On Saturday, March 20, a jury of 13 pastors acquitted the charges made against Karen Dammann – the openly active lesbian pastor who challenged the United Methodist Church laws that explicitly prohibit the ordination of homosexual clergy.
While media reports showed a satisfied Dammann, smiling before her supporters, the rest of the 8.5 million-member-denomination were in disarray, faced with the challenge of maintaining the unity within the nationwide church. Evangelicals in particular were shocked at the verdict, and announced plans to bring the issue to debate at the upcoming quadrennial UMC General Conference, April 27.
On Monday, March 23, ChristianPost staff members were able to hear the voice of the Confessing Movement – the largest network of evangelicals within the UMC. Patricia Miller, the Executive director of the Confessing Movement, expressed the concerns and the future plan of the network, which has over 600,000 individuals nationwide.
This must be a very difficult time for the United Methodist Church. What, in general, is the reaction from the members of the Confessing Movement network?
First of all, there is grief. Our members are shocked that the jury would disregard the law of the church. [The jury] essentially nullified the law of the church. So now, we are still grieving, and we are praying about what the appropriate response is.
There are so many members in the Confessing Movement. Is your group in any way mobilizing its network to influence the UMC at the nationwide level?
Well, the outcome of the trial has already mobilized the UMC congregations. This office has been enormously busy with calls from people in disbelief, asking what they can do. So I think the issue itself and the result of the trial mobilized the members of the UMC.
Do the members who call and ask how they should react and what they can do, what do you generally advise?
The first thing I ask them to do is to pray and to be faithful, and I ask them to give the general conference the opportunity to speak in April. Many of these callers are even considering leaving the denomination, so we ask them to stay and give the general conference a chance.
Speaking of the conference this April, does the Confessing Movement have any specific plans of action?
No, Not yet. But we are certainly going to spend a great deal of time on this issue.
Is it safe to say that Dammann’s trial will be one of the issues that will be most debated at the conference?
Yes. I think this will clearly be an issue that will take a great deal of time at the general conference. These discussions will take place, and I think the trial will be at the forefront with other issues.
Many believed that Dammann’s case would be an open-and-shut ruling in favor of the prosecution. What was your reaction to the verdict?
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the UMC law, but it states clearly that the “practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings,” and that openly avowed homosexuals should not be considered for appointment or ordination. We are really in shock that this jury would not uphold the law of the church.
Many believe that the jury’s decision does not reflect the rest of the denomination. What is your view?
The UMC upholds the position that has been adopted consistently by the general conference. Therefore, the case is disobedience and a nullification of church laws. The jury has deliberately and intentionally violated this law of the church, and they have broken covenant with the rest of the church.
I’ve read before that in many cases, the clergy is more liberal and “open to homosexuality” than are their congregants. Do you believe this is true?
I have seen some surveys that the Barna institute has put out that at least some of our clergy do not support the position of the church, although they have taken vows to uphold it. I think clearly within the church there are some who do not support the doctrine and discipline of the church and have decided to take actions based on their own positions and opinions. But they have taken vows to uphold it.
As you probably know, the Episcopal Church has been locked in a very painful battle over this issue since last November. Do you fear similar schisms may arise within the UMC?
At this point in time, I think we need to give the general conference a chance to work. Many people are calling in disbelief and they are searching for answer, and I ask them to be patient and to give the general conference a chance.