Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Methodist die is (not) cast

The UMC Judicial Council has decided not to revisit its decisions regarding a gay man barred from membership by the man who decided not to be his pastor. At issue was whether it was right for the pastor to be disciplined for the act of barring membership to a gay man. The council ruled that it was not, and has decided now to let that decision stand.

What a shame.

You can read the whole article on the decision by clicking on the title of this post. (Hat tip to Andy for his post on this matter.)

The question the council had to decide is rather complicated, because the presenting issue is actually whether disciplining this pastor is an "administrative" or a "judicial" matter.

Uh huh.

When I was in seminary, a student one year ahead of me, Robyn, came out to her candidacy committee at the point of Approval. The Approval meeting is the candidate's last step; Robyn had already received favorable reports from her internship congregation and from the professors at our seminary.

The candidacy committee, being a just body and wishing to dismiss her quietly, resolved to figure out how not to make a decision. So they went to the seminary professors, and asked how they could possibly testify to Robyn's preparedness for ministry, when clearly she was a (gasp!) LESBIAN. It was their hope that the seminary would withdraw its approval, and the committee could punt.

Our seminary professors, saints all (and I mean that), told the candidacy committee that they had no intention of withdrawing their approval. They weren't asked to testify to Robyn's compliance with the ELCA's sexuality standards for candidates. They were asked whether she was prepared academically for the parish. And she was.

So the committee, forced to make a decision, made the right one, albeit for a kind of specious reason (Robyn is a lesbian, but she wasn't having a "homosexual sexual relationship" when they met with her.) Sometimes church committees surprise you.

I tell that story because it is my opinion that the UMC Judicial Council punted. It doesn't matter how they arrived at their decision. It doesn't matter what the presenting issue was. The decision will send a clear message to LGBT folks, that they need not apply. Shame, because there are so many great Methodist churches out there.

Here's why it doesn't matter that the council says its decision has to do with legal minutiae and not with the matter at hand--can a pastor deny membership to a queer person? The following is an excerpt from the article on the decision on the UMC site:

Council members James W. Holsinger Jr., Mary A. Daffin and Keith D. Boyette signed a concurring opinion, saying they “join with our colleagues who have voted to deny the petition for reconsideration in this matter because the petitioners for reconsideration have not shown Decision 1032 clearly to be in error, nor have they shown that reconsideration of the decision is necessary to prevent a manifest injustice resulting from the interpretation of the decision."

According to the UMC website, there are 45,176 clergy members in the United Methodist Church. There are 34,892 local UMC churches. Given the fact that this decision seems to allow gay folks to be excluded from membership in those churches, and given the fact that there are a lot of individual clergy folks who get to make those decisions, it seems likely that there will be injustice "resulting from the interpretation of the decision." Whether that injustice is "manifest" depends, I guess, on what you think of the worth of the gay people who will be turned away.

1 comment:

Jim in Tampa said...

It has been quite a challenge to stay loyal to the UMC following these events. When I hear the "Open minds. Open hearts. Open doors." commercials, I often think "Yea, right." I've drifted away from my UMC because my partner and I find other things to do rather than attend a church where they'd rather not have us. But as a life long Methodist, I can't give up my membership.