Annual Conferences take on social issues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — United Methodists tackled hot-button topics including homosexuality, gun violence, divestment and immigration reform during annual conferences meetings in the United States this summer.

Most conferences in the Western Jurisdiction renewed their 2012 support of the “Statement of Gospel Obedience”.

Most conferences in the Western Jurisdiction renewed their 2012 support of the “Statement of Gospel Obedience,” which claims the denomination is in error on the subject of homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching. The Western Jurisdiction includes eight regional conferences ranging from Colorado to the islands of Hawaii, Guam and Saipan and from Alaska to Arizona.

The Desert Southwest Conference supported a marriage-equality resolution that states the conference will support any clergy conducting homosexual unions or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies where it is permitted by law. The resolution also states clergy who are brought up on charges for conducting those ceremonies will be supported “spiritually, emotionally and prayerfully.”

A second resolution passed by the Desert Southwest was a public statement that “our churches and facilities are safe places for all regardless of gender identity and that transgender people may use the bathroom of their choosing.”

Ruling on marriage-equality resolution

A ruling of law was brought before Bishop Robert Hoshibata, who leads the Desert Southwest Conference, after the marriage-equality resolution was approved. On July 30, he ruled the resolution was not out of order.

Requests for a rule of law automatically go to the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court.

She ruled the resolution did not violate the legal authority of the Book of Discipline.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who leads the California-Pacific Conference, was also asked to rule concerning the “Statement of Gospel Obedience” passed in 2012. She ruled the resolution did not violate the legal authority of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.

“I find that Resolution 13-16 does not violate the legal authority of the Book of Discipline in that it does not require any person, office or body within the church to violate the Book of Discipline,” Carcaño ruled. “What Resolution 13-16 does do is commend to bishops, clergy, local churches and ministry settings the challenge to operate as if ¶161F of the Book of Discipline does not exist.”

The act of commending and challenging persons and entities of the denomination to act in a particular way in response to a section of the Book of Discipline not intended to be church law does not in and of itself constitute an illegal action, according to the bishop.

Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has stated that all people are of sacred worth but “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Church law says that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting ceremonies that “celebrate homosexual unions.”

Full LGBT inclusion

The New York Conference affirmed a resolution commending those who have taken “a stand for justice” for supporting full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT).

Commendations were offered to six clergy for taking actions that for some resulted in church trials or complaints under church law. Others commended included those who signed pledges to offer pastoral ministry to same-sex couples and to perform same-sex marriages.

Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert was recognized for his stand for LGBT persons; and for the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, who is facing a church trial because he performed a same-sex marriage for his son.

Bishop Martin McLee, New York episcopal leader, was asked to render a ruling of law on the commendation resolution. He ruled the resolution “successfully walks a line between celebrating those who have disobeyed without advocating disobedience.”

The New York Conference also passed “A Single Garment of Destiny: Global Solidarity with LGBT People,” which calls the conference publicly to condemn the spread of anti-gay hate to other countries by U.S. Christian leaders.

Other conferences affirming LGBT people were West Michigan, Detroit, North Carolina, Minnesota and Northern Illinois.

The 2012 United Methodist General Conference, the denomination’s highest legislative body that meets every four years, voted to leave the 1972 language in the Book of Discipline.

At the end of the 2012 annual conference meetings, 15 conferences passed resolutions rejecting the denomination’s stance on gay and same-sex marriages.

Gun violence

Sharing a story of a schoolmate who was killed in a drive-by shooting, high-school student Kyle Forehand presented a resolution to the Arkansas Conference addressing gun violence. The resolution encourages churches to discuss and educate themselves on violence prevention and responsible handling of guns. The resolution was sponsored by the Arkansas chapters of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and Methodist Federation for Social Action.

The Illinois Great Rivers, Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Baltimore-Washington, Detroit, Minnesota and Pacific Northwest conferences all approved resolutions calling for a Christian response to gun violence.

Divestment

Four conferences — New England, Minnesota, Pacific Northwest and Upper New York — voted to divest or have their funds divested from companies involved with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The Northern Illinois Conference voted to divest from the coal industry.

Immigration

Detroit, Nebraska, Northern Illinois, Alabama West-Florida, North Georgia and Pacific Northwest conferences supported the current legislative efforts to reform immigration in the United States.

The Nebraska Conference passed a resolution calling for the state’s United Methodists to advocate for and support the work of the United Methodist Interagency Task Force on Immigration and Methodists Associated Representing the Cause of Hispanic Americans.

Editor's note: Kathy Gilbert is a reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

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