A United Methodist pastor in North Carolina is facing a complaint for refusing to marry a gay couple after the removal of the same-sex marriage ban in that state last month, but there's a twist.
When Kenneth Barner and Scott Chappell requested to be married by Rev. Kelly Carpenter at a ceremony off church property, the pastor refused, stating that it's against the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline to allow the officiating of vows to a same-sex couple.
Barner and Chappell then filed a church complaint, charging him with "failure to perform the work of ministry" and "gender discrimination," according to reports by the United Methodist News Service.
But Rev. Carpenter is torn between the church's laws and his own beliefs that it's his duty to be a minister to all people. "If there was a way for me to be a co-signer with the complaint, I think it's right on the money," he said. "It really calls out the contradictions in our Book of Discipline, which calls us to be ministry with all people."
According to United Methodist rules, the pastor is allowed to perform a service of relationship blessing for the couple, but not allow the exchanging of vows or rings, and the rules restrict any pronouncement of marriage. But when offered this service by Carpenter, the couple refused. When Barner and Chappell asked the pastor to perform the service off church grounds, it was Carpenter's turn to refuse, prompting the official complaint with the church's bishop.
"It's the same reason why we didn't leave the state when other states had marriage equality," Chappell told the United Methodist News Service.
"It felt like having to go elsewhere or having an altered ceremony in order to comply with United Methodist rules seemed diminished in some way. We declined to do that and chose to this instead so we can start this conversation."
Interestingly enough, this same Winston-Salem church was in the news back in March of 2013 for refusing to marry heterosexual couples until the same-sex marriage ban was lifted by the denomination.
"We are asking our ministers not to perform sacraments of marriage, as far as the wedding vows, wedding rings, and the announcement of the marriage in the sanctuary until the United Methodist Church says it is equitable or same-sex couples can get married in the church," said Tim Sturgis, co-chair of the local Interfaith Voice said of the Green Street Methodist Church where Carpenter is pastor.
Carpenter said during that 2013 interview with local news station WFDD that he's proud of the diversification of his church, boasting that the congregation included more than 15 gay and lesbian couples.
"The United Methodist Church, like many other churches, is struggling with language within the denomination," he said. "In 2012, there were many attempts to change all the language within the discipline around the issues around gay and lesbian people and all of those attempts seemed to fail. But the percentage of the way in which those votes are taken is narrowing, and I think eventually it will tip over and be more inclusive of the gay and lesbian folks in our denomination."
This would certainly back Carpenter's attitude of agreement with the very people who are threatening to press charges against him, but that may be the whole point. "This may get me in some trouble, but it may be the kind of trouble I've been looking for," the pastor said.