Saturday, January 29, 2011

Treating everyone equally

Rev. Dr. Melvin Woodworth of the First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, Washington sat down with a writer for Pam's House Blend (a gay blog) for a lengthy and informative interview. That particular church was already a Reconciling Congregation (on record for welcoming gay people) before he got there 3 years ago. Even so, he had a challenge for them. The Book of Discipline (denomination rule book) says to treat everyone equally. It also says gays cannot have a religious marriage ceremony in the church or done by the pastor (the state doesn't allow civil marriage). Those two statements are in conflict! The congregation wrote and adopted a statement that they would allow their building be used for such ceremonies and the pastor would be allowed to officiate.

Yes, this is in violation of church law. Though Woodworth doesn't want the hassle that would come if someone filed a grievance (nobody has yet) he notes: The grievance would involve an investigation. But that would not necessarily result in a trial and would not necessarily result in punishment -- the church law doesn't specify a punishment. He's pushing his region (Washington and Idaho) to specify a punishment -- a suspension … of 24 hours. Enjoy your day off, dude!

Woodworth also looks at the next General Conference (held 15 months from now) when the Book of Discipline will next be revised. At the last one there was an effort to make this next General Conference be more representative of worldwide membership. That gives African churches a greater voice. American conservatives pushed for it because Africans are much more conservative on sex issues. But the change could backfire -- African churches are much more liberal on all other issues (such as worker justice). Meaning American conservatives gave up a lot just to keep control of the gay issue. We must really annoy them! African churches are seeing they're being jerked around by the Americans. In addition, their views of gays are evolving. Maybe not in 2012…

At a previous church Woodworth was appointed after a pastor who was rabidly anti-gay. He was invited to talk with the women's group and instead of lecturing them he asked some questions, one being, "Is there someone close to you who is gay or lesbian?" Suddenly it was OK to talk about the subject and the congregation changed in a hurry.

The whole interview is worth the read. Woodworth explains things in a way an outsider can understand and I only mentioned a few topics covered.

No comments:

Post a Comment