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News


CREECH TRIAL


Produced by United Methodist News Service, the official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York and Washington.

Friday, March 13, 1998


Verdict follow-up

Following his acquittal, the Rev. Jimmy Creech was reinstated as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha by Nebraska Bishop Joel Martinez. He will preach there this Sunday.

The bishop said he plans to ask the College of Bishops of the eight-state South Central Jurisdiction to ask the church's Judicial Council to rule on the language in the Book of Discipline related to the trial. The nine-member council is the denomination's "supreme court."

"The church has spoken," Martinez said, following the church trial in Kearney, Neb. "We trust and honor the process. Rev. Creech is an elder in good standing with the United Methodist Church, and his appointment is to First United Methodist Church in Omaha. His suspension is lifted."

A statement from the jurors was read by the Rev. Grant Story, foreman of the group: "We gathered in prayer, in silence, and in respectful dialogue. Our vote reflects the difficulty the General Conference has experienced with this issue. We have struggled – no, agonized -- together in a spirit of love, and our hope is that United Methodists everywhere will receive our verdict in that same spirit of love and respect."

 

NOTE: Watch this site for a complete wrap-up story from United Methodist News Service Monday morning, March 16.


6:45 p.m. Verdict -- Creech acquitted

To the question, did Creech conduct a homosexual union ceremony, the verdict was 11, yes; 2 no.

To the second question, did he violate the order and discipline of the church, the verdict was 8 no, 5 yes.

More information to follow as soon as possible.

[The Associated Press Reports: "Under church law, nine of the 13 jurors were needed to convict him of disobeying church law. Only eight found him guilty. " The AP Report has been confirmed with UMs present at the trial.  I believe the UMNews report to be in error but the results of acquittal are the same.]

3:15 p.m. – Creech jury goes into deliberation

The jurors in the church trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech have started their deliberation, after being charged by the presiding bishop not to return without a verdict.

Counsel for both sides – the United Methodist Church and Creech –- presented closing arguments from 1 to 3 p.m. today.

Retired Bishop Leroy Hodapp of Evansville, Ind., is presiding over the trial. He told the jurors to deliberate until they reach a verdict.

In related news, a group called the Proclaiming the Vision Committee announced today that 92 United Methodist clergy members have declared their intent to celebrate righteous intent with all couples regardless of gender. The pastors signed a statement of commitment, which was written by the Proclaiming The Vision Committee in response to the Creech trial.

"Clergy have performed covenant services for 20 years," said the Rev. Alice Knotts, with the Proclaiming the Vision Committee. "We will continue to perform covenant services as part of our pastoral role as clergy in the United Methodist Church."

The committee consists of representatives of several groups – In All Things Charity, Affirmation, the unofficial Methodist Federation of Social Action, the Supporting the Vision group with First United Methodist Church of Omaha, the Reconciling Congregations Program and Cornet.


11:15 a.m. – Creech defense rests

The defense for the Rev. Jimmy Creech has rested.

Counsel for both the United Methodist Church and Creech will make closing summations at 1 p.m. Afterward, Bishop Leroy Hodapp, the presiding officer of the church trial, will give instructions to the jury.

The final witness for the defense was Betty Dorr, a member of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, where Creech has been suspended as pastor. Dorr said her brother, brother-in-law and son are all gay. She talked about the struggle that she's had over that and how she has come to accept their identities. She described what First United Methodist Church has meant to her and how it has ministered to her throughout her struggle. She affirmed the nurturing ministry of First United Methodist Church.

Dorr was asked if she felt the covenanting service performed by Creech last September – the same-sex union of two women that resulted in the current trial -- was part of the faithful ministry of pastoral duties.

"I think it is important for the gay community to have ministers who care about them," Dorr answered.


10:45 a.m. –- Testimony for the defense continues

Day three of the trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech opened at 8 a.m. with testimony from defense witnesses.

The first witness was the Rev. Phil Wogaman, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. He provided testimony on the origin and fundamentals of the denomination's Social Principles.

The Social Principles are understood to be a teaching document, and they are at their best when they explain and help people understand the relationship of a particular problem to faith, Wogaman said.

It's not understood that all United Methodists have to agree with them, he said. In a couple of instances, some of the Social Principles are confusing enough that you can't agree with them, he said. "No one is required to believe them."

Social Principles speak to the conscience and ask us to reflect deeply on our meaning of faith, Wogaman said. For the Social Principles to be used as a "club" is to distort them, he said.

