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United Methodist Church & homosexuality:

Trials: Rose Mary Denman & Jimmy Creech

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Jimmy Creech

Quotation:

bullet"If I am found guilty by a trial court, then the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church is in conflict with the Gospel. It is arrogance on the part of the church to elevate some people's relationship with God, while denigrating that of others on the basis of innate sexuality." Jimmy Creech, 1999-NOV, on the eve of his trial for conducting a same-sex union ceremony. He was found guilty.

The Rev. Rose Mary Denman's trial:

Rev. Denman, a pastor in the former New Hampshire Annual Conference disclosed to her bishop in 1987 that she was a lesbian. Charges were filed against her, and she was given her choice of three alternatives:

bulletwithdrawing from the ministry under complaint,
bulletbeing involuntarily terminated, or
bulletgoing to trial.

She chose the third alternative, because it would raise public consciousness on gays and lesbians in the ministry in advance of the 1988 General Conference. She was found guilty of violating Par. 304.3 of the church's Book of Discipline, This paragraph had been passed by the 1984 General Conference as a type of "don't ask, don't tell" procedure. Only sexually active gays and lesbians who openly reveal their sexual orientation are prevented from serving as ministers.

According to a person at the United Methodist News Service, Rev. Denman "lost her UM credentials and transferred to another denomination --- MCC [Metropolitan Community Church] church as I recall."

The Rev. Jimmy Creech's charges and trials:

The Rev. Jimmy Creech the highest-profile UMC minister to challenge the denomination's rules concerning same-sex unions.

bullet1997-SEP: Covenanting service: Rev. Jimmy Creech, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church, Omaha, NE., announced on 1997-SEP-12 that he was planning to conduct a covenanting service for a lesbian couple during the week of 1997-SEP-14.

He said "I am doing this as part of my understanding of the Church, of Jesus, and what all people need to do...I cannot imagine as a pastor saying 'no' to two people who say they want to make a commitment to each other in the context of their faith...For me, gay or lesbian people who are saying, 'we have a right to be here,' are challenging us to a broader and deeper understanding of what it means to be the church ... the body of Jesus Christ in ministry to all people." He had conducted many similar services of union in the past seven years, but this was the first since the 1996 addition to the Book of Discipline which specifically banned "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.." 1

The service of union was held on Sunday, 1997-SEP-14. Rev. Creech commented afterwards: "It was a very simple and very meaningful service attended by 30 to 50 family members and friends. It was a very intimate and worshipful experience."

bullet1997-FALL: Reactions to the service: Joel N. Martinez, bishop of the Nebraska Area said he had counseled Creech that "to proceed with the ceremony would place him in noncompliance with the United Methodist Discipline and in conflict with previous church rulings." In a written statement, the bishop had warned that if the ceremony proceeded, that Rev. Creech "could anticipate a written complaint against him in accordance with Paragraph 358 of the church's Book of Discipline." That section relates to complaints about "performance or character of a clergy person ... claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties." It would initiate a review process as defined elsewhere in Par. 358.

The other ministers at the Omaha church, the chairpersons of the administrative council and the board of trustees publicly expressed their support for Rev. Creech. Some members allegedly organized to attempt to fire Rev. Creech. Some members left the congregation; others have withdrawn financial support.

Bishop Joel Martinez. temporarily suspended Rev. Creech in 1997-NOV.  Creech continued to receive his salary, housing and benefits, but was required to withdraw from all pastoral duties until an investigation was concluded. Rev. Creech responded: "I'm really sad to be separated from the congregation. With Christmas and Thanksgiving here, its an awful time to be away...It denies me, as a pastor, the right to give pastoral support to Gay and Lesbian couples...And it also denies the couples the right to celebrate the commitments to one another in terms of their faith."

bullet1998-JAN: The charge of disobedience: On 1998-JAN-23, the Committee on Investigation of the Nebraska Annual Conference referred the complaint to a church trial. Senior pastor, Jimmy Creech was charged by the Nebraska Conference with violating the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church by performing a same sex union. The specific charge was that he acted in "disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church." Rev. Creech contended that the code of social principles which prohibits "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual union" are guidelines for pastors, not rules. This was the first time in the history of the church that a pastor was tried for a violation of the principles. The trial in part, determined the status of the church's code.

