Bishop Melvin G. Talbert
After the group considers papers dealing with the theological
implications of the rulings, the members will attempt to craft a
statement outlining the results of their deliberation. The statement may
include points of disagreement or agreement, agreed-upon insights or
conclusions, as well as any desire for further dialogue.
"Regardless of which side of the debate one takes, it is clear that the
Judicial Council's actions will have fundamental implications for the
nature and practice of leadership in the United Methodist Church in the
future," Del Pino said. "As the agency overseeing the church's licensed
and ordained leadership, (the board) is pleased to offer a hospitable
space in which these issues can be debated in the best spirit of
*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of
Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
News media contact: Linda Green or Tim Tanton, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.