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Bishop urges leadership on homosexuality issue



By Linda Green*


A retired United Methodist bishop told colleagues that any plan that could address the issue of homosexuality in the denomination would "be superior to prudent silence."


 Bishop Jack Tuell

Bishop Jack Tuell of Des Moines, Wash., urged the Council of Bishops to exercise leadership on the divisive and emotionally charged issue.


Tuell offered his comments to the council May 3 after an episcopal committee voted to table a recommendation to change the church's stance on homosexuality. The denomination's Book of Discipline says the church "does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider(s) this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

A council subcommittee had recommended replacing that proscription with language that the church does not condone sexual relationships between people of heterosexual or homosexual orientation "outside the bonds of a faithful, loving and committed relationship between two persons; marriage, where legally possible."

But the full administrative committee voted May 1 to table the recommendation, and it never formally went before the Council of Bishops.
Had the council approved the recommendation to amend Paragraph 161G of the Book of Discipline, the proposal would have gone before a legislative committee of the 2008 General Conference for action before being considered by the 1,000 worldwide delegates at the April 23-May 2, 2008, gathering in Fort Worth, Texas. The General Conference is the only entity that speaks for The United Methodist Church.

The bishops - 68 active and 59 retired - gathered outside Myrtle Beach April 29-May 4 for their semi-annual meeting to focus on their role in the growing denomination and the nature of the church. Among other things, they explored the possibility of ending lifetime terms for bishops and limiting them instead to either eight or 12 years, with an option for re-election. Currently, upon retirement, bishops retain voice but no vote on the council.



 Bishop Robert Hayes

Oklahoma Bishop Robert Hayes, who is secretary of the administrative committee, said advancing the recommendation on homosexuality would have "proven to be divisive and counterproductive to the unity that currently exists in the Council of Bishops and to the church today."

He said the committee discussed the proposal at length, but did not act "because it would not have been for the betterment of the church at this time."

Tuell told the bishops and guests that while he understood and respected the committee's action, he believed the Council of Bishops should give leadership to the church on the debate. He said there should be a better way to "express the mind of our United Methodist church than the language we have at present."

The proposal states disapproval of sex between unmarried people, "whether practiced by heterosexual persons or homosexual persons," and says the denomination's incompatibility clause, adopted in 1972, "is based on highly questionable theology and biblical understanding and causes profound hurt to thousands of loyal United Methodist members and potential members."

Tuell said the council is "somewhat immobilized these days on some of these issues that are really facing our church that are big issues" and hoped "we will find the ways more intentionally to be about the business of giving leadership in this area."

While acknowledging that he did not have suggestions on the "right way to give leadership," Tuell said he believes "that almost any thoughtful plan of leadership would be superior to prudent silence."

Following Tuell's comments, the bishops moved without comment to other issues.

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


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The denomination's position on homosexuality

Council of Bishops

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