He highlighted what he described as ambiguities in the Social Principles. Some passages talk about the self-worth of the individual and the value of all people, but at other points the principles say the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, he said.

Also testifying for the defense was Gregory M. Herek, research psychologist at the University of California at Davis. Herek is an internationally recognized authority on prejudice against lesbians and gays, and on anti-gay violence and AIDS-related stigma. He discussed misconceptions surrounding sexual orientation and sexual identity.

The case is expected to go to the jury early this afternoon.


Thursday, March 12, 1998

11 p.m.  –- Recap of first full day of trial

Reported by Linda Green, United Methodist News Service

Day 2 of the trial of the United Methodist Church against the Rev. Jimmy Creech began at 8 a.m. Thursday, March 12, with a prayer by the presiding officer, Bishop Leroy Hodapp.

When asked by Hodapp how he pled, Creech said "not guilty."

Hodapp gave the trail court (jury) instructions as referenced in the 1996 Book of Discipline.


Opening statements by church counsel Ekdahl

Church prosecutor, the Rev. Lauren Ekdahl, told the jury the trial is not about the nature of homosexuality but about an action taken by Creech that is forbidden by the United Methodist Church.

He said the Book of Discipline in the United Methodist Church is an account of the historical development of processes and positions as they pertain to the relation of clergy and laity in the structure of the United Methodist Church. The Discipline, he continued, is "a work in progress" that defines the uniqueness of the United Methodist spirit in ministry.

It is the church's intention, Ekdahl said, to show that the addition of the language prohibiting performing of covenanting ceremonies by United Methodist clergy in United Methodist churches is a mandatory declaration binding upon all clergy of the denomination.

The church intends to show that Creech disobeyed the "order and discipline" of the United Methodist Church, a chargeable offense, by performing a ritual as a celebrated ceremony of the denomination, he said.

Ekdahl said the action taken by Creech created and presented an unauthorized ritual as though it existed as an official rite of the church. By revising the marriage ritual for heterosexual couples in the church's Book of Worship, Creech developed a new ritual that has no standing in the denomination, Ekdahl contended.

The issue, he said, is not simply altering the text of the ritual, but changing the ritual in such a way as to create a rite that does not exist in the United Methodist Church. The rite, he continued, was performed in a United Methodist church as the priestly function of an ordained United Methodist minister.

"Our position is that Jimmy Creech knowingly and willingly made a decision about rites and offered that rite to two women who were joined in September 1997," Ekdahl said.

Creech, as an elder in the church, "exceeded his bounds of pastoral authority and placed himself in the case of disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church," Ekdahl argued.

The church counsel argued that the current Book of Discipline makes no provision for the action taken by Creech and in fact prohibits it.


Opening statements by defense counsel Williamson

Counsel for Creech, the Rev. Douglas J. Williamson, said the church has the burden to present the law, and yet the Book of Discipline contains no definition of "order and discipline" of the United Methodist Church. "Never," he said "have we looked at the Book of Discipline in such a way. It is not our tradition."

He cautioned the jury to be wary of arguments of the prosecution because they can change the way ministry is done.

After talking about the primacy of the covenant of clergy, Williamson asked the jury if a pastor covenants with his or her local church and if Creech's intention was to be faithful to members of his congregation.

Williamson noted that healing services were done in the church before a ritual of healing was added to the Book of Worship and that no charges were brought against the pastors that performed them.

As for the Social Principles, Williamson said, "they are guides, not rules." He said the Social Principles are the denomination's faith foundations, which are guides for turning faith into action.


Witnesses are called

Creech, the first witness called by the prosecution, was asked if he conducted a covenanting ceremony between two homosexual women. "No," he answered. After some discussion about the use of the word "homosexual," the prosecutor rephrased the question, asking Creech if he conducted a covenanting ceremony uniting two women. Creech answered, "Yes, I celebrated the union of their love and fidelity to one another."

Asked if either of the women had admitted being gay, Creech said the conversations he had with the women were confidential.

Other questions revolved around Creech's response to the judicial complaint filed against him, which he wrote on Dec. 3, 1997.

The questions dealt with the rubrics of liturgy and if the liturgy used in the covenanting ceremony consisted of the same rubrics as the service of Christian marriage, found in the United Methodist Book of Worship.

Creech said the women composed their vows and spoke them to one another. He said they professed their commitment to one another, and their love, fidelity and support for one another in life.