Rev. Creech responded to the judicial charge, welcoming the trial "as an opportunity  to both make my case and to challenge the unjust position of the United Methodist Church regarding lesbians and gay men." 2 He stated that: "It is my hope that when the final verdict has been determined, the Social Principles will be affirmed as 'advisory and persuasive' and that there will be greater openness, acceptance and justice for gay men and lesbians in the United Methodist Church. I contend that I have not acted in disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church, but, after 'prayerful, studied dialogue of faith and practice,' have acted in a way consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and with my calling as a pastor in The United Methodist Church."

He stated: "...it is my belief that the position taken by The United Methodist Church regarding same-sex unions, as well as that regarding 'the practice' of homosexuality, is wrong, unjust, discriminatory and inconsistent with the spirit of Christ and our Wesleyan and Methodist traditions. As a pastor, I could not in good conscience say "no" to the invitation. To do so would be to give my assent to this unjust position of the Church and, consequently, to give it power. This would be a failure on my part to be true to my calling as a minister of the gospel and a loyal United Methodist. To say "no" would be tantamount to forfeiting my calling as a pastor."

He concluded: "While a judicial complaint has been brought against me, I believe that in this case it is The United Methodist Church that is being placed on trial. Does the Church really want to judge me wrong for praying God's blessing upon Mary and Martha in their commitment to each other? Would such a judgment bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus for all the world to see?"

"Good News" is a 30 year old conservative, evangelical movement within the Methodist church.  They are committed to the "renewal of Wesleyan principles in the life of the UMC." Its president, James Heidinger II said that the trial would "be a shot heard round the church." He said that the ceremony was "a clear violation of Biblical principles, as well as the tradition of the church."

bullet1998-MAR: Rev. Creech's first trial: The trial was scheduled to begin on 1998-MAR-11 in a church in Kearney, Neb. A letter writing campaign in support of Rev. Creech had been organized. The Covenant Relationships Network (Cornet) included reports of the trial on their website. 3

The board of the Reconciling Congregations Program met for three days, starting on 1998-FEB-6. They announced their unanimous support for Rev. Jimmy Creech. The Rev. Karen Oliveto, board chairperson of the unofficial United Methodist organization, said Creech was responding to the pastoral needs of his community when he performed the commitment service.

The trial process began on 1998-MAR-11 under the direction of Bishop Hodapp. Ref. Creech pleaded not guilty to the charges. A jury was selected from among a jury pool of 35 Methodist clergy. Jimmy Creech's counsel, Doug Williamson, asked each a key question: "Have you known any gay people? And if you have, how have they affected your life?" Potential jurors talked about a sibling, friend, fellow seminary students, neighbors, and an ex-husband who are gay. Four potential jurors admitted that they knew gay ministers ordained in the Methodist church.

CNN interviewed a church member at the trial who was critical of the lesbian commitment service. said: "I have a real problem with anyone using the church as a pawn to advance his cause, and I don't have a problem with the causes, but don't use people."

Rev. Dr. Mel White, Justice Minister of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches attended the trial. He commented, with reference to the jury: "These good clergymen and women from Nebraska had been permanently changed by the lives of lesbians and gays who had dared to tell their stories to friends and family. By coming out, they had left permanent, positive memories in the hearts of thirteen men and women selected for the jury. Now, if these jurists dare to follow where their heart leads them, they just might save the day (and in the process help save the church) as the court gathers this morning to begin phase two in the trial of Jimmy Creech." 4,5

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bullet1998-MAR: The jury decision: The trial itself started on 1998-MAR-12 and ended on the 13th with an acquittal. A key point during the trial was the nature of the "Social Principles". The church argued that they absolutely banned same-sex commitment services. The defense argued that they were guidelines, and cited a sentence in the preface to the Social Principles which states that the contents are "intended to be instructive and persuasive." A majority of the jurors (eight out of 13) found that his actions were disobedient "to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church." But nine guilty votes are required for a conviction. Rev. Grant Story, foreman of the jury read a statement: "We gathered in prayer, in silence, and in respectful dialogue. Our vote reflects the difficulty the General Conference has experienced with this issue. We have struggled -- no, agonized -- together in a spirit of love, and our hope is that United Methodists everywhere will receive our verdict in that same spirit of love and respect."

