Assembly also honors ecumenical leaders, elects Judicial Council members
May 4, 2004
By Linda Bloom
(UMNS) — In vote after vote May 4, delegates to the United Methodist
General Conference retained the denomination’s current positions on
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.
The Rev. Eddie Fox watches General Conference vote on Paragraph 161G.
delegates voted to alter slightly the language in Paragraph 161.G of
the church’s Social Principles, they still affirmed that homosexual
practice is incompatible with Christian teaching and rejected a proposed
additional sentence to the paragraph that would have read, “We
recognize that Christians disagree on the compatibility of homosexual
practice with Christian teaching.” A clause was added that United
Methodists “will seek to live together in Christian community.”
Rev. Eddie Fox of Nashville, Tenn., said in a press conference after
the 579-376 vote that if the church had not retained the language of
Paragraph 161.G, “serious consequences could have happened (and) a
possible hemorrhage could have occurred.”
the Rev. James Preston of Rockford, Ill., declared that “hemorrhaging
has already occurred.” The church did not speak the truth about itself
and had a “healing option” but chose not to use it, he said.
delegates made a few minor adjustments, prohibitions against the
ordained ministry of self-avowed practicing homosexuals were upheld. The
language in the 2004 United Methodist Book of Discipline will now read:
“The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.
Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as
candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the United
much debate, delegates defeated a minority report that would have given
each annual or central conference — regional units of the church — the
responsibility of determining how each will approach homosexuality as it
relates to a person’s fitness for ministry.
to adjust language in Paragraph 162H, which deals with equal rights
regardless of sexual orientation, were defeated by 2-1 margins. One
defeated petition suggested the addition of a sentence supporting the
right of same-gender couples to the same protections and benefits as
married couples. Another petition would have added a sentence opposing
“heterosexism in all its forms.”
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
Supporters of homosexuals mourn after General Conference vote.
to the equal rights issue, Tom Wilson, a lay delegate from the Pacific
Northwest Annual (regional) Conference, voiced concern about the
treatment of gays and lesbians by the denomination. “How much longer are
we going to slam our church doors on them because of who they love?”
asked the married father of three. “We need these people to share their
stories in our homes, our churches and, yes, our pulpits.”
the barring of gays from the pulpit was reaffirmed once again by the
Judicial Council. On May 4, the church’s highest court ruled that a
bishop may not appoint a pastor who has been found by a trial court to
be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
decision came after the council was asked by delegates for rulings on
the application of the Book of Discipline on the ruling of the clergy
trial court in the Karen Dammann case and the “meaning, application and
effect of Paragraph 304.3” regarding appointments.
a clergy member of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, was found
not guilty in March of the charge of engaging in “practices incompatible
with Christian teaching,” even though the trial jury found she openly
admitted to be a practicing homosexual.
Council did decide it had no authority to review the outcome of the
Dammann trial. The council also stated that while a bishop may not
appoint a clergy person who has been found by a trial court to be a
self-avowed practicing homosexual, “it is up to the trial court to make
that determination,” the ruling continued.
Seven of nine council members issued both dissenting and concurring opinions regarding the May 4 rulings.
a 497-418 vote, delegates approved legislation prohibiting promotion of
the acceptance of homosexuality and added a new section to the
responsibilities of the Conference Council on Ministries in the Book of
to ensure that no annual conference group gives church money to promote
the acceptance of homosexuality, the delegates gave conference
treasurers and councils on finance the authority to stop such
transactions. The only exceptions to the rule are for ministries
addressing HIV/AIDS or educational events where the church’s official
position on homosexuality is evident.
A UMNS photo by John C. Goodwin.
Rev. John H. Collins (left) prays silently for a change in the church’s
stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with
the May 4 actions were taken by General Conference, more than 200
United Methodists braved the near-freezing temperatures of early morning
to kneel or stand in prayer in front of the David L. Lawrence
Convention Center in silent witness to their desire for inclusiveness.
here this morning trusting in God’s spirit to work,” said Bishop Susan
Morrison of the Albany (N.Y.) Area. “Prayer is the way to tune into the
spirit. How could I be anywhere else?”
Laurie of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial advocacy
group, noted that the prohibition against ordination was not the only
way to exclude. “Many times the church says, ‘Welcome, our doors are
open,’ but lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know when
people don’t want their family photos in the church directory, or their
flowers on the piano, or them teaching Sunday School.”
day was not entirely consumed by legislation about sexual orientation. A
morning “Service of Christian Unity” was held before a wide array of
ecumenical guests, and two United Methodists were recognized for their
contributions to ecumenical relations.
Rev. Bruce Robbins, who served as chief executive of the United
Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns,
received an award for ecumenical witness from the denomination’s Council
of Bishops. A certificate of appreciation was presented by the
Commission on Christian Unity to the Rev. Robert Edgar for his work in
restoring “vitality and visibility” to the National Council of Churches
during the past four years.
his sermon during the worship service, Bishop McKinley Young of the
African Methodist Episcopal Church told delegates that God is calling
the churches “to do together what we cannot do apart.”
–– a prominent leader in the National Council of Churches, World
Council of Churches and World Methodist Council –– reminded the
gathering that the ecumenical movement has a collective commitment to
society. “We, as the church, must not become the hands of government but
must remain the conscience of government,” he said.
other business, delegates elected two lay and two clergy members to
eight-year terms on the nine-member Judicial Council. The election had
been delayed one day because of difficulties with electronic voting
elected and their annual conferences are Jon Gray, Missouri, and Beth
Capen, New York, as lay members, and the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, South
Carolina, and the Rev. Dennis Blackwell, Greater New Jersey, as clergy
So many people have been interested in the actions of General Conference that its official Web site, www.gc2004.org,
has been overwhelmed with hits. On May 3, a record 1,875 people
simultaneously visited the site, a number that is expected to increase
before the meeting’s May 7 adjournment. Staff of United Methodist
Communications has added capacity to accommodate the anticipated usage.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7.After May 10: (615) 742-5470.