Across the country, clergy members in the United Methodist Church are now being faced with the stark reality that public policy is far more prophetic and just than our current church polity as they witness the increasing passing of laws that support marriage rights and civil unions of LGBTQ persons. What are loving clergy to say to those persons whom they have had the honor of watching grow as faithful members of our church when asked to officiate and bless them in a ceremony (whether it be marriage, civil union, or commitment) that honors their desire to be in lifelong relationships with loving partners?
Last week, 70 United Methodist Clergy in Minnesota pledged to defy church polity against performing such ceremonies. This week, as of Thursday, 134 clergy in the Northern Illinois Conference have pledged the same. If they follow through with their pledge, they face the possibility of losing their clergy orders. It should be noted that losing one’s credentials is not simply losing the ability to continue your called vocation as clergy but with it, takes away their authorization to preside over the sacred rituals of baptism and Holy Eucharist. I should also mention, it includes a host of practical entitlements such as health benefits, clergy housing allowance (a tax benefit), parsonages, and fellowship within several clergy peer groups. Sufficeth to say, their commitment is a boldly courageous posture.
As a clergywoman whose work has been about the business of civil rights, peace and reconciliation, I cannot sit idly by and have joined my fellow clergy in their commitment. Now, I wonder, with our denomination losing members in large numbers daily, how we will fare as we begin to see the groundswell of clergy facing trial and having their orders defrocked for their commitment to justice? Of course, I know the Church that is the body of Jesus Christ will not fail. I am not so sure that our denomination, The United Methodist Church, has not entered a juncture where it can continue much longer as it now is—persistent in its majority support of polity that discriminates and which is so counter to its advertisement of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”
What we are doing is in fact challenging our church to keep its word and be an “open,” inclusive and loving member of the body of Christ. We are committed to this risk-taking ministry. I trust our Episcopal leaders will know that we are praying for them and that this action is our faithful witness “to do justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8)
The Northern Illinois Conference Board of Ordained Ministry has also taken another bold step by passing the following resolution at their 2011 Clergy Session. Though it may ultimately be repealed by legislative action it is a remarkable vote of solidarity.
“Be it resolved that any Northern Illinois Clergy member who, in his/her best judgment, feels called to officiate at a Civil Union and then subsequently faces charges, and after due Disciplinary process is tried and convicted for such offense, that a suggested maximum penalty to assign would be the suspension of said convicted minister from the exercise of pastoral office for a period of 24 consecutive hours.”