UMC Bishop Lobbies General Conference Delegates To Promote Homosexuality
To: Lay and Clergy Delegates to the 2000 General Conference
From: Bishop Jack M. Tuell (retired)
First, let me congratulate you on your election to the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. This is a high honor, and a position of tremendous responsibility. I will be praying for you as we move toward Cleveland next May.
I am taking the rather unusual step of writing this letter because some experiences I had this spring made me realize that some legislation enacted at the 1996 General Conference is placing some of our clergy in a truly unfair dilemma. The experience I refer to was presiding over the church trial of the Rev. Gregory Dell -- the legislation under which he was tried was an action of the 1996 General Conference adding this sentence to Par. 65C of the Social Principles: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." (Page 87, 1996 Book of Discipline.)
After two long days of presiding over Rev. Dell's trial last March, I was totally convinced that the legislation of 1996 was not good legislation and should be changed by the 2000 General Conference. Here are some of my reasons:
1. It is not fair to our clergy. We send them by appointment into communities and congregations which may be made up of 30%-50% gay and lesbian persons; we tell them to care for and minister to all of the people in their charge. Their people (including gays and lesbians) come to them with prayers and blessings of already existing relationships. We have always placed great confidence and trust in our clergy to respond to such spiritual needs as their consciences and ordination vows indicate. But the 1996 legislation violates the precious freedom which we have always believed our clergy to possess as "men and women of God," and subjects them to being "defrocked" for their conscientious adherence to their high calling. This is wrong, and should be corrected.
2. The 1996 legislation was passed among much confusion and warning that the Social Principles was not the right place for such flatly prohibitory legislation. While it was approved by a vote of 553-321 on Thursday evening (DCA, p. 780), less than half an hour later the General Conference non-concurred in a petition to specifically make "leadership in a same-sex service" a chargeable offense by a vote of 740 for non-concurrence! (DCA, p. 783). Yet the effect of the legislation which was passed turned out to be exactly the same as the measure rejected by the Conference by 740 votes! It seems obvious that many delegates thought they were voting for something other than adding a chargeable offense when they approved Par. 65C.
3. The legislation is unnecessary. We got along quite well for 212 years (1784-1996) without it. And a conference which really wished to put a minister on trial for such an action could do so under already existing "chargeable offenses" listed in the Discipline. But history has shown us that trying to prohibit specific behaviors by disciplinary edict does not work well. (Alcohol, tobacco, etc.)
4. The administration of such a prohibition (Par. 65C) is bound to be uneven, varying with the mores and views of different sections of the church.
5. The provisions of Par. 65C are likely to hit some of our most able, conscientious clergy the hardest. The 13 elders on the Trial Court in the Gregory Dell case, even though they quite appropriately found him guilty, made a separate statement affirming his outstanding ministry of 30 years. We cannot afford to lose men and women of this caliber.
6. The issue in this matter has to do with the freedom and integrity of our clergy to carry out their ministry in the place where they are appointed. It is not primarily on whether you are for or against changing the present general position of the UMC regarding homosexuality. Persons on either side of this larger issue should see the unfairness and injustice of sending our ministers out to serve all the people and then throwing them out when they try to do so.
7. UMs want their church to be one which upholds the centrality and uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman. The 2000 General Conference ought to re-affirm this in appropriate ways. But it should repeal the last sentence of Par. 65C which unfairly puts an impossible burden on our clergy doing their best to minister to the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people committed to their care.
I truly believe that the continuance of the 1996 legislation can have nothing but a destructive and divisive effect across the connection, as well-publicized trials are held with varying and illogical results. United Methodism does not need this.
Jack M. Tuell
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