When asked if this was a union, Creech said, "Yes, it was a spiritual union that was confirmed and celebrated by the covenanting ceremony."

Was there a difference in the covenanting ceremony and the marriage ceremony? Creech said, "Yes, there was a significant difference." The difference he said, was that it was not recognized by the state of Nebraska and that it was a union of two women.

As the testimony turned toward the Social Principles, Creech was asked if he was aware of the language placed there and that his actions were potentially in conflict with the position of the United Methodist Church. He answered in the affirmative.

He was then asked why he denied that he performed a homosexual union. Creech said, "I do not understand what the phrase 'homosexual union' means. It has not been defined by General Conference as it has no meaning for me."

Under cross-examination by Williamson, Creech claimed that he never knew the sexual identity or orientation of the two women.

When asked about his calling, Creech said, "My calling is to serve the local congregation. Ministry grows out of covenant with the congregation." He said that he understood the covenanting service to be living out the covenant he had with the local congregation and that he was being faithful to the vision of First United Methodist Church in Omaha.

Why did he call the service a covenanting service? Creech said, "The name is important because covenant has biblical roots and relates to God and people. The partners pledged their faith and love. The service was a celebration of the love and fidelity of two people."

Further cross-examination by Ekdahl centered around paragraph 65C of the Book of Discipline, a paragraph on marriage, in which the statement from the 1996 General Conference was added as a final sentence: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

Creech argued that the language in the paragraph does not conform to the ceremony.


Bishop Hicks called as witness at 10 a.m.

The next witness for the church was retired Bishop Kenneth Hicks, of Little Rock, Ark., who was asked if he ever found the Discipline to be in conflict with his judgment.

Hicks referred to his seminary years, when he was appointed as a local pastor and, because of the Discipline, could not administer the sacraments and had to have an elder come in and serve Holy Communion. He told how this "hurt me to no end." He also relayed his feelings about being told by the bishop to change appointments when he really did not want to move.

Questions then moved to address the responsibilities of a United Methodist minister, processes, procedures and how to effect change about things in the church that are disagreeable. "We have processes in the church for exacting change in the Book of Discipline," he said.

When the questioning came to Creech's action and the language in the Book of Discipline, Hicks said, "I believe that ministers should not engage in that particular type of service because the General Conference has not approved a ritual for that sort of thing you are referring to."

Testifying to the importance of upholding and maintaining the framework of the Book of Discipline, Hicks admitted that there are ambiguities in the volume. As an illustration, he said the church sets forth the value and sacred worth but in another place says the "practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Asked if he agrees that the Social Principles are a call to United Methodists for faith and practice, Hicks replied that they are directions and he has endeavored to be faithful to them. "I can't think of any that I have refuted. I have complied with the intention of the Social Principles."

At the same time, Hicks said, "not all Social Principles are coercive law." He said many are worded to encourage people to grow and examine. They are the direction in which the church is going, he said.

Asked why the specific Social Principles under which a person might be prosecuted are not so noted, Hicks said, "I don't know . . . My position is that when the wording in the Social Principles deviates from instruction and takes on a judicial tone, it is intended to be the position of the church during the quadrennium."

He also referred to words in the Discipline and Social Principles that say "shall not." He highlighted the church's position against slavery, which says, "Slavery shall not be tolerated." He said the Social Principles have an absolute rejection of slavery, which is an example of a principle that would be considered as law. Same-sex ceremonies are not the only items in the Social Principles treated as law, he noted.

Other questioning of the bishop dealt with five petitions seeking to approve same-sex marriages that were struck down by General Conference. The bishop said the provisions of the petitions were already addressed and included in other places in the Discipline.


Defense witnesses called

At 1:15 p.m., the first witness for the defense was Glenn Loy, whose complaint against Creech is the basis for this trial.

Loy, pastor of the Ogallala (Neb.) United Methodist Church for the past five years, has been a pastor in the denomination for three decades.

He said his complaint was based on his understanding of the Social Principles and their roles in United Methodism. "When the General Conference put in the words 'shall' or 'shall not,' that is intent," he said.

Loy said his complaint was precipitated by Creech conducting a same-sex service. "The Social Principles say no minister shall conduct same-sex union. . . I thought he was in violation of Social Principles."

When asked if the issue was a same-sex union, Loy replied, "No, it was a same-sex marriage. The Social Principles say marriage is between man and a woman."

