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Pastor Targeted for Uniting Lesbians

Methodists: He calls 'covenanting' ceremony a commitment in faith, but critics say it violates church law.

September 27, 1997|From Religion News Service

To the Rev. Jimmy Creech, it was "a very simple and very meaningful service." But to others, the ceremony uniting two lesbian members of his United Methodist congregation was a slap in the face of church policy.

Since he performed the "covenanting" ceremony Sept. 14, a member of Creech's congregation has filed a formal complaint against the pastor, the first step in a disciplinary procedure that could lead to a church trial--as yet unchartered waters for the denomination on an issue that has divided it since the early 1970s.

The ceremony addressed "what it means to be the church," said Creech, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha.

"I cannot imagine as a pastor saying no to two people who say they want to make a commitment to each other in the context of their faith," said Creech, despite the denomination's ban on such practices.

During its 1996 General Conference, the top legislative body of the United Methodist Church, the nation's second-largest Protestant denomination, added to its set of Social Principles a statement saying, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in churches."

Official church policy is set by the General Conference, but it is uncertain whether the Social Principles have the same status as church law, which is contained in the Book of Discipline. The book simply states that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" and makes no mention of same-sex unions.

"I don't think that I'm in violation of church law, but I do stand in opposition to the church's unjust position that singles out and discriminates against committed members of this denomination," Creech said.

Creech said he informed--but did not ask--Nebraska Area Bishop Joel N. Martinez in July about his decision to perform a same-sex ceremony. Creech said he did not receive a response from Martinez until 10 days before the ceremony. Martinez could not be reached for comment.

In the past six years, Creech said, he has celebrated about a dozen same-sex ceremonies while at the North Carolina Council of Churches and as pastor in Raleigh, N.C. There were no complaints filed, he said, because there "were no church prohibitions." Creech was not reappointed at a Raleigh church, however, after the church lost financial support because of his activism in gay and lesbian rights.

Creech said his Nebraska congregation was moving toward the "total inclusiveness" of lesbian and gays before he arrived in 1996.

"Some people have been very supportive and others are angry and hurt," he said. "I hope this will help us become stronger as a church, but it's difficult now to tell if and when that will happen."

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