Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 16 March 1998

A SPIRITED VICTORY FOR THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

A Prophet Speaks at the Trial of Jimmy Creech & Wins Big for the Future
Two Days of Soulforce Alerts from Kearney, Nebraska

By The Reverend Dr. Mel White,
Justice Minister UFMCC

 

4:00 AM. While fumbling for the "off" button on the motel alarm clock, I knocked my glasses and a pile of change into an empty metal wastebasket. Gary bolted up in bed, muttered a quiet profanity, pulled the covers over his head, and is at this moment trying to go back to sleep, wondering, I'm sure, why he married a gay, Christian clergyman determined to spend these endless days and sleepless nights in Kearney, Nebraska, reporting on the trial of Jimmy Creech.

Thursday, we sat for thirteen back-breaking, mind-numbing hours on metal folding chairs in a church gym-turned-courtroom listening to witnesses being examined and cross-examined by the Rev. Lauren Ekdal, counsel for the United Methodist Church, and the Rev. Doug Williamson, defense counsel for the Rev. Jimmy Creech. The audience was packed with members of his congregation in their matching sweat shirts, pins and stickers reading "Support Jimmy." They had left homes, schools, and jobs and driven three hours from Omaha to stand with their pastor during his "inquisition."

On the stand, one-by-one, distinguished leaders from Jimmy's church supported fervently his commitment to the full acceptance of lesbians and gay men. William Jenks, the program director of an Omaha radio station and a member of Jimmy's congregation leaned towards the jury and spoke eloquently: "This goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian," he concluded. "A slumbering giant has been awakened. It will not go back to sleep again."

Today (Friday), the historic verdict will be announced and already, just outside the Kearney United Methodist Church, television remote trucks from CNN, the networks, and local TV affiliates from across Nebraska are parked among the snowdrifts with giant satellite dishes pointed heavenward, thick, blood-red cables snaking their way through the icy slush, and half-frozen crew members thawing out on coffee provided by smiling, frontier Methodist women in short sleeves because the temperature has risen to 9 degrees above zero.

This rare church trial against the distinguished senior pastor of Omaha's 1,900 member First United Methodist Church, will decide if Rev. Creech is guilty of "disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church." Another Methodist minister in Omaha originated the complaint against his fellow pastor because on September 14, 1997, Jimmy Creech performed a "covenanting ceremony that celebrated a homosexual union between two women in his congregation."

Yesterday, on the stand, Jimmy Creech admitted proudly that during his 29 year ministry he has presided over dozens of these "covenanting ceremonies" celebrating the pledge of "love and fidelity between two lesbians or two gay men" and that regardless of the verdict of this trial court, he would be "compelled by his commitment to the unqualified, all-accepting love of Jesus" to continue that practice faithfully.

In fact, Jimmy Creech's alleged act of disobedience to his bishop and the Methodist Book of Discipline is not the real issue here. Conservative forces within this third largest American denomination are struggling to control the United Methodist Church, using their anti-homosexual fear tactics to raise money and mobilize volunteers. Jimmy is caught in the middle between the urge-to-purge forces of fundamentalism and Methodism's historic commitment to "justice, mercy, and truth" that began with the founding of this denomination in 1784 by John and Charles Wesley, missionary-evangelists to the native American Indians.

There are growing signs of hope that justice, mercy and truth will conquer ignorance, and fear. Already, more than 1,000 Methodist ministers have signed "In All Things Charity" a petition urging full, unqualified membership to lesbians and gay men, including the marriage rites. There are 144 "Reconciling United Methodist Congregations" who have voted officially to go public with their full acceptance of God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children and uncounted Methodist ministers who perform "covenanting ceremonies" in private for their homosexual congregants.

