By Walter Fenton
More than 70 United Methodist pastors from the West Ohio Annual Conference participated in or bore witness to the same-sex wedding ceremony on Saturday, May 7. The Rev. David Meredith, who pastors at Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, married his partner Jim Schlachter at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio. Meredith acknowledged his marriage is in violation of UM Church teaching, but he said he hoped it would “excite, engage and motivate others working for change.”
The ceremony came just days before The United Methodist Church’s General Conference convenes in Portland, Oregon, and once again takes up the contentious issue of same-sex marriage, the ordination of openly gay clergy, and the practice of homosexuality.
“Even though the church has debated this issue for nearly 45 years, and has repeatedly declined to endorse same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy, for the past several years LGBTQ advocates have decided to break covenant with the vast majority of the denomination, and engage in these acts of ecclesial disobedience,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, President of Good News and Pastor of Discipleship at The Woodlands UM Church (The Woodlands, Texas), one of the largest churches in the denomination.
Good News is spearheading a coalition of traditionalist United Methodists at the denomination’s General Conference, which meets every four years and begins today. Along with The Confessing Movement and UMAction, Good News seeks to defend and promote the UM Church’s core theological confessions. It shares with the vast majority of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox Christians the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.
The ceremony in Columbus was clearly part of an orchestrated effort on the part of LGBTQ advocacy groups seeking to change the UM Church’s position on sexuality and marriage. It comes just two weeks after a same-sex wedding service held in a UM Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert co-officiated at that wedding with the Rev. Val Rosenquist, an elder in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference.
Also, the boards of ordained ministry in the progressive Baltimore-Washington, New York and Pacific-Northwest Annual Conferences recently announced they would no longer follow the denomination’s Book of Discipline when interviewing candidates for ordination. All three boards said they would no longer bar openly gay candidates from seeking clergy credentials in their annual conferences.
“Clearly, progressives have decided that even if they fail again at this General Conference to change the church’s position, they will continue to regularly and provocatively defy the will of the church’s highest legislative body,” said Renfroe. “Their actions will divide the church, particularly if our bishops fail to hold them accountable. Even worse, they will undermine the good work of colleagues and the health and vitality of thousands of local UM Churches.”
The West Ohio Annual Conference is one of the largest annual conferences in the denomination’s North Central Jurisdiction. However, in the past several years it has been racked by dissension over the same-sex marriage debate. Some pastors and local churches are threatening to leave the conference if other pastors are simply allowed to defy the church’s teachings on what many believe are core issues.
“We want to remain connected to brothers and sisters in the faith,” said the Rev. Jeff Harper of Evangelical UM Church in Greenville, Ohio, “but not if a minority in the church is willing to defy and disregard what we believe are the sacred bonds and covenants that unite us.”
The Rev. Jeff Greenway, who leads the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio, issued a strong statementcalling for accountability for a “clear act of disobedience to the spirit and letter of our covenant. It is with great sadness that we write as persons who love the church, have been devoted to and invested in the United Methodist Church, and who have consistently advocated for unity.”
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and an analyst for Good News.