Acknowledging that he was not present at the ceremony, Loy said he filed the complaint after hearing about the ceremony from telephone calls and seeing a response from Creech on the Internet stating that he performed this service.

Asked if he would file a complaint against a pastor who favored the death penalty and knowing that it is contradictory to the church's position, Loy replied, "No, the pastor would have to do something. If he threw the switch, I might."

Loy's testimony switched to the sexual orientation of the two women. He said he knew the sexual orientation of the women "because of the action asked for."

When asked how action indicates sexual orientation, he said, "Why do it if it wasn't?"

The next witness was the Rev. Donald Bredthauer, co-pastor at First United Methodist Church in Omaha. His testimony centered around the visioning, mission and focus statement of First Church. He told the jury how the church is becoming intentional about living the gospel of Jesus Christ in the community and how community perceptions of the church were changing. The church, once thought to be tall-steepled, aloof and exclusive, is now seen as socially alive and active, he said.

He also testified about the healing services First Church has conducted for the past 10 years. He said that in the beginning, the church checked to see if the denomination had a ritual, found none, and created its own. He said there was enthusiastic support for the services.

He also described the gifts Creech brought to the ministry at First United Methodist Church.

Bredthauer said that the direction of the church's vision statement led the three pastors of First Church to the document "In All Things Charity," which they signed. The vision focus, he said, calls on First Church to be inclusive of all, including economic levels, sexual orientation, status, and so on.

"In All Things Charity" is a document initiated by 15 pastors in response to the action of the 1996 General Conference, which "further restricted the ministry to homosexual persons. . .who seek to have their relationship affirmed by the church," he said. "My signing indicated my willingness to work toward the inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church."

Bredthauer said the pastors did not consider that, by signing the document, they would be breaking their covenant to the church. "We felt it was a pastoral service we thought was important enough to provide."

He said the covenanting service performed at the church could be placed in the context of the vision statement because it was a part of the church's nurturing ministry.

Bredthauer then testified to the reactions of the congregation to the service. He said some members left and others withheld financial contributions, but a positive outcome is "that we now have a study of the United Methodist Discipline going on. For all of the pains and stress the service caused, it has also been an exciting time."

If Creech is returned, he said, some members will leave but the majority of leadership will be firm in their support for him.

Bredthauer said the church will be more intentional about inviting others from the Omaha community to become a part of the congregation.

Upon cross-examination, Bredthauer said it never occurred to him to caution Creech about performing the service. "No. I did not view this as breaking the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church . . . I do not believe the Social Principles carry the same weight as church law."

The next witness was Joan Byerhof, a member of First Church in Omaha. Her testimony centered around her leadership as the chairman of the staff parish relations committee prior to Creech's appointment as pastor. She worked with the appointment process, and she explained the function of the staff parish relations committee.

Other testimony came from Joane Zetterman and William Jenks, members of the staff parish relations committee. They also testified about the committee, its duties, the covenanting service and reactions. They were cross-examined by counsel from both sides.

Creech returned to the stand and gave an accounting of his ministry while a pastor in the North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference. He told the jury why he came to Omaha. Immediately before moving to Omaha, he said he was not pastoring a church in North Carolina. He told how his advocacy for gay and lesbians dissatisfied some congregations and how his appointment at a particular church was terminated 10 days after moving there. He told of a same-sex union he had performed while in North Carolina. He told of his disclosure to the proper church authorities in Omaha of his mission and ministry and of his intent that they know all about him before coming to Omaha. "I was as open as possible," he said.

Creech said that he is not a social activist but a pastor who is called to all the needs of the world. "This involves placing me in a public and community realm."

He reiterated the facts about the covenanting service and what precipitated the service at the Omaha church.

He also expressed his reasons for remaining in the United Methodist Church, even though he had become "unappointable" in North Carolina and then subsequently placed in an appointment beyond the local church.

Creech affirmed the church for what it had done for him, how it had shaped him into who he is today, and how he loves the church because of its Wesleyan tradition that combines spirituality with social justice.

When asked about leaving the church, Creech said, "It would be extremely painful to leave the United Methodist church. It would be like leaving family, and I don't leave family. I will not leave voluntarily."

Creech was asked to identify the most important theological points that influenced his decision to conduct the same-sex ceremony. He gave a biblical account of the ministry of Jesus Christ, which proclaims God's reign in the midst of all people, where all people are equal. He talked about the Jews and Gentiles and the 10th chapter of Acts.

