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Evangelical "Good News" Org Responds To Dismissal of Complaints In Mass Lesbian Wedding Case

February 14, 2000
Contact:  James V. Heidinger II  -  (606) 858-4661
Phil Granger - (765) 289-7337

Good News' Response to Cal/Nevada's Dismissal of Complaints Against 68 Clergy Involved in Same-sex Covenant

United Methodists were stunned and angered Friday at the announcement that the Committee on Investigation of the California/Nevada Annual Conference had dismissed complaints against Rev. Don Fado and 67 other clergy who were co-celebrants in the same-sex service of holy union between Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton on January 16, 1999.

The Committee's ruling, which stands in direct opposition to earlier actions taken in the Northern Illinois Conference against the Rev. Greg Dell and in the Nebraska Annual Conference against the Rev. Jimmy Creech, is inconsistent and demoralizing. In those cases, both Dell and Creech were found guilty for violating church law by performing same-sex unions. Now the Committee in California, having heard the complaints against Fado and company, has dismissed the complaints saying the charges were not suitable for trial.

Further, the Committee's decision reflects an arrogant disregard for the order, discipline, and common will of the United Methodist Church, as decided upon by church representatives from across the world. The devastating effect of such arrogance is that it renders outraged, isolated and unheard those churches in the Cal/Nevada Annual Conference which honor the connection, the Book of Discipline, Church tradition, and the Scriptures. The decision will also be detrimental to United Methodist churches all across the country as they learn of the action.

Bishop Melvin Talbert's justification that the annual conference is a more "basic and fundamental covenant" than General Conference and the Book of Discipline is disturbing. It sounds like episcopal rebellion against the laws of the general church. The bishop is actually claiming that he and his conference have the right to adopt a different standard than that established by General Conference and fixed in the church's Book of Discipline.

The so-called "hearings" that were held and the action of the Committee on Investigation are a travesty for the church, an embarrassment to the sense of propriety of the vast majority of United Methodists. It illustrates perfectly why evangelicals in the California/Nevada Annual Conference are seeking another structure–to become a Missionary Conference–in which they could do their ministry unhindered by the present conference leadership. It validates the need for new structures, as well as some means to bring back into line the leadership of that conference.

And Bishop Talbert, who has taken the oath to uphold the church's Book of Discipline, must accept responsibility for this breech of trust and integrity. He has, by his public statements and actions, created a climate that encourages and perpetuates this kind of disobedience to church law. As an act of integrity, Bishop Talbert should acknowledge publicly that he disagrees with duly-established United Methodist policy on this issue and retire or take leave of absence immediately from his episcopal office.

James V. Heidinger II
President and Publisher
on behalf of the Board of Directors

ADDENDUM: This action in the California/Nevada Annual Conference and the statement by Bishop Talbert claiming that "there is another more basic and fundamental covenant" than that of General Conference and the Book of Discipline, that being the Annual Conference, only heightens the concern expressed to the Council of Bishops in an open letter from the board of directors of Good News last week, before the California decision was made and announced. (Copy of Open Letter is attached.)

In that letter, Good News asked the Council of Bishops to provide an explanation for the church about what their statement "to uphold the Book of Discipline" means in light of actions taken by Bishops Susan Morrison and Roy Sano, both of whom have spoken out recently in support of same-sex covenants. In doing so, they were speaking publicly in contradiction of church law. We want to know what it means when the bishops pledge "to hold one another accountable" and publicly commit themselves to "corporate accountability" as they did in Lincoln, Nebraska when they met there.

We must now add to the above concerns the action taken by the California/Nevada Annual Conference and its episcopal leader, Bishop Melvin Talbert, who claims the annual conference is a more "basic and fundamental covenant" than General Conference and the Book of Discipline.

The Council of Bishops must address a hurting church soon about what accountability means and what actions will be taken to uphold the unity and life of the United Methodist Church.

ATTACHMENT - Copy of Open Letter dated February 8, 2000, sent to Bishop Robert C. Morgan, President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and copied to the rest of the active members of the Council.

February 8, 2000

Bishop Robert C. Morgan 2000 Warrington Way, Suite 280 Browenton Building Louisville, KY 40222-3407

Dear Bishop Morgan:

Greetings to you in the name of Christ Jesus, our Lord, from the board of directors of Good News.

We have become aware, as you may have, that United Methodist bishop Susan Morrison signed a public statement on January 19 in support of proposed Vermont legislation recognizing "committed" relationships between people of the same gender as "marriage." You may also be aware that Bishop Roy Sano participated in a public rally January 23rd and spoke out in opposition to an anti-gay marriage initiative, which will appear on a March 7 ballot in California.

We grieve that our church is in turmoil over the issue of homosexuality. The Council of Bishops assured United Methodists by public letter recently that they have covenanted together to uphold the stand of the church regardless of their personal views. We are deeply saddened that some bishops are making that covenant meaningless by their public disregard for the stance of the church. In a time when our bishops have rightly called us to prayer and fasting on behalf of unity in the church, some of those bishops would make a mockery of that desire for unity by their blatant disregard for the Book of Discipline. In a time when we seek to interpret to the people of God that our church has a clear stand on the issue of same sex "marriage," Bishops Susan Morrison and Roy Sano have chosen with impunity to challenge, and therefore undermine that stand, and give our people reason to believe that our stated positions carry no meaning.

We are aware that, short of the complaint process, there is no court of appeal to deal with inappropriate and anti-disciplinary actions on the part of bishops, except to appeal to members of the Council of Bishops themselves. While some among us would wish to move immediately to that complaint process, we would prefer to allow the bishops to stand behind their own word to hold one another accountable and deal with this internally.

We ask you, as President of the Council, either on your own or in consultation with your colleagues:

  1. To clarify to the Vermont and California legislatures and to our United Methodist Church at large that Bishops Morrison and Sano have made a statement in violation of the church's stand and do not represent the church on this issue.

  2. To clarify before the Vermont and California legislatures and the United Methodist Church that Bishops Morrison and Sano's statements must be understood to be those of private individuals and not as bishops of the church.

  3. To provide for the church an interpretation of the Council of Bishops' previous statement to uphold the Book of Discipline that would include an explanation as to what, if it does not cover actions like those of Bishops Morrison and Sano, it is supposed to mean.

We have chosen to make this an open letter so that our constituency and other United Methodists, among whom the trust for our leaders is already at an all-time low level, can see that someone, somewhere believes that such public statements in violation of our life and order together should not go unnoticed.

Because of the pressing nature of this situation, not only in regard to the Vermont and California legislatures, but also because of its relevance to General Conference, we would like your response by March 1. In the absence of such response, we will assume the bishops are either unable or unwilling to hold one another to corporate accountability as pledged, that they are not themselves committed to the same unity they have urged on the church through prayer and fasting, and that there is indeed a conspiracy of silence within the Council whenever this issue comes up for public discussion.

We look forward to hearing from you.



James V. Heidinger II
President and Publisher
on behalf of the Board of Directors

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