15 Ministers Reject Ban on Rites for Gays
Fifteen prominent United Methodist ministers--including two Los Angeles-area clergy and the pastor of a Washington church attended by President Clinton--have signed a “statement of conscience” disagreeing with their denomination’s ban on same-sex weddings and gay ordinations.
The 8.6-million-member United Methodist Church, the second-largest U.S. Protestant denomination, has long held that homosexual sex is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Methodists’ quadrennial convention last year barred clergy from presiding at services uniting gay or lesbian couples.
The statement being circulated this month to 2,000 Methodist ministers around the country disagrees with that position, saying: “To withhold rituals of support for committed relationships is unconscionable.”
One of the 15 original signers, the Rev. Ignacio Castuera, pastor of North Glendale United Methodist Church, said he permitted, presided over or participated in about a dozen wedding-like rites for same-sex couples while pastor of the relatively liberal Hollywood United Methodist Church.
Castuera said he would do so again “when those who request it are actively involved in religious life.” But “that is unlikely to happen at North Glendale,” where he has been since mid-1996, he said.
Castuera said the statement of conscience was designed primarily to provoke more dialogue on the issues. “In this era of AIDS, do we not want to encourage permanent relationships in the gay community?” he asked.
As for his present congregation, he said, “Obviously, it will provoke some discussion. I hope everyone will have an open mind.”
Two other signers, a Westwood pastor and Clinton’s pastor, said they have no plans to defy the denomination’s “discipline,” or rules of conduct, even though they disagree with these prohibitions.
The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, was quoted last week as saying he signed the statement because “a lot of good people have been injured by the church, and it’s time we call attention to that.”
The Rev. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett, pastor of Westwood United Methodist Church, said she signed with mixed feelings after receiving the mailed statement from ministers in Chicago and Omaha, Neb.
“Some members of this congregation will be upset and angry with me,” Rhodes-Wickett said.
She cited two reasons for signing the statement: She believes her ministry involves reaching out to people on the margins of society, and “there were people who stepped out in faith to lobby for women to be ordained in the Methodist Church” before the first women were ordained in 1956.
Rhodes-Wickett said she is loyal to the denomination’s discipline, “but if I am asked to do a [gay union ceremony], I will have to face that decision when it happens.”
Rhodes-Wickett and Castuera are both former district superintendents, regional authorities second only to the local bishop in the United Methodist Church.
If they were to openly preside over the union of a gay or lesbian couple now, Castuera said, they would technically be subject to charges of violating church rules.
But given the liberal views on the issue of Methodist Bishop Roy I. Sano, who heads the Southern California-Hawaii Conference, Castuera speculated that an offending pastor “would probably get a rap on the knuckles at most.”
Asked to comment, Sano said each case might involve different circumstances. But “as bishop, I am committed to upholding the discipline and to follow the decisions of the Judicial Council, which interprets church law,” he said.
Sano, who is based in Pasadena, was one of 15 active and retired United Methodist bishops who last year collectively stated their own personal pain over the church’s prohibitions regarding gay and lesbian Christians.
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