Homosexual Clergy And UM Orgs Rejoice Because UMC Ban On Homosexually Active Clergy Cannot Be Enforced
May 31, 2002
The United Methodist Church drops charges against "out" Gay pastor Reconciling Ministries Network
Seattle: After hearing the case of the Rev. Mark Edward Williams, pastor of Seattle's Woodland Park United Methodist Church, the Annual Conference Committee on Investigation today found insufficient evidence to sustain the complaint of homosexual practice filed against him.
Williams is now free to continue his career as an ordained United Methodist minister.
After Williams publicly "came out" as a gay man following a report to his Annual (regional) Conference in Tacoma last June, Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle said he felt compelled to file an official complaint, charging him with "practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching."
The complaint went to the Committee on Investigation which acts similarly to a grand jury, seeking to discover whether there is sufficient evidence against a person to warrent (sic) a trial. Meeting in Seattle today, the nine-member committee of seven clergy and two lay members took only two hours to render its finding.
In a terse statement by the committee chairperson, the Rev. Patricia Simpson of Seattle, reported that by unanimous vote the committee did not find sufficient evidence to bring formal charges against Williams. The committee report now ends any judicial procedure against the popular minister, and he is free to continue as pastor of the Woodland Park Church.
His Woodland Park congregation has supported him throughout this yearlong process. Maggie Brown, chair of the congregation's Committee on Pastor-Parish Relations, said Williams' ministry has been both deeply spiritual and truly uniting for the mid-sized congregation. "We are deeply pleased and relieved that we will be able to continue as the beneficiaries of his effective ministry here at Woodland Park Church," she said. "I wish every church could have a pastor as fine as ours."
Amory Peck, of Bellingham, coordinator of the Pacific Northwest Reconciling United Methodists, exuded, "Today we are rejoicing as Mark Williams is freed to continue his calling. Now we look forward to working within this invigorated spirit of justice and reconciliation in the United Methodist Church."
In a statement issued this morning in Chicago, the national Reconciling Ministries Network Executive Director, Marilyn Alexander said, "We applaud Bishop Elias Galvan’s affirmation of Mark’s effective ministry and Mark’s courage to speak openly and with integrity. Our hope is that more bishops and LGBT clergy will work together to find prophetic and innovative solutions to this unjust system."
"The Seattle decision will have a positive impact on thousands of United Methodist clergy nation-wide," according to the Rev. Paul Beeman of the Parents Reconciling Network. He explained that the Judicial Council earlier ruled that, for evidence against suspected homosexuals to be sufficient, Investigating Committees must be informed of the clergy's most intimate sexual activities-but only by those suspected of practicing homosexual behavior. He noted that few, if any, clergy may be willing to answer such inappropriate questions.
The Reconciling Ministries Network is a national network of United Methodist-focused organizations advocating for the full inclusion of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities into the life of the Church. Founded in 1984, RMN consists of 178 United Methodist congregations, 25 campus ministries, 13 Reconciling Communities, and over 17,000 individual members. Organizations involved include the Parents’ Reconciling Network, United Methodists of Color, RMN student movement, the Clergy Alliance, and newly formed Church Within A Church.
The decision of the committee, composed of seven clergy and two lay members, cannot be appealed, according to conference officials. The committee does not determine guilt or innocence, but whether reasonable grounds exist to support charges in a church trial. Five votes were required for Williams to be brought to trial.
Williams’ statement in the 2001 conference session led the conference to seek a ruling from the church’s highest court as to an apparent conflict between its prohibition of appointing "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" to lead congregations and its requirement that all clergy in good standing be given an appointment.
Bishop Elias Galvan filed complaints against Williams and another clergyperson following the Judicial Council's declaratory decision that the admission of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" was sufficient cause for a pastor to undergo a ministerial review. The council, which serves as the denomination's supreme court, rendered the decision during its Oct. 24-26 session in Nashville, Tenn. Galvan filed the complaints in December. That action started the process which concluded with the committee’s decision.
In their own press release, members of the Woodland Park church, who had supported Williams throughout his ordeal, expressed joy that the complaint had been dropped and that he would be able to continue to serve the congregation. He has been the senior pastor there since 1999.
Williams, who was pleased about the decision, told United Methodist News Service that he had decided to focus "on answering the questions they would ask as clearly and honestly as I could" when he participated in the hearing.
But he said he also has made clear that the statement he made last June was meant to refer only to his sexual orientation and "at no point have I ever intended to discuss my sexual behavior."
What has sustained Williams during what has been a long, frustrating year, he said, is "the adamant support" of the Woodland Park congregation. "I never guessed their capacity to walk with me and care for me and advocate on behalf of our ministry together," he added.
Contact: Jenn Williams
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