Until 1996, the United Methodist Church had no prohibition of such unions. That year, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, representing 36,000 American congregations, added these words to the "Social Principles" (a 22 page introduction to their weighty Book of Discipline): "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

Jimmy believes the "Social Principles" are guidelines for local pastors, not laws to be enforced. The prosecution disagrees. Yesterday, the Rev. Kenneth Hicks, a retired United Methodist bishop implied quite clearly that if Jimmy Creech couldn't obey church disciplines, he should leave the church. Jimmy's reply moved friends and foes alike.

"My credentials will have to be taken from me," he said quietly. "I will not surrender them. It is my responsibility to give pastoral support to all people, to share the message of God's grace with everyone. The United Methodist Church is wrong in its position [against homosexuals]. I cannot abide by it. To abide by it would give credence to it. Had I chosen not to do the covenant ceremony, it would have been the same as turning my credentials in, of saying I am no longer a pastor, of really forfeiting the call from Christ that has come to me."

Thursday, in the din of droning voices, we heard a prophet speak. Today (Friday, March 13) we learn from the Trial Court's verdict whether the United Methodist church will honor their prophet, heed his wisdom and his warnings or take away his credentials and bar him from the Church.

Friday, March 13, 1998
The Jimmy Creech Verdict Is In

The trial court (jury) filed back into the Kearney United Methodist gym yesterday at 6:40PM. After asking the pastors and the people in 36,000 United Methodist Churches across America "to receive the verdict in a spirit of love and reconciliation," the jury foreman read the numbers. I was sitting just to the right of Rev. Jimmy Creech and his defense team, watching these three men as the verdict came down. Jimmy looked over his shoulder at his wife, Chris, and smiled wearily.

"On the Specification [that Jimmy Creech had conducted a covenant ceremony for two women in Omaha's First United Methodist Church], 11 guilty, 2 not guilty."

Somehow, Jimmy maintained his poise. Chris looked stunned. I died a little. If this third largest Protestant denomination had no room for Jimmy Creech, it had no room for God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. And yet we are their organist-choirmasters, their Sunday School teachers, youth ministers, and pastors. Television crews were poised at the back of the auditorium like pioneers before a Nebraska land rush. What would I say that would express our righteous anger and at the same time give hope and healing?

"On the Charge [that by performing the covenant ceremony for two women, Jimmy Creech had violated the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church], 8 guilty, 5 not guilty."

Seconds passed. No one moved. Then, together, we did the math. The United Methodist Book of Discipline requires nine votes to convict. Jimmy had been found "innocent" by a single vote. Though he had broken the letter of a brand new law against same-sex covenant ceremonies, the jury decided that by meeting the pastoral needs of two women in his congregation he had fulfilled the spirit of Christ upon which the laws of the United Methodist Church are based. A message had been sent, not just to Methodism but to Christians around the world. If we are to be followers of Jesus, love must triumph over law.

Bishop Leroy Hodapp declared the trial ended. The audience gave Rev. Creech and his defense team a standing ovation and members of Jimmy's congregation, wearing their "Support Jimmy" buttons and matching sweatshirts, stood in a large circle, grabbed hands and began to sing, "Hallelujah. Hallelujah." Jimmy and his defense team, Doug Williamson and Mike McClellan, were swept up in a media frenzy. I counted fourteen TV cameras, endless radio and print reporters all wanting to hear from Jimmy. CNN broadcast that moment live. Maybe you saw it. As his people sang, Pastor Creech told the nation quietly, "This is a victory for both sides. No one loses here."

And Jimmy is correct. By a very close margin United Methodists in Nebraska have decided that the dialogue about sexual orientation must advance to a new level, that no one should be excluded, that there are plenty of seats at this table. If you doubt that there is a new wind blowing, I wish you could have been in that "courtroom" yesterday to hear the expert witnesses being examined on the stand.

Rev. Phillip Wogaman, Pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., President Clinton's pastor:

"Gay and lesbian Christians are already in our churches if we would only open our eyes and see them. Their commitments to each other, to Christ, and to our Church are authentic. They number among our finest leaders. They fit normally and actively. They only want to be affirmed for what they are."