Rev. Creech said that he was "exhilarated: by the verdict." He commented: "This is more than just important to me personally. It's important to the whole [Christian] church. I feel personally very pleased, but I'm just delighted for the church, for the denomination." With reference to the jury, he said: "It was a courageous decision that they made and I am very grateful for this courage." Some Methodists have threatened to leave the denomination if Rev. Creech was acquitted. He commented: "That was going to be a possibility whichever way the verdict went...If I had been found guilty, there were a number of people -- not only gay men and lesbians but people who feel the church needs to be truly open -- who would have left. So I think it was inevitable that we were going to have losses."

He returned to his pulpit on Sunday, MAR-15. Rev. Fred Phelps, a viciously anti gay activist from the Westboro Baptist Church announced that he planned to go to Omaha and picket the UMC church on that day. Rev. Phelps is well known for his "God Hates Fags" signs, and for his picketing of funerals of people that he believes died of AIDS.

bullet1998-MAR: Reaction to the verdict:
bulletA liberal group within the UMC, "Proclaiming the Vision Committee," issued a "Statement of Commitment" on 1998-MAR-13 at the end of the trial. 92 clergy had signed the  statement; more than a dozen additional clergy added their names via the Internet as of 1998-MAR-29.

bulletA conservative group within the UMC, Good News, condemned the jury decision. They issued a statement to bishops and clergy, calling for a special session of the General Conference to resolve disputes of interpretation of church law. They suggested that the signers of the Statement of Commitment "seek another church fellowship whose views are compatible with their own. This would be far more loving than the continued efforts to force upon the UMC a radically revisionistic moral standard." Board member, George Anderson, from Mitchellville, MD supported the Good News statement but doubts that it will accomplish much. He felt that the conflict between a literal reading of scripture and theological reinterpretations of scripture might never be harmonized, and that the best alternative would be for people on both sides to leave the UMC and find another church home.

bulletThe First Methodist Church experienced some serious problems over the covenant ceremony. At least 300 members have left the church, although most have retained their membership. Pledges were paid 10 to 15 thousand dollars a month below needs. Staff reductions and other cuts have been made.

bulletRev. Don Bredthauer had been appointed as senior pastor to replace Jimmy Creech. He commented: "I continue to be in disagreement with the portions of the Discipline and Social Principles that deny gays and lesbians free access to the full ministry of the church, and I will advocate for change." He will not conduct any same-sex ceremonies unless the UMC changes its policies.

bullet1998-AUG: Denomination reaction: The UMC Judicial Council is the highest judicial body in the denomination. They met in 1998-AUG to interpret the meaning of the church's Social Principles: whether they are guidelines or binding rules. They decided on AUG-11 that they are binding:  "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." By this action, they  overturned the decision of the jury, and found Jimmy Creech guilty. As of early 1999, Rev. Creech remained on leave and was writing a book. He believes that more clergy will be removed "due to the church's bigotry...It will be a long-term process of working for justice, very much like the history of apartheid in South Africa.''

bullet1999-SEP: Second charge: At its 1999-SEP-16 meeting, The Committee on Investigation of the Nebraska United Methodist Annual (regional) Conference decided that "there are reasonable grounds for the charge and specifications against Jimmy Creech" that he recently conducted another same-sex union ceremony. They have recommended to Bishop Joel Martinez that Creech be tried for being in violation of the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church. Rev. Jimmy Creech allegedly performed a service of holy union for two men, Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer, in Chapel Hill, N.C., on 1999-APR-24. Rev. Creech commented: "I regret the Nebraska Annual Conference has chosen to take this action against me. The trial will more deeply mire the United Methodist Church into the sludge of bigotry and legalism. How can such an encumbered church witness to the grace of God?" He also said that the trial "will be a waste of resources--money, time energy and personnel--that should be used otherwise in positive, helpful ministries to people in need in the world...It is arrogance on the part of the church to elevate some people's relationships with God, while denigrating that of others, on the basis of innate sexuality. This arrogance is evil, comparable to racism." 6

