UMC Bishops Warned of Clergy Planning to Bless Gay Unions

Article excerpt

A United Methodist group of large-church pastors, joined by hundreds of petition-signing clergy and laity, are urging the denomination's bishops to issue a collective warning to some 900 "defiant" clergy who have declared their intention to bless same-sex unions or marriages.

The Council of Bishops, which opens a four-day meeting October 31 in North Carolina, was asked by the pastors group to issue a public statement affirming the decades-old restrictions. The UMC says the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and bars Methodist churches from hosting or officiating at "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions."

Pastor Ed Robb III, senior pastor of the 9,200-member Woodlands United Methodist Church near Houston, and four other Bible Belt pastors wrote the letter to the bishops after discussing the idea early in September at a gathering of senior pastors from the 100 largest U.S. Methodist congregations, reported United Methodist News Service. The four original signers were joined in the statement by 54 more clergy.

As of September 26, the online clergy letter to the bishops (faithfulumc.com) had 1,523 signers, and a letter from lay Methodists urging strong penalties for offenders had 4,388 signatures.

The United Methodist Church in the U.S. has about 7.8 million members and nearly 17,000 active ordained clergy, according to Lovett Weems Jr. of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary.

The clergy movement to offer church blessings or marriage to any couple, including same-sex pairs, began in Minnesota this spring when 70 ministers stated their willingness to risk penalties. Clergy in at least four other regions subsequently signed similar statements.

The General Conference, the highest legislative body of the UMC, has debated gay issues every four years since 1972. Chances are slim, most analysts say, that the 2012 General Conference April 24-May 4 will be open to same-sex blessings. Delegates generally opposed to a change are growing higher in ratio--a steady trend because of the booming growth in churches abroad that are strongly opposed to any changes. …