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Laity Demonstrate outside Council of Bishops
Meeting in Nebraska

Issue may 'rip church apart' - Gay/lesbian union foes greet bishops

Bob Reeves reports in the Lincoln Journal Star:

While United Methodist bishops from around the world held a worship service Sunday in Lincoln, more than 400 demonstrators gathered outside St. Paul United Methodist Church to show opposition to gay and lesbian union ceremonies.

Fifty bishops and 60 retired bishops kicked off their week-long Council of Bishops meeting with a memorial communion service, then were greeted by demonstrators as they left the church to walk one block to a reception at The Cornhusker.

The bishops have a broad agenda, including issues relating to children and poverty, ethnic and urban ministries and denominational unity — but the demonstrators wanted the bishops to deal mainly with the gay/lesbian issue.

People in the street represented more than 60 churches from across Nebraska, as well as from several other states.

Many were dissenters from the Rev. Jimmy Creech's First United Methodist Church in Omaha, where Creech led a ceremony in September resembling a marriage between two women. On March 13, a jury of clergy in Kearney found Creech not guilty of violating the church's rules. The 8-5 vote was one short of the nine needed to find Creech guilty.

Since the decision, more than 400 members of his 1,800-member church have been meeting in protest at Omaha Westside High School.

"There's been no issue since slavery that has divided the church like this has," said Cindy Jodis, one of the self- styled "exiles" from Creech's church. She said the group wants the bishops to call a special General Conference of the United Methodist Church to settle the issue of whether same-sex ceremonies are permitted. The next regular General Conference is scheduled for 2000 in Cleveland.

"We can't wait until the year 2000 to have a decision on this," Jodis said. "They have to do it now — otherwise, it will rip the church apart."

Tom Hubbell, from Peoria, Ill., said he came to Nebraska because he believes "a serious injustice was committed" by the Creech jury.

"We need to stand with the people who are now worshipping in a high school auditorium because they can't worship in good conscience in their own church."

Demonstrators carried signs with the names of their churches and towns, and such messages as "Bishops 'R Not Above the Law," and "Don't Sanctify Sin, Live in the Bible." Omadeane and Stan Talley, members of Lincoln's Calvary United Methodist Church, carried a sign showing two women kissing, with the words, "God says, 'No, no, no.'"

"We're asking the bishops to take a strong stand, to get off the fence," said Bev Brown, a member of Lincoln's St. Mark's United Methodist Church.

Several bishops interviewed after the service said they did not want the issue to overshadow the other business of the semi-annual meeting, which was scheduled in Lincoln before the Creech issue arose.

Bishop Susan Morrison, from Albany, N.Y., presides over a conference that went on record asking the denomination to consider allowing same-sex unions. Nevertheless, she said the most important issue facing the bishops this week is a proposed initiative to help children and combat poverty.

The initiative will call on local churches to reach out to families living in poverty, and to work for legislation to provide health care, food and other basic necessities for all children, said Bishop Marshall L. Meadors of Mississippi, an author of the proposal. He noted that 30,000 children die each day, worldwide, from poverty and malnutrition. "We live in a time when the resources are available. We can use those resources to meet the needs of all children; we just have to have the will to do it."

Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of the Philippines, president of the bishop's council, said the bishops will also discuss "how to give global visibility to the United Methodist Church and at the same time allow local churches to give their own expressions of faith." The result, he said, could be more autonomy for individual churches.

Nacpil said he supports the church's long-standing definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. An executive committee of the bishops is drafting a proposal to clarify the issue, and will present it later in the week, he said.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Council — which acts as a supreme court for the denomination — has set a special meeting for Aug. 7-8 in Dallas to decide whether the rule against same-sex unions is binding on local ministers. The Creech verdict would imply that it is not.

At one point, a group of demonstrators began singing "We Shall Overcome," a song that has become a symbol of the civil rights movement. Few joined in. As the bishops left the church, demonstrators sang "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know." Most bishops walked by quickly, but a few stopped to exchange words with the demonstrators.

The demonstrators then held their own service at St. Paul's, focusing on the "traditional, biblical values" of the church. Tim Jackes, a dissenting member of Creech's church, said he would "never judge or condemn" a gay or lesbian person. But he added, "I'm not going to be a part of a church that promotes sin."


Copyright 1998, Lincoln Journal Star and/or Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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