When asked about the spirituality of gays and lesbians, Creech said he believes that the gay and lesbian community has long received the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

He also talked about the reactions and pains the same-sex ceremony has caused. "We live in a culture strongly affected by heterosexual bias," he said. "The pain was caused by heterosexism and the challenge to see things in a new way."

Creech said he had been aware of pastors whose acts were in contrast to the Social Principles but that he did not file a complaint against them. "I don't think the Social Principles are law."

He again evoked confidentiality when questions returned to the sexual orientation of the two women for whom the covenanting service was celebrated.

When asked by the prosecutor if he would continue doing covenanting services if he were returned to First Church, Creech said, "Yes I will."

At 7 p.m., Roy Reed, a lyricist and former professor of music and worship at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, was called. Reed taught courses in worship, the sacraments and ritual.

Reed acknowledged that the service for which Creech is on trial is not provided for in the Book of Worship.

He testified that Creech and many clergy depart from official rituals of the church. Asked how many pastors would be charged for making a change in rituals, he said, "Almost everyone."

Asked about the word "blessing," Reed said it expresses goodness. "We ought to do a lot more prayer over people and for people," he said.

Asked if he would officiate at a service such as the one Creech did, Reed said, "I would, but it may not have the same shape."

Questions on rituals continued. Reed was asked what he would call a service where a pastor rewrites a ritual and uses it for a service other than for what it was intended. He replied, "Creative writing. I don't see any problem."

Testimony was also provided by Roy Wright, a gay African-American who has been a member of First United Methodist Church in Omaha for approximately one year.

He highlighted his life and told of the struggles he went through to reconcile within himself that he was gay. He talked about how he knew he was different at the age of 14 and how he began going to church, reading the Scriptures. He confessed that he went to a Pentecostal church where he was deemed to be demon possessed and had participated in a "casting out" of demons twice.

Wright acknowledged that it took him a long while to "realize that God made me who I am," and he described how he tried to convince himself that he was not gay.

"I knew the way society and the church reacted to gay people," he said.

At First United Methodist Church, he said he and his partner are still struggling. Although there is acceptance of them in some corners, he said others are not so accommodating.

What attracted him to First Church, he said, was the vision and focus statement that said the church does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Trail adjourned for the day at 8 p.m.


4 p.m. — Testimony continues.

The prosecution in the trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech quit calling its witnesses at 11 a.m. today.

Since then, the defense has been calling witnesses, and the prosecution has been cross-examining them.

For most of this afternoon, testimony has been heard from members of the staff parish relations committee of First United Methodist Church of Omaha –- Creech's church, where the now-suspended pastor performed the covenanting ceremony for two women last September.

The current head of the committee and two former chairpeople have been testifying. They were involved in the appointment process that resulted in Creech going to the church in 1996, and they were there when he performed the same-sex union.

Testimony is expected to continue into the evening.


1 p.m. -- Opening statements given

The trial began at 8 a.m. in the Family Life Center, a gymnasium-type facility at First United Methodist Church in Kearney, Neb.

The presiding judge, retired United Methodist Bishop Leroy Hodapp of Evansville, Ind., instructed the jurors on their responsibilities as outlined in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Counsel from each side gave opening statements.

The counsel for the church, Lauren Ekdahl, told the jury that this trial is about the action taken by Rev. Jimmy Creech, an action that is forbidden in the United Methodist Church. He said the prosecution intends to show that the addition to the church's Social Principles of language prohibiting covenant ceremonies was a mandatory declaration binding all clergy.

"We intend to show that Rev. Creech was disobedient to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church by performing the covenanting ceremony," he said.

The counsel for the defendant, Doug Williamson, pointed to the difference between a church and civil trial, saying the burden of proof of conviction must fall on the church. In the trial here, he said, clear and convincing evidence must be found for a conviction.


Wednesday, March 11, 1998

10:30 p.m. – Creech, supporters speak, jurors selected

Supporters of Creech, working under the banner "Supporting the Vision," gathered at 9 a.m. in Vision Central—Room 200 of the Regency Inn —- to bless Creech and send him off in prayer.

Creech said: "From the very beginning this has been about integrity. To be required to withhold God's grace is ridiculous . . . This is the United Methodist Church on trial and we are aware that other denominations are watching us. We are hoping that this will be a step forward for all churches."