Betty Dorr, PFLAG Mom, Sunday School teacher, United Methodist Women's Society:

"My son's gay sexuality is a gift from God. Our churches must take on the responsibility of studying, learning, and accepting our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered members. My two heterosexual children were married in their churches. I'm dreaming of that day when my gay son will fall in love and come home to celebrate his covenant ceremony in ours."

Gregory Herek, Full Research Psychologist, University of California at Davis-- (gmherek@ucdavis.edu):

"In times past, religious leaders supported their ignorance about homosexuality by calling it a 'sin.' Secular authorities by calling it a 'crime.' Psychologists and psychiatrists by calling it a 'sickness.' Now the research has been done. Homosexuality is not a 'sin,' a 'crime,' or a 'sickness.' People who still use those old labels, are really saying nothing more than 'We disapprove of homosexuality or we dislike homosexuals.'

When Dr. Herek was questioned about the paradox at the heart of the United Methodist Book of Discipline - Methodists acknowledge that "sexuality is God's good gift to all persons" but they prohibit homosexual behavior - his reply brought laughter to a very somber day. "I oppose Methodism," he said grinning, "but I support Methodists, as long as they don't perform Methodist practices." The analogy was painfully clear. Even the opposition joined in the laughter.

At this moment, I'm back in our hotel room. Gary is packing away our long johns. (It's 54 degrees, not a bad jump from yesterday's 9 degrees.) Today we drive to Omaha and Sunday we fly home to Laguna Beach to finish work on our new video, The Trials of Jimmy Creech. CNN is still broadcasting from the courtroom. Someone from Jimmy's church who disapproves or dislikes homosexuals has just informed the media that "He's not going to be my pastor." Already the celebration has ended and the work of reconciliation has begun. Jesus said, "Love your enemies." George Burns replied, "It will drive them crazy." Gandhi added, "...and set you both free."

If you think the Christian religion has been the enemy of God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children, you are correct. If the thought of going back to your church or to any church (or synagogue) makes you crazy, it's OK. I understand. But something happened today in Kearney, Nebraska, that made me feel hope again, hope that truth will triumph, that old prejudices will die, that ignorance is losing its powerful hold, not just here but across the nation and around the world. But it cannot happen without us.

Behind me, on CNN, in a courtroom in Kearney, Nebraska, a young, gay, African-American from the Midwest who has been a victim of religious racism and homophobia all his life is hugging a privileged white Southerner from Raleigh, North Carolina. TV cameras broadcast the scene. "You did it, Jimmy," the black youth says grinning up at his pastor in complete disbelief. "We did it, Roy," Jimmy replies, "together." For a moment, Jimmy Creech just holds the young man. Tears stream down both faces. Their smiles light up the room. Then Rev. Creech adds quietly, "Now the work begins."


PS: The following statement on human sexuality can be found in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. These words will give you hope that one day, in the churches and synagogues of this nation, all the confusion and misunderstanding about God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children will end.

"We recognize that sexuality is God's good gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others, and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. We call the church to take the leadership role in bringing together these disciplines to address this most complex issue. Further, within the context of our understanding of this gift of God, we recognize that God challenges us to find responsible, committed, and loving forms of expression." Methodist Book of Discipline, 65G.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Although Bishop Hodapp refused to let Mel White's camera crew video tape the trial, Mel's new video, "The Trials of Jimmy Creech" documents this man's amazing life journey through an intimate, revealing interview and press conference. The video is available by sending a check made out to VIDEO 3 for $10 (for duplicating, packaging, and mailing) to Soulforce Videos, P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA. 92652. As with all of Mel White's videos, you have permission to copy "The Trials of Jimmy Creech" and share the video with family and friends (or broadcast it on local television or cable access stations.) If you include a second, tax-deductible check to made out to UFMCC and sent to the above address, one-half of your donation will go directly to Jimmy Creech to help pay his trial expenses and one-half will help underwrite mailing the videos to clergy across the nation with a personal letter from Jimmy Creech.

For more information: www.soulforce.org


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