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Cleryman Responds to Same Sex Ceremony in Omaha

Dear Friends,

As some of you have noticed, I have not published a letter in quite some time. There are a number of reasons: I have been busy with church and ministry concerns, I have taken some time off to be with my family, and honestly I got tired of trying to think up something to write about each week. However, I am back and ready to offer some observations about current issues impacting the church.

Last week someone asked what I though of the controversy surrounding Jimmy Creech the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Omaha. On September 14, Creech presided at a covenant service for two lesbian members of his church. Creech had informed his Bishop, Joel N. Martinez, of his intention and Martinez suggested there would be charges filed against him for violating the Social Principles of the church that forbids UM pastors from celebrating homosexual unions (paragraph 65c).

I was especially interested in Creech's statement concerning his decision to violate the law of the church. He said, "I am doing this as part of my understanding of the church, of Jesus, and what all people need to do. 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."

Here is the real difficulty with Creech's decision. As an individual, Creech has every right to reach conclusions as to the appropriate behavior of a Christian. However, As a United Methodist pastor he is under obligation to observe the rules and disciplines of the church. This is the joy and the constraint of being a UM pastor.

I had a couple of evangelical friends in seminary who had reservations about infant baptism. I encouraged them to get those reservations worked out before they became United Methodist pastors. As wonderful as they were, it would have been dishonest of them to enter the ministry if they were not willing to perform an accepted ritual of the church such as infant baptism.

I personally have grave disagreements with where some of our apportionment money goes. I never have tried to explain, in any detail, apportionments to my people because they might not want to pay them. However, as a UM pastor, I work to see they are paid because I am a part of a community that has decided to spend their money in this way. I work hard to foster changes in the system but I try to do that in the system.

Creech has chosen, for conscience, to defy the church on this ground. If he no longer wishes to work within the limits of the United Methodist Church he should leave and find a church that does what he wants. If he chooses to stay, he is welcome to try to change the system from within the church. However, it is not honest of him to defy the church while at the same time profiting by it.

This goes for evangelicals as well. When we as a community refuse to obey the basic principles of our covenant we should leave. I personally could not in good conscience be in a church that recognized homosexual unions and homosexual clergy. If our church ever gets to that point it will be the liberals turn to escort me out of the denomination. I would hate for that day to ever come so I will work hard to keep it from happening.

I do not want to seem flippant in saying this. Creech has shown courage and compassion in his decision. Though I strongly disagree with his conclusions I honor his integrity. This is not about bad people verse good people. This is about profoundly different understandings of faith and practice. Over the next several years we will all be tested on this issue. There is little ground for compromise. Each of us must decide where we stand and in love decide whether we can live in the discipline of our church or not.

Your Brother,

John Miles

John Miles is:
  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

John Miles also publishes a weekly E-mail newsletter on issues facing the United Methodist Church. If you would like to recieve that E-mail write

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