According to the Rev. Art Brandenburg, a retired pastor from Philadelphia and a member of unofficial Methodist Federation of Social Action (MFSA), "what is at stake is the integrity of the pastoral office. If it goes, what is left?"

Gathered in a circle and holding hands, the supporters also offered prayers for the United Methodist Church.

Mary Jo Osterman, Louisville, Colo., former resident of St. Paul, Neb., and a lesbian, said, "There is the spirit of grace and justice in Nebraska. There is hope in the heartland of our country. The battles have to be fought in Middle America, in addition to California, New York, etc. It is time. The time is now."

Osterman is affiliated with MFSA, Affirmation and the Reconciling Congregations program.

"Over the years, I have watched the Nebraska Annual Conference reports and they have made decisions that I have felt have been moving with the spirit of God.

"I'm an out lesbian, and when I was in Nebraska, I found little support here when I was growing up. God is working. He has called people like Jimmy to this place at this time."

The Rev. Jeanne Knepper, Portland, Ore., spokesperson for Affirmation, said she supports Creech because of the belief that the constitution of the United Methodist Church does not discriminate on the basis of status.

"The church is coming to an understanding that sexual orientation is a status," she said. "The prohibition stated in the Social Principles is unconstitutional. The only descriptive word describing what is prohibited is homosexual. In this sense, sexual orientation is status and it is unconstitutional to have it in the Discipline at all."

Concerning the strategy of his defense team, Creech said:

"I have been accused or charged with disobeying the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church. My defense is that I have actually fulfilled the order and discipline. I have been very faithful to it."

"The language that prohibits clergy from celebrating covenanting ceremonies is in our Social Principles, which has historically been used as advice and a guide. It invites United Methodists to give prayerful thought to the advice of the church before taking action.

"I gave prayerful thought and a great deal of consideration to the advice the church has and found it to be not good advice, and unjust and in conflict with it. I went through the process it instructed me to go through, so in that sense, I was faithful to the Social Principles as they are intended to be used.

"This is the first time a clergyperson has been prosecuted for performing pastoral ministry. I think that this is a very strange thing to be happening. However, I don't think it is a step backward. I think in a sense what I am doing is challenging the church on a stand that I think is wrong, and I hope that through the trial process, the church will go through a period of self-examination and change its position regarding gays and lesbians."

When asked about the possibility of losing his clergy credentials, Creech said, "It is something that would be a great pain to experience, but I am not really operating at this point with fear, but operating with hope that the church will make the right decision."

If his clergy credentials are taken, Creech said,  "I will continue to be in ministry. I feel called to ministry. But in what way or with whom, I don't know."

In jury selection, Creech said his defense team is looking for people who haven't made up their minds, people who are open and are willing to listen.

Creech said the trial is bringing to the surface a division within the church but that he does not think the trial itself will divide the denomination. "I think the issue is divisive; what the church has done is divisive. Since 1972, the church has been progressively adding more and more discriminatory language, language that persecutes gay men and lesbians to our Book of Discipline and Social Principles. That has caused the division. The trial is symptomatic of that. The trial itself will not cause the division."

In this trial, Creech is the defendant and the United Methodist Church is the prosecutor.

 

Trial Officials

The prosecuting attorney or church counsel is the Rev. Lauren Ekdahl, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Lincoln, Neb. The assistant to the church counsel is Warren Urbom, a United Methodist lay person and current federal district court judge.

The counsel for Creech is the Rev. Douglas J. Williamson, assistant professor of theology and religion and head women's soccer coach at United Methodist-related Nebraska Wesleyan University, Lincoln. He has a strong background in both church history and social ethics. The assistant counsel is Michael D. McClellan, a partner in the Nelson-McClellan Law Firm in Omaha, Neb.

The presiding judge is retired United Methodist Bishop Leroy Hodapp of Evansville, Ind. His counsel is Stanley Goodman.

 

Charges

The basis for this trial is a complaint against Creech that was filed by the Rev. Glenn Loy, pastor of Ogallala (Neb.) United Methodist Church.

The charge against Creech is two-fold: "disobedience of the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church"  for "conducting a homosexual union" and exceeding the bounds set by General Conference by conducting a "ritual" outside the "form and mode of worship" of the United Methodist Church.

Selection of the jury or trial court was completed Wednesday. The 13 jurors were selected from a pool of 35 clergy from the Nebraska Annual Conference. The 35 were selected by the eight district superintendents in the Nebraska Annual Conference.

