Image

Dear Clergy Colleagues,
Summer greetings to each of you in the name of Jesus Christ.
I write to follow up on last year’s district conversations regarding our various pastoral responses to gay and lesbian persons in our congregations and in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling regarding same sex marriage. I want to offer an observation, a word of direction, and then an opportunity for further conversation.

From Observation to Opportunity
For decades the UMC has struggled with the issue of homosexuality and same sex marriage, and we are still not of one mind. There are those pastors among us who believe that same sex marriage is consistent with the will of God, those pastors who believe that it is not consistent with the will of God, and a significant group of pastors who continue in prayerful discernment. Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, regardless of its outcome, we can assume that some laity and clergy will be pleased while others will be upset. Many of us will struggle with what to say in conversations, sermons, newsletters, pastoral visits and perhaps with reporters.

I want to remind us that whatever our personal beliefs, I hope we will be sensitive to the people who believe differently than we do. Please think “respond, not react.”  Take particular care with messages you may send out on social media because those messages will define you not only in your current congregation but also in the future. Using language that is consistent with the fruits of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22-23) is a good measure of appropriate response.

From Dilemma to Direction
Our historic United Methodist stance on marriage defines marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. Our Book of Discipline states, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” (BOD 341.6) Changes in civil law do not apply to the religious practices of the UMC.

Our United Methodist Church also declares that all persons, gay and straight, are persons of “sacred worth” and so our pastors and churches are mandated to be in ministry “to and with” all persons.  We are especially to advocate for equal civil rights for all persons. Same gender couples who are legally married should be respected by all of us. If they are members of our churches, they should be listed that way on our membership records. Likewise, the children of same gender couples are eligible for baptism by our pastors in our churches; baptism focuses upon the children and upon God’s grace.

The dilemma for many United Methodist pastors is how to be in ministry “to and with” gay and lesbian persons from their congregations who will be married in a service conducted by another pastor in another denomination in another church. The Discipline is silent on this matter, and practices vary across the church. I have every confidence in each of you to be faithful to your vows as a pastor in covenant with The United Methodist Church.

From Confusion to Conversation
If the Supreme Court does rule to legalize same-sex marriage, the Cabinet and I will plan a Conclave on Pastoral Responses to the Supreme Court decision in early to mid-August. We hope to feature two guest presenter pastors with different points of view on the subject of same sex marriage who live within the UMC covenant and who are committed to the unity of the church. Each would be serving in an annual conference in a state where same sex marriage has been legal for some time. They would be invited to speak to pastoral issues raised by any changes in civil law, questions that have emerged when the law in their state changed, changes they and/or their congregation might be experiencing, and how each lives in covenant with those persons and positions with whom they disagree. Our intention is to hold a similar conversation in two locations (north/south) of the annual conference.  

In the midst of grief over the violence at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, storms and floods in Texas, Supreme Court decisions, preparation for General Conference and more, I hope you will do two things: 1) get some rest and renewal this summer. God is in charge of the universe, and the sun will rise tomorrow; 2) keep your heart, mind and energies focused on the mission of the church, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Thank you for your ministry. God bless you all.
Grace and peace,


Janice Riggle Huie


 

 
5215 Main Street Houston, TX 77002 Phone: 713-521-9383 Toll Free: 877-774-2700