bullet1999-NOV-17: The second trial: On the eve of Creech's trial at Grand Island, NB., Jimmy Chreech renewed the 1999-APR-24 union vows of Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer Creech stated: "If I am found guilty by a trial court, then the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church is in conflict with the Gospel. It is arrogance on the part of the church to elevate some people's relationship with God, while denigrating that of others on the basis of innate sexuality." Soulforce, a spiritual gay rights group organized by the Rev. Mel White, planned to hold a vigil and a symbolic, passive blockage of the church where the trial will be held. Earlier in 1999-NOV, a five group coalition of gay positive United Methodists (Affirmation, CORNET, In All Things Charity, the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Reconciling Congregations Program) issued a joint statement. It said in part: "the trial's protest by the Rev. Mel White is an understandable act of resistance and call to awareness." Two conservative groups, the Confessing Movement, and Association of United Methodist Evangelicals will also attend. 7

On 1999-NOV-17, A jury of 13 Nebraska ministers unanimously found the Rev. Jimmy Creech guilty of violating the church's Social Principles. He was defrocked. After receiving the verdict, he said that it would "widen the wound of the soul" of the UMC.

References:

  1. Barbara Nissen, "Covenanting ceremony for same sex partners to be held at First United Methodist Church in Omaha", United Methodist News Service, 1997-SEP-12, at: http://www.umc.org/umns/news97/sep/tcreech.htm
  2. Jimmy Creech, "Response to the Judicial Charge", 1998-JAN-26 is at: http://www.iwgonline.org/docs/creech.html
  3. Cornet has a home page devoted to the Jimmy Creech case at: http://www.umaffirm.org/cornet/jcomaha.html
  4. Rev. Dr. Mel White, "Ghosts Testify at the Trial of Jimmy Creech: A Soulforce Report from Kearney, Nebraska," Bulletin 2, 1998-MAR-12
  5. Rev. Dr. Mel White, "The Trials of Jimmy Creech." This is a video which documents Rev.Creech's life journey leading to the commitment service that he conducted for a committed lesbian couple. The video is available by sending a check made out to VIDEO. Cost is 3 for $10 (for duplicating, packaging, and mailing). Mail to Soulforce Videos, P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652. This video can be freely copied and/or broadcast on local cable outlets. If you include a "second, tax-deductible check to made out to UFMCC and sent to the above address, one-half of your donation will go directly to Jimmy Creech to help pay his trial expenses and one-half will help underwrite mailing the videos to clergy across the nation with a personal letter from Jimmy Creech."
  6. "Second church trial for pastor of same-sex ceremony," United Methodist News Service, 1999-SEP-26. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3448.htm 
  7. "Creech will renew vows for same-gender couples," Maranatha Christian Journal, 1999-NOV-17. Online at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3631.htm
  8. book cover imageJimmy Creech, "Adam's Gift: A Memoir of a Pastor’s Calling to Defy the Church’s Persecution of Lesbians and Gay," Duke University Press Books, (2011-MAR-11). Read a book review and/or order. From Amazon.com's product description:
    "Rev. Creech ... determined that the church was mistaken, that scriptural translations and interpretations had been botched and dangerously distorted. As a Christian, Creech came to believe that discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people was morally wrong. This understanding compelled him to perform same-gender commitment ceremonies, which conflicted with church directives. Creech was tried twice by The United Methodist Church, and, after the second trial, his ordination credentials were revoked. Adam’s Gift is a moving story and an important chapter in the unfinished struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil and human rights."

Copyright 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Date of last update: 2011-FEB-21
Author: B.A. Robinson
Photograph of the Rev. Jimmy Creech courtesy of the United Methodist News Service.
Used by permission.
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