Evangelical pastors throughout the United Methodist Church’s Pacific Northwest Annual Conference called for a spiritual revival within their region and expressed the need to uphold the biblical view on homosexuality.
“Evangelicals have basically said, ‘We are not going to cooperate with the radical aims of the conference,”’ said the Rev. Gary Starkey, of Westpark United Methodist Church in Yakima. “This conference needs to consider its ways and repent, turn in another direction.”
Starkey was among 20 pastors, who met for several hours in Yakima, Washington, for the conference, on May 22.
Referring back to the March 20 acquittal of the openly lesbian pastor Karen Dammann, Starkey said the focus on homosexual characters in the denomination has hindered the church’s theological mission.
“The characters in the church trial have captured so much press, the press is focused on this because it’s such a sensational occurrence,” Starkey said. “It’s very embarrassing for the church trying to do gospel work in a community.”
At the trial’s end, 13 pastors of the Pacific Northwest voted in favor of openly avowed practicing homosexual Dammann, saying the church did not have sufficient evidence to prove she was guilty of ““practices incompatible with Christian teaching.” Oddly, the denomination’s Book of Disciplines explicitly forbids the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
The controversial trail also thrust the homosexual debate to the floor of the denomination’s General Assembly, at which the 1,000 delegates strengthened the church’s stance prohibiting the ordination of active gay clergy.
Reflecting on the difference of opinions between the Pacific Northwest and the global UMC body, the evangelical Rev. Daniel Foster of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Covington, Washington wrote: “It is my perception that our AC (annual conference) has clearly broken covenant with our General Conference.”
Foster wrote in an April 17 letter to the district’s bishop, Elias Galvan, to ensure that the region remains in covenant with the rest of the church.
“We want to make sure that we in the Northwest understand we are connected to the same church and the same greater covenant,” Foster said.
At the general conference, the delegates in explicitly passed 16 laws to reinforce the belief that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and that the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offence for clergy. The delegates also explicitly wrote that bishops could not appoint a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to a church.
The Rev. Rick Vinther of Woodinville Community United Methodist Church wrote to Bishop Galvan on a May 11 letter, urging him to follow the church law restricting the appointment of homosexual clergy.
“I trust that you will uphold that law — regardless of your personal feelings on the issue — and that the intent of the United Methodist Book of Discipline will be upheld,” Vinther wrote on behalf of 11 pastors. “If indeed Karen does ask for appointment, I implore you to do the right thing and not appoint her to the local church, as appointing her would be a chargeable offense under our current church law.”
By the conference’s end, Starkey said the evangelical pastors felt the importance of networking and strategizing to let their voice be heard.
“I don’t think this group of pastors wants to be perceived as a rebellious group or hostile group, but rather a group that just wants to assure that there is an evangelical, orthodox witness and presence in the life of our annual conference,” Starkey said.
Starkey also expressed hopes that the division and difference of opinions in the 8-million member denomination may plant the seed for spiritual and collegial growth within the conference.
“I believe the conference is on the cusp of a spiritual revival, if it comes to its senses in realizing the general church would like to see the conference focus on the historic mission of the church, and not to use the conference resources for a radical agenda,” Starkey said.