The Nebraska Annual Conference has approximately 101,620 members, 417 congregations.

 

Potential jurors questioned

During approximately two and one half hours of questioning, the 35 clergypersons -- including 12 women and four ethnic persons (1 African American, 1 Hispanic and 2 Asian-Americans) -- were asked a multitude of questions by both the counsel for the church and Creech.

Before counsels questioned the jury pool, Hodapp asked the clergy five general questions:

  • Have any of you been a member of the cabinet, the board of ordained ministry or the board of investigation which has considered this case before the trial? No one answered in the affirmative.
  • Is anyone not an elder in the United Methodist Church? No one answered in the affirmative.
  • Can you set aside what you have heard or read and make a decision based solely on the evidence provided? All answered in the affirmative.
  • Have you formed or expressed an opinion in this case that you cannot set aside? All said they could set their personal opinions aside.
  • Is your schedule free so that you can be present as late as necessary until trial is completed? All answered in affirmative.

Ekdahl's first question: Is anyone not aware that a complaint had been filed against Creech until you were called for jury pool? No affirmative answers.

Other questions asked by Ekdahl before jury was selected:

  • How many have read or seen any information on the Internet, or has anyone made any commentary about the trial? Several hands went up.
  • How many were influenced by what you read or saw, and can you set that aside? Yes, the prospective jurors said.
  • Did anything you read or saw have Creech as a participant? There was a show of hands.
  • How many know Jimmy Creech? Five or six hands went up.
  • Have you formed an opinion about this case or expressed an opinion about the outcome? There was some discussion.
  • Have any of you been involved in a church trial before? No one had.
  • Are any of you a member of MFSA or know their position? Three knew MFSA's position.
  • Has anyone received any mailing from MFSA? Only one had not.
  • Do you belong to any organization advocating for homosexuals? One lady said she is a member of a reconciling congregation.
  • Have you decided what you would do if asked to celebrate a union between two women or two men? Seven or eight raised their hands.
  • Is there any reason that you would not be fair and impartial to Jimmy Creech and the United Methodist Church in this case? No one said they could not be fair.

Williamson's comment before questioning: "The United Methodist Church is prosecuting Creech for reasons that put human sexuality at the forefront."

After showing the jury pool a copy of the 1996 United Methodist Book of Discipline, Book of Worship and the Book of Resolutions, he asked:

  • Does everyone own a copy of all three of these books? Not all of the pool owned all three copies but had access to them.
  • Are you aware that the Social Principles are contained in the Book of Resolutions? Numerous hands were raised.
  • Have you referenced the Book of Resolutions in a study? Many had.
  • Have you used the Social Principles as a study tool? One or two raised hands.
  • Have you considered the Social Principles to be binding ecclesiastical law? No affirmative answers.
  • Have any of you filed a complaint against another United Methodist pastor? No one had.
  • Are you familiar with the obligations and duties of pastors as stated in Paragraph 331of the Book of Discipline? Yes.
  • Is it understood that duties of a pastor are primarily carried out in context of the local church? Yes.

Williamson's other questions centered around the issue of rituals and human sexuality.

  • How many would agree with the statement that United Methodist ministers can perform only those rituals that are the official rituals of the United Methodist Church? No affirmative answers.
  • Has anyone taken a course or class dealing with human sexuality? A lot of hands went up. Many answered that they had taken classes in seminary but did not remember much about the classes
  • Does everyone understand the distinction between gender and sexuality? Yes.
  • Do you agree that as found in the Social Principles, human sexuality is a complex gift? No one raised hands.
  • Has anyone struggled with homosexuality in your personal life or in the life of friends? Yes. One prospective juror told of her sister who is a lesbian and how the subject is sometimes a topic in the family and of  her positive relationship with her sister. Others stated they had friends in seminary who confessed to being gay. When one man was asked if his friends were ordained, he answered that some were and others were involved in some level of ministry. Other jurors had stories about knowing gay and lesbian clergypersons. When asked about the policy of the United Methodist Church and what was more important-- the church's stance or friendship--one lady answered friendship.

After questioning, the counsels had no pre-emptory challenges and the jury (trial court) selection began.

