Magazine article The Christian Century

Talk of Schism after Creech Trial

Magazine article The Christian Century

Talk of Schism after Creech Trial

Article excerpt

In the first sign of schism in the United Methodist Church over the gay issue, a group of 18 clergy and 25 laypeople who oppose homosexual rights in the denomination have asked to be allowed to separate from their regional body, the California-Nevada Annual Conference. "We are divided beyond reconciliation," the group declared in an April 2 statement in which they asked leaders of their annual conference to design a "careful and wise process by which evangelical pastors and churches can responsibly choose to transform their theological reality into an organizational reality."

The evangelicals said separation from the rest of the conference's 93,000 Methodists and 375 congregations would allow both sides to pursue their interests without the "distraction and injury of an ongoing war of ideas." They said a "just process" would include allowing the local churches that might withdraw to keep their property with some financial compensation to the conference and reimbursement for past financial assistance. Generally in such church disputes, property titles are held by the jurisdiction rather than the congregation.

While citing a host of theological and other differences with the majority of churches in the annual conference and with the national church, the group said the trial of Jimmy Creech, the pastor in Lincoln, Nebraska, acquitted March 13 of charges that he violated church rules by performing a same-sex ceremony, had brought them to a crisis. They also cited actions by two district superintendents--local church officials--as well as Bishop Melvin G. Talbert's signing of a statement in support of homosexual rights as provoking evangelicals in the conference "to face the inescapable truth that our differences with a liberal conference are insolvable."

Prominent area pastors signing the statement include Robert Kuyper of Bakersfield, California, newsletter editor for Transforming Congregations, a ministry to the "sexual broken," and John C. Sheppard II, pastor of the 650-member First United Methodist Church in Yuba City, California. The statement was being taken under consideration by conference officials.

In a separate but related development, three large United Methodist congregations in the Atlanta area have announced that they will withhold their share of funds intended for the UMC's national and international mission programs because of the Creech verdict and other matters, as one congregation put it, of "doctrinal integrity" in the denomination. Programs potentially affected by such actions include the episcopal fund, which supports the expenses of bishops; the general administration fund; and the interdenominational fund, which supports the work of ecumenical agencies such as the World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches.

Stewards of 5,200-member First Church Marietta voted 142-58 March 22 to "redirect" about $58,000 that would have gone to the general church to conference ministries instead. The decision related to problems of "doctrinal integrity" in the denomination and not specifically to the Creech verdict, the Marietta Board of Stewards said. The other two churches are the 1,500-member Acworth United Methodist Church and the 5,400-member Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church. …

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