Contradictions At The Heart Of Ministry

The people of Green St. UMC In Winston-Salem, NC

The people of Green St. UMC In Winston-Salem, NC

A United Methodist pastor is facing a complaint under church law because he declined to officiate at a same-sex wedding.

A gay couple at Green Street Church, a United Methodist congregation in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has filed the formal complaint against their pastor, the Rev. Kelly P. Carpenter.

The couple, Kenneth Barner and Scott Chappell, charge Carpenter under the Book of Discipline with “failure to perform the work of ministry.” Their complaint also accuses Carpenter of “gender discrimination” in not officiating at their ceremony. Gender discrimination is also a chargeable offense under church law.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s book of church law and teachings, also states that all people are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” It is a chargeable offense under church law for clergy to preside at same-sex unions.

In the complaint, the couple says the denomination’s rules are contradictory. – Heather Hahn, “Gay Couple Files Complaint For Refusal Of Wedding”, United Methodist Insight, Nov. 12, 2014

When I saw this story yesterday, my first thought was, “Here we go.”  After a day’s thought, it occurred to me that by highlighting the contradictions our current anti-LGBTQ policy create for real ministry to all persons, we take the argument away from the hurly-burly of the Internet, Charge Conferences, Annual Conferences, and even General Conference, and ask a fundamental question about what ministry means, in church law.  While perhaps less welcome than an actual multifaceted discourse among so many in our church, this case brings to the fore the heart of problem: What kind of church are we?

Going forward, I have no idea what the outcome of this case will be.  I’m not even sure if the church’s Judicial Council will consider it having merit, precisely because the members are gay.  If rejected on these grounds, that at least answers the question about what kind of church we wish to be.  On the other hand, if the courts take the case, it will be a matter of weighing ministerial and pastoral priorities under church law.  This will require not only a deft legal touch, but also a subtle theological touch as well.

So I say, let’s all follow the bouncing ball as it takes this case wherever it leads.  We may all be surprised by the result.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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