NEJ affirms Calif. clergy on same-gender marriages

July 18, 2008

By Maidstone Mulenga*
July 18, 2008 | HARRISBURG, Pa. (UMNS)

In sharp contrast to the action taken at the United Methodist General Conference last spring, delegates to the denomination’s Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference voted July 17 to support clergy in California who choose to perform same-gender marriages.

The delegates approved a resolution expressing respect for pastors in the California-Pacific and California-Nevada annual (regional) conferences “who as a matter of Christian conscience, spiritual discernment and prophetic witnessing” opt to participate in the celebration of same-gender marriages that are not approved by the church.

The resolution also asks for lenient disciplinary action against clergy who disobey church law on the issue.

The 2008 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body, voted to retain its ban on same-gender marriages and to bar clergy from performing such marriages or consecrating them in the church. Pastors who perform same-gender unions risk losing their clergy credentials. The assembly met April 23-May 2 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Division among Northeastern Jurisdiction delegates over the resolution prompted passionate debate from supporters and opponents. Bishop Jane Allen Middleton of the Harrisburg Area, who was presiding over the session, prayed for holy discernment before the delegates voted.

On May 15, the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban on same-gender marriage, ruling that the state constitution protects that “right to marry.”

The California-Pacific Annual Conference, which met in June, approved measures that support same-gender couples entering into the marriage covenant and encouraged congregations and pastors to “welcome, embrace and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families.”

The neighboring California-Nevada Annual Conference approved similar measures, including one that lists about 80 retired United Methodist clergy who have offered to conduct same-gender marriage ceremonies on behalf of those clergy who feel they cannot do it themselves.

After the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference resolution was passed, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the Los Angeles Area read it to the Western Jurisdiction Conference in Portland, Ore. Delegates and guests greeted it with a standing ovation.

The five U.S. jurisdictional conferences of The United Methodist Church are meeting to elect and assign bishops for the next four years and to handle other business. The Northeastern Jurisdiction is meeting July 13-18.

*Mulenga is a reporter for the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle, the communications committee chairperson for the Western New York Annual Conference, and a delegate to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference.