The Judicial Council during its spring meeting upheld the long standing position of the United Methodist Church that marriage is defined as the union between a man and woman. Because of this UM pastors are forbidden to perform same sex unions.
This decision involves the case of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. The council affirmed Bishop Beverly J. Shamana’s decision voiding a resolution passed by the regional group backing retired pastors who perform same-gender marriages.
“An annual conference may not legally negate, ignore or violate provisions of the (Book of) Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions,” the council ruled.**
In a separate decision, the council reversed California-Pacific Conference Bishop Mary Ann Swenson’s ruling supporting a conference resolution recognizing “the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.”**
Council members Jon Gray and the Rev. Kathy Austin Mahle rightly noted, “church law can only be made by the General Conference and cannot be achieved through piecemeal resolutions adopted in an annual conference session.”**
While the case should have been cut and dry, the UMC's stance on homosexuality has remained unchanged for 30 years, nation-wide judicial activism left me unsure as to how the Council would rule. That concern was even greater given the fact that the Council members who were elected at the 2008 General Conference appeared to be left-leaning in their beliefs. They are to be commended that they put their person opinions aside and ruled based on the statements of the Discipline. Unfortunately that was universally true. Council member Belton Joyner Jr. filed a dissenting opinion. Obviously, this was a personal opinion and had no basis in church law.
This is an issue which will not go away. With the Iowa Supreme Court forcing their beliefs upon the people of Iowa by legalizing homosexual marriage, I am convinced that there will be some liberal members of the Iowa Conference who will seek to push the issue come June. Hopefully, the Judicial Council's ruling will take some wind out of their sails and we'll be able to move beyond this divisive issue. But I wouldn't count on it.
**Quotes from UM Reporter article