CHICAGO – More than 200 United Methodist clergy in Illinois have pledged to flout church policy and bless unions for same-sex couples, putting their jobs, homes and callings in jeopardy if couples take them up on their offer.
Methodists in the Northern Illinois Conference also called on the global church to impose no more than a 24-hour suspension for clergy who defy the policy.
Elders, deacons and pastors took their stand after civil unions in Illinois became legal this month. But they said their determination to support same-sex unions has been fueled further by a church trial last week in which a jury found a Wisconsin pastor guilty of performing a holy union for a lesbian couple, suspending her for 20 days.
“Unfortunately, the church has lost its prophetic voice on this issue,” said the Rev. Gregory Gross, a deacon who organized the campaign. “Our civil society has taken the lead. Now the church is trying to catch up.”
The suspension of the Rev. Amy DeLong in Wisconsin is the first Methodist-imposed penalty for blessing a same-sex union since the Rev. Gregory Dell, pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, returned from a yearlong suspension after blessing the partnership of two men. Since then, the Northern Illinois Conference has been a leader in pushing for marriage equality in the Protestant denomination.
The Rev. Lois McCullen Parr, one of the 208 clergy who signed the pledge, said she did so as a matter of conscience and an extension of what she believes to be the gospel of love.
“We seek to be faithful as pastors to everybody,” said Parr, who succeeded Dell as pastor of Broadway. She attended the trial in Wisconsin last week.
“The sadness is we’re here again,” she said through tears. “The hope is that maybe this is the last church trial for this.”
The United Methodist Church remains one of the last mainline Protestant holdouts when it comes to blessing same-gender partnerships and openly gay clergy.
When civil unions went into effect June 1, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, leader of the United Methodists’ Northern Illinois Conference, applauded the “validation and inclusion through civil unions to those who have long been marginalized,” but reiterated that church law still barred clergy from officiating.
Some clergy attribute the Methodists’ unchanging position largely to logistics. But the Rev. Scott Field, pastor of Wheatland Salem United Methodist Church in Naperville, said the church’s moral conscience has prevented any hasty policy shifts that simply conform to culture.
“If someone has ethical opposition to that lifestyle, this has been equated with hatred,” he said. “We’re having a hard time disagreeing with one another without calling each other names.”