 

Jurors Selected

The 13 selected were (in the order of their selection):

  1. The Rev. Judith Clark-Wharton, pastor, Tekamah, Neb., female.
  2. The Rev. Richard Dimond, pastor, Hay Springs, Neb., male.
  3. The Rev. Thomas Hyde, pastor, Sutherland, Neb., male.
  4. The Rev. C. Grant Story, pastor, Omaha, Neb., male.
  5. The Rev. M. Manick Samuel, pastor, Minden, Neb., male.
  6. The Rev. Russell Terman, pastor, Gibbon, Neb., male.
  7. The Rev. Howard Bailey, pastor,  Lexington, Neb., male.
  8. The Rev. Casey Karges, pastor, Fall City, Neb., male.
  9. The Rev. Nancy Tomlinson, pastor, South Sioux City, Neb., female.
  10. The Rev. Dale Lambert, pastor, Plymouth, Neb., male.
  11. The Rev. Pat Kelley, pastor, Friend, Neb., female.
  12. The Rev. Nita Gelling-Cloran, pastor, Gordon, Neb., female.
  13. The Rev. Tim Travers, pastor, Arapahoe, Neb., male.

Alternates:

----The Rev. Peggy Michael-Rush, pastor, Aurora, Neb., female.
----The Rev. Kay Moyer, pastor, Utica, Neb., female.

All the jurors and alternates are white except Samuel, who is a native of India.

 At a press conference following jury selection, Creech was asked what he will do if convicted. He would not speculate but did say that he would appeal.

If acquitted, he said, "I'm scheduled to preach Sunday. But I will have to talk with Bishop Martinez.

"If I'm found innocent, this will set a precedent in the church that you cannot prosecute clergy who join two people in love and fidelity. . . Clergy can't be prosecuted on the basis of the Social Principles. The Social Principles are guidance, not law."

 

First Church member critical of Creech

Not all agree with what Creech is doing and has done. Helen Howell, a member of First United Methodist Church in Omaha for the past 54 years, said a great majority of the church's 1,900 members are against Creech.

"Rev. Creech has split our church and it will never be the same as it was," Howell said. "Regardless of what happens at this trial, we will lose members. In fact we have already lost members."

If Creech wins in this trial, Howell said,  "I will probably leave the United Methodist Church." She disagrees with Creech because "he has gone against the Discipline and the teachings of the Bible. This trial is about Creech's disobedience to the bishop, the church and the Discipline.

She said that "every Sunday," Creech's message about homosexuality and rights is "crammed down our throats." She said, "When you go into the church a better Christian than when you come out, something is wrong. I often leave feeling troubled."


12 noon -- Hodapp Statement

Bishop Leroy Hodapp, presiding officer for the trial, in a brief statement to United Methodist News Service, expressed hope for healing rather than division and said he is committed to a trial that is fair.

His statement: "From my past experience with church trials, they have a tendency to divide even further those in the annual conference who are already divided over the issue at stake. My hope is that this trial may provide some healing rather than further division. It is my intent to make sure that everyone present thinks that this trial is fair."

Covering the trial for United Methodist News Service are Linda Green, reporter, and Mike DuBose, photographer.


Tuesday, March 10, 1998

7:30 p.m. – Cleansing Service

The Rev. Jimmy Creech was blessed and supported during a "Cleansing of the Temple" service held by the unofficial (MFSA).

The service occurred Tuesday night in the prayer room of First United Methodist Church in Kearney, Neb., where Creech's church trial will be held. Selection of jurors is to begin at 1 p.m. Wednesday March 11.

Creech stood in the center of the room, and about 15-20 people laid hands on him and gave him a blessing. Then the group sang "On Eagle's Wings."

In the cleansing service, it was noted that the venue for the trial will be inhabited by all types of spirits, so the group chanted: "This is a house of prayer for all people."

MFSA Director George McClain asked the gathering to imagine their spirits moving throughout the church in the many places where the trial will be. Then he asked the people to imagine their spirits moving throughout the denomination so it will be a house of prayer for all people.

Afterward, a ritual of social exorcism was held for the casting out of demons. McClain said the "casting-out" addresses the soul of institutions which have a core or inner soul that can get infected. The group noted that a number of alien spirits exist that are not of God and that underlie homophobia in the church: fear, ignorance, arrogance and control.

Creech was given a Star of David by the Rev. Mel White, representing Metropolitan Community Churches, which emphasize their openness to people of sexual orientation. White said the Star of David was presented as a symbol of gratitude in light of the holocaust against gays and lesbians across the country, and as a symbol of love and thanks for what Creech has done.

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