Methodist Group to Perform Gay Weddings
In unprecedented move, network of 900 bypasses denomination’s ban to reach out directly to LGBT people
PRESS RELEASE -- Contact: Dorothee Benz 718-314-4432
A group of 900 United Methodists in New York and Connecticut today announced their intention to make weddings available to all people, gay and straight, in spite of their denomination’s ban on gay marriage. The announcement marks the kick-off of a project called We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality. In an unprecedented move in any major religious denomination, We do! is not only bypassing the formal rules of the church, but also reaching out directly to LGBT groups in New York and Connecticut to let them know about the new network. This morning the group published a list of all its members: clergy members who will perform weddings for gay couples, lay members of the denomination who support them, and congregations who have adopted policies to formally make weddings available to all couples.
“We refuse to discriminate against any of God’s children and pledge to make marriage equality a lived reality within the New York Annual Conference, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression,” the group declared in statement called A Covenant of Conscience and signed by 164 clergy members, 732 lay people and six entire congregations. In all, 74 congregations within the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) are represented among the signers. NYAC is the regional church body representing United Methodist congregations from Long Island to the Catskills and in southern Connecticut. The full list of signers, as well as the text of the covenant is here: www.mindny.org/mind-initiatives/marriage-initiative/covenant-of-conscience.
“My ordination vows require me to minister to all people in my congregation,” said Rev. Sara Lamar-Sterling, the minister at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, CT. “This is about pastoral care, about welcoming all people, but especially the marginalized and the oppressed, like Jesus did.” Lamar-Sterling and her clergy colleagues are risking their jobs and their careers by taking this stand, but they say their integrity as pastors leaves them no choice but to refuse the church’s mandate to discriminate. Over the years, many individual United Methodist clergy have defied the church’s ban, but the We do! project marks the first time an organized network of clergy has done so, and done so with the support of many hundreds of lay members of the church.
“The recognition of the full humanity, sacred worth, and equal rights of gay and lesbian people is crucial to the civil rights struggle of our time. Gay, lesbian, and straight United Methodist laity and clergy are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” the Covenant of Conscience states, citing Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from Birmingham Jail. “The continuing denial of full access to all the rights and privileges of church membership in the United Methodist Church is causing deep spiritual harm to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and is a threat to us all.”
The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline, the rulebook that governs the country’s third largest Christian denomination, states “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” It is one of several anti-gay provisions of the church, which since 1972 has declared “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The church General Conference meets quadrennially to revise the Discipline and the issue of LGBT exclusion has been hotly debated at each General Conference in the last 40 years. The next General Conference will be April 24 through May 4, 2012, in Tampa, Florida.
The We do! project has been over a year in the making and has been followed by similar efforts in 11 other conferences within the UMC. All told, over 1,000 clergy in 19 states and the District of Columbia have signed a pledge vowing to extend their ministry to all couples seeking the church’s blessing for their relationships. The growing pastoral movement has caused a stir within the church and is expected to have reverberations at the upcoming General Conference.
We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality is sponsored by Methodists in New Directions (MIND), a grassroots organization working in the New York Annual Conference of the UMC dedicated to ending the church’s prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people. It is co-sponsored by the NY Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), an organization bringing people together to work for peace and justice in the church and the world. Both organizations are independent of the United Methodist Church. More information on the initiative is available on the MIND website at www.mindny.org.