Pro-homosexuality Reconciling Church Program Members Mount Attack Against Methodist Camp Ground
Committee recommends removal of church name from campground
CHICAGO (UMNS) -- After a four-month investigation, a committee of the Northern Illinois Conference* Board of Church and Society reported that there has been "a pattern of discrimination" against homosexuals at the Historic Methodist Campground in Des Plaines.
The investigating committee recommended that Bishop C. Joseph Sprague* appoint a committee to work with campground trustees to "establish a working relationship and covenant" between the conference and the campground, "provided that appropriate precautions be taken" to protect both the conference and the campground from liability by the other party.
The investigating committee also recommended that the United Methodist name, logo and insignia be removed from campground property "until such time that a working relationship and covenant with the Northern Illinois Conference* is clarified and established" and the campground complies with the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church.
The findings were in a report presented to a Nov. 13 special session of the Northern Illinois Conference* in Rockford. Conference members took no action because the issue was not listed among items of business to be conducted in the original "call" for the session issued by Sprague* several months ago. The primary reason for the special session was to adopt a budget for 2000.
Sprague* said the report will be dealt with at the next regular session of annual conference in June, but he noted that receipt of the report "does not in any way preclude activity on this matter between now and June."
The campground, operated by the Chicago District Campground Association, was investigated by the conference Board of Church and Society following a resolution approved at the June 8 session of annual conference* in DeKalb. The resolution called for an investigation into allegations that campground trustees discriminated against a homosexual couple in violation of the United Methodist Church's Social Principles by refusing to rent a cottage to Robert Carroll* and Russell Elenz* because of their sexual orientation. Campground trustees also were accused of trying to evict Bill* and Nanette Graham* and their two children when they befriended Carroll* and Elenz*.
"While there has been no overt or official policy of discrimination against persons based upon sexual orientation, or the perception and assumption of a homosexual orientation, by the Chicago District Campground Association, there exists a pervasive atmosphere of intolerance and inhospitality to persons who are, or are perceived to be, homosexual in orientation," the report said. "It is distressing that Chicago District Campground Association has taken so little action to address the atmosphere of intolerance and inhospitality, and to foster the creation of a more inclusive community."
The report also found that there was "clearly a violation of the spirit" of the church's Social Principles and said there "may have been a violation of the letter of the Social Principles because of an inconsistent application of the charter, by-laws, rules and regulations" of the Chicago District Campground Association.
Despite insistence from campground trustees that they are an independent body not required to report to the conference, the investigating committee found that the campground's original charter "gives a very direct relationship" between the conference and the campground. The committee indicated that the campground is "an agency of the Northern Illinois Conference* and, as such, is responsible to the Discipline of this general church body as well as its directions and beliefs, theological, moral, ethical and social."
The report noted that for many years, the conference and the campground "have operated with little or nor connection with one another." However, the report said, "the absence of a vital relationship does not preclude the existence of such a relationship." It said both the campground and the conference "have been lacking in the maintenance of a viable relationship."
After the report was issued, Marjorie Cilley, president of the campground trustees, released a statement indicating that the investigating committee never heard the campground trustees' side of the story.
"The campground has not been given due process by the Board of Church and Society, which has never listened to our side of the story," Cilley said. "They have formed their own opinions and do not have all the facts."
The Rev. Todd Singley*, co-chair of the investigating team, said the campground trustees were offered "ample opportunity" to tell their side of the story. "We actually met with them on two occasions," Singley* said.
The investigating committee held two daylong hearings. On July 2, the committee heard from Carroll*, Elenz*, the Grahams*, other parties complaining about practices at the campground, and John E. Juergensmeyer, campground attorney. On July 14, the committee met in closed session with several campground trustees, including Cilley; Martha Matson, vice president; the Rev. Ramon Nieves, secretary; and Robert Matson, Martha Matson's husband.
"We provided any number of opportunities for the campground association trustees to present all the facts and to make their case," Singley* said. "We were eager for them to do exactly that. But they chose not to."
The seven-member investigating team was led by co-chairs* of the conference Board of Church and Society: Singley*, pastor of Irving Park United Methodist Church*; and Cecelia Long, co-chair of the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Other members were Jackie Hinaber, secretary of the conference Board of Church and Society; the Rev. Martha Schmidt*, pastor of Chemung United Methodist Church; the Rev. Harry Wainwright, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Bristol; the Rev. Erica Robinson-Johnson*, pastor of Jesse Walker United Methodist Church in Joliet; and Nancy Duel*, conference lay leader.
In the meantime, three complaints of discrimination have been filed with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights against the Chicago District Campground Association. Carroll* and Elenz* each filed a complaint, both also naming the Northern Illinois Conference* as a co-defendant. The Grahams* also filed a complaint against the campground.
Members of the Reconciling Congregations Program identified in the above story
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