By United Methodist News Service, April 28, 1998
LINCOLN, Neb. - United Methodist bishops attending their semi-annual meeting were greeted by sign-waving demonstrators seeking support of the church's doctrine on homosexuality.
At least 300 demonstrators met the bishops as the church leaders left an April 26 memorial service at St. Paul United Methodist Church. The demonstrators showed their support of the bishops and urged them to uphold church tradition and the standards of United Methodism as found in Scripture and the denomination's law book, the Book of Discipline.
More than 100 bishops from around the world are attending the Council of Bishops meeting this week. The issue of homosexuality is one of many topics on the agenda.
As the bishops emerged from the sanctuary at St. Paul, they greeted and shook hands with the hymn-singing and placard-waving group, who represented United Methodist churches from around Nebraska and other states. The demonstrators held signs with messages such as, "God's law, not man's law" and "The laity uphold the Bible."
The council's president, Bishop Emerito P. Nacpil of Manila, the Philippines, said the demonstration was the first he had seen in his 18 years of attending council meetings. What he saw at the demonstration affirmed the language of the Book of Discipline, he said.
After the bishops left, the group entered St. Paul and held a United Methodist laity rally. They discussed what they perceive as a crisis in the church, listened to testimony, and sang and prayed.
Speakers included members of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, where a same-sex union was performed last September. The union led to a church trial for the Rev. Jimmy Creech, who had performed the ceremony. Creech was charged with disobeying the denomination's order and discipline, which forbid United Methodist ministers from performing such unions. A jury of eight clergy members found Creech guilty, but nine votes were needed for a conviction. A key question in the trial was whether the church's Social Principles, which include the proscription against same-sex unions, were guidelines or church law.
The 1,900-member Omaha congregation, already divided by Creech's action, split even further after the trial. Some members joined other United Methodist churches, others left the denomination, and at least 300 people broke away and began holding worship service at Omaha Westside High School.
"This has been a dark time at First Church," church member Tim Jakes said during the rally. He cited John 8, in which an adulterer was brought before Jesus for stoning, and Christ asked that those without sin cast the first stone.
"First United Methodist Church is exactly the same," Jakes said. "We welcome everyone into the church and love them. They are there for the same reasons as us . . . asking for forgiveness." Just as Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more, the church should do the same, Jakes said.
"First Church decided to promote the sin, and that is where I drew the line," he said. "I will not condemn them, but I will not be part of a church that promotes sin."
He said he will pray for the bishops this week as they carry out the church's business and deal with the issue of homosexuality.
The bishops are already wrestling with the concerns about homosexuality expressed by United Methodists after the Creech trial. This week, the council is engaging in a process of discernment, in which the bishops seek to understand God's will on the issue.
By the end of the meeting on May 1, the bishops hope to make a statement about their understanding of the General Conference's intent regarding same-sex unions. The 1996 General Conference, the church's top legislative body, placed language in the Social Principles barring such ceremonies from being performed in United Methodist churches by United
The bishops also plan to issue a statement on the request from various church groups for a special session of the General Conference to deal solely with issues related to homosexuality. The conference ordinarily meets every four years.
United Methodist News Service
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