Bishops Meet, Ponder Sex and Theology

Article excerpt

United Methodist bishops, who meet twice a year, had a full plate in their session that ended yesterday at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln, Neb.

Much of what was served up relates to sex and theology.

Since March 13, when the Rev. Jimmy Creech was acquitted of breaking church rules by conducting a "marriage" of lesbians in his Omaha, Neb., sanctuary, people in pews elsewhere have wanted the bishops to take action.

The most dramatic recommendation was to rush the General Conference of 1,000 delegates into a special session to legislate a clear, punishable ban on what the conference had already banned - but without legal teeth.

On Thursday, the bishops issued a "pastoral letter" saying it "does not seem wise at this time" to call the extraordinary session, which would cost $1 million.

"A special[ly] called session might further distract us from our central mission," the 100 bishops said, some from overseas.

They confirmed, however, that the General Assembly vote in 1996 that clergy may not conduct same-sex union ceremonies "remains unchanged."

And the Judicial Council, the highest Methodist court, said on April 22 that it will hold a special session in August to look at the Creech verdict.

Mr. Creech was acquitted by a narrow margin of 13 clergy jurors because the ban on his action was in the Social Principles section of the Book of Discipline, not in the disciplinary part.

Two days after the Creech verdict, the Rev. Bill Hinson, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Houston, declared that "the legal loophole revealed in the Nebraska trial must be closed."

The sermon, "Bishops, Please Lead Us," was significant because Mr. Hinson leads the denomination's largest congregation, with 13,500 members.

A few weeks later, Bishop Marion M. Edwards of Raleigh, N.C., urged a special church session to legislate unequivocal punishment - such as defrocking - on ministers who preside at homosexual "marriages. …