Two weeks have passed since the controversial case of an openly lesbian United Methodist pastor ended, and yet the flood of criticism against the verdict continues to pour in.
Immediately following the contentious verdict, which acquitted the openly avowed practicing lesbian Karen Dammann of all charges made against her, two brave bishops released a bold statement expressing their indignation.
“We are profoundly disappointed in the recent church trial decision in the Seattle Area. It is a clear sign of rebellion when a group chooses to flagrantly ignore The Discipline, substituting their own perspective for the corporate wisdom of the General Conference,” wrote Bishop Mike Watson and Bishop Lindsey Davis on March 22.
Bishops Watson and Davis’ statement was received with high regards by the more biblically sound ministries within the UMC.
“There have been several courageous bishops who have spoken out on the Damman trial verdict,” said Patricia Miller, director of the Confessing Movement – a network of renewal churches in the UMC. “I think that Bishop Watson and Davis’ statement have been very encouraging to many United Methodists.”
Miller added that the full statement of Bishops Watson and Davis is available on the Confessing Movement’s website: http://www.confessingumc.org.
Several other bishops followed Watson and Davis’ lead, reassuring their parishioners that the ruling does not speak on behalf of the whole 8 million-member denomination.
“As you engage in conversation in your local church and communities around this issue, please make the following note and clear distinction; the action taken on March 20, 2004 in The Pacific Northwest Conference is the action of one group in one place at one specific time. It does not reflect the position of the Church as a whole,” wrote Bishop Marion M. Edwards of North Carolina.
By March 26, the executive committee of the council of bishops wrote a similar statement on behalf all the bishops of the United Methodist Church.
“The Council of Bishops reminds the church this one case does not alter the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality or the qualifications for ministry. The Discipline's authority is unchanged. Nor does this case directly affect other Annual Conferences as they may adjudicate such cases,” they wrote.
However, unlike the clearly stated remarks of the individual bishops, the council did not chide the erroneous verdict. Instead, they called upon parishioners and churches to join together “in respectful, prayerful dialogue and Christian conferencing to discern the Holy Spirit’s leading.”
When asked to comment on the Council of Bishops’ response to the Damman Trial, Ms. Miller cautiously paused, then referred back to her previous statement.
“I think that many united Methodists have been very encouraged by the statement of a number of courageous bishops who have spoken out on the Damman trial verdict,” she said.
Another renewal group of the UMC, entitled, 'Good News,' encouraged UMC members to “contact your bishops about your concerns in this matter.”
“Find out who your Bishop is and contact him/her about your concerns,” the website stated. “Support your pastor by taking this responsibility on yourself, and not asking him/her to carry this for you.”
The website noted the importance of letting the bishops know quickly, so that the parishioners’ voices can be heard prior to the upcoming quadrennial UMC conference, slated for April 27.
“The 2004 United Methodist General Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, provides United Methodism with an opportunity to take another major step forward toward reform, renewal, and revitalization!” it wrote.
According to Good News, there are now a total of 12 individual bishops who have spoken out against the Dammann trial verdict. The last bishop to comment was Peter D. Weaver of Eastern Pennsylvania, on March 29.
“This verdict does not change the United Methodist position on the practice of homosexuality, which, in my judgment, has been stated very clearly by the General Conference many times,” wrote Bishop Weaver. “I believe that it is important for the Judicial Council to exercise a review of the trial verdict, to the extent that the Book of Discipline allows it to do so, in order to assure that fairness was accorded to the Church’s position as well as Rev. Dammann.”
To read the statements of the individual bishops, please visit: http://www.goodnewsmag.org