A UMNS Report by Sam Hodges
The council of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church in Cambridge, Mass., has approved a “Marriage Equality Statement” saying that the church’s building is available for same-sex weddings and the congregation will support its pastor, the Rev. Scott Campbell, if he performs such services there.
The United Methodist Church officially holds that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Church law also forbids United Methodist pastors from officiating at same-sex unions and says such services “shall not be conducted in our churches.”
John Regier, the church council member who drafted the statement, noted that Harvard-Epworth has long supported same-sex marriage and that Campbell has been a leader in trying to change church law regarding homosexuality.
“We finally got to the point that we were not prepared to wait for the (church) law to change, and we wanted to express who we are as a congregation,” Regier said. “Ultimately it’s up to the pastor to decide what religious services take place in a church. We wanted this pastor and any future pastor to know that we were supportive of same-sex marriage.”
The council’s unanimous vote came at a meeting Monday, Oct. 21. All church members were invited to attend and join in discussion before the vote.
Massachusetts has allowed same-sex marriage since 2004.
Campbell said there have been no same-sex weddings at Harvard-Epworth, and none is scheduled. But he said he is willing
to conduct such weddings there.
Campbell said a copy of the statement, with an explanatory letter, is on its way to Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of the New England (annual) Regional Conference.
Devadhar said, “I am aware of the letter and its content. At this time, it appears that the letter describes a future intent, and no specific event has been reported. When matters like this come to my desk they are addressed on a case-by-case basis, and as a temporal and spiritual leader of the church, I am committed to dealing with such matters theologically and pastorally.”
Campbell said he’s unaware of any sanction the congregation could face if the church building is used for a same-sex wedding.
“The obvious sanction would be that the bishop would have the right to remove a pastor from an appointment if an action that were deemed contrary to the polity of the church were to take place,” he said.
The Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus in the United Methodist Church that seeks to change church law regarding homosexuality, said 16 United Methodist churches are on its “Altar for All” list.
Fourteen have pledged a willingness to have same-sex ceremonies in their buildings, and two have decided not to hold any weddings as a protest of state laws prohibiting same-sex weddings.
Many weigh in as church sees escalating struggle over homosexuality
A UMNS Report by Sam Hodges
The United Methodist Church’s long controversy over homosexuality has intensified of late, because of a retired bishop’s decision to perform a same-sex wedding; a pastor’s imminent church trial for having performed such a ceremony and a planned protest from clergy colleagues sympathetic to that pastor; and the General Council on Finance and Administration’s decision to extend benefits to same-sex spouses and domestic partners who work for general church agencies.
With news of these developments have come statements and commentary from across the church, reflecting a range of views.
Bishop Melvin Talbert’s decision to go against church law by performing a same-sex wedding in Birmingham, Ala., this Saturday, Oct. 26, prompted the most reaction.
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett, of the North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference, issued a statement, explaining her request to Talbert that he not follow through. The Council of Bishops executive committee issued its own statement asking that Talbert refrain.
But retired Bishop Mary Ann Swenson dissented and offered strong support for Talbert through a letter posted on the web site of Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus that works to change church law on homosexuality.
The men Talbert is to marry in Birmingham, Bobby Prince and Joe Openshaw, issued their own response to the Council of Bishops executive committee’s statement, as did the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
The Rev. Rob Renfro, president of Good News, an unofficial caucus that supports church law in this regard, wrote in support of Wallace-Padgett and criticized the Council of Bishops for not speaking out. His piece was posted before the Council of Bishops executive committee issued its statement.
Bishop Bill McAlilly of the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences offered support for the executive committee’s statement and Bishop Mike Coyner of the Indiana Conference commented on both the Talbert controversy and the decision by the General Council of Finance Administration (of which he’s president) to extend benefits to same-sex spouses or domestic partners employed by general church agencies.
The Rev. John Meunier used his blog for a post titled Why I Cannot Applaud Bishop Talbert, and the Rev. Tim McClendon, a district superintendent in the South Carolina Conference, posted that the Talbert episode raises questions that the United Methodist Church must answer if it’s to hold together.
Photo Credit: A picture of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church’s tower by Flickr User, Elizabeth Thomsen, some rights reserved.