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Bishops to Consider Homosexual Marriage Issue

Judicial Council sets special session on issues related to homosexual unions

April 24, 1998

By United Methodist News Service

SEATTLE -- The United Methodist Church's highest judicial body has called a special session for Aug. 7 and 8 in Dallas to consider the meaning of language related to the denomination's prohibition of homosexual unions.

A question about the language was submitted April 8 to the United Methodist Judicial Council by the College of Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction, one of five such geographic areas in the United States.

"We may well hear other petitions concerning the same subject and related ones from other parties," the council said in an April 22 statement. Council members considered when and where to deliberate on the issue as they began their regular spring session here April 22-25.

South Central bishops have asked for a declaratory decision from the council. They want to know whether it is a chargeable offense if a minister violates the denomination's prohibitions against performing "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions" and conducting such ceremonies in United Methodist churches.

One area of controversy concerns the location of the prohibition, which was placed in the denomination's Social Principles by the 1996 General Conference – the denomination's highest legislative body. Found in the Book of Discipline along with the church's constitution and historical and doctrinal statements, the Social Principles have not traditionally carried the weight of church law, according to many church members.

The bishops asked for the ruling following the March 11-13 church trial of the Rev. Jimmy Creech, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb. Creech, who performed a covenanting ceremony for two women last September, was charged with violating church law. A jury of Nebraska clergy members came one vote short of conviction, with eight of the 13 jurors voting guilty. Creech, who had been on paid administrative leave, was immediately restored to his pulpit.

To be considered by the Judicial Council, briefs and requests for oral hearings must be filed with the secretary of the council by June 30.

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