Friday, August 10, 2007

Judicial Council Set to Rule on Issues of Inclusiveness

The UM News Service reported this week on the slate of issues to be discussed at the upcoming fall session of the Judicial Council. At the top of the list are a host of cases dealing with issues of inclusion, including two rulings on the eligibility of transgender pastors for ordination and appointment.

The ruling of Bishop Schol of the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference on the eligibility of transgender pastors has been sent to the Judicial Council. Bishop Schol's ruling is in fact a correct interpretation of the Book of Discipline. There is nothing in our denominational polity that prohibits transgender persons from ordained ministry. Of course, the Book of Discipline has never been an impediment to the current Judicial Council. They most notably strayed from the Discipline in 2005 when they affirmed the right of a local pastor to deny membership to a gay man even when it was clear that this ruling violated both Article IV of the Constitution and Paragraph 214 of the Discipline. That ruling, Decision 1032, set off a chain of protest across the denomination, including a unanimous pastoral letter sent from the Council of Bishops.

Our denomination has been clear since 1956 when women were granted full rights as ordained clergy that gender is not an impediment to ordination. As one parishioner so eloquently stated, it would be tragic for our Church to turn back the clock of social and ecclesial progress by fifty years to re-instate prohibitions based on gender identity.

In addition to the rulings on issues of transgender persons, the Judicial Council will also rule on a series of questions pertaining to the rights of gay and lesbian persons in the Church. It is interesting to note that the Judicial Council will take up two matters on which they have previously ruled.

The first "do-over" comes on the question of whether or not "status" as it appears in Article IV of the Constitution includes "heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender status of single persons and persons who avow they are in committed, loving relationships." This was first ruled on in Decision 102o in which the Council affirmed that "status" in the Constition did indeed include heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and transgender status.

The second "do-over" comes on the question of whether or not conferences can extend domestic partnership benefits for lay conference employees. Again, this was previously decided in a case brought by the West Michigan Annual Conference (Decision 1030) in which the Judicial Council stated that each conference has the responsibility to make sure no church funds are being used to promote homosexuality as stated in Paragraph 612.19 of the Book of Disicpline. It is hard to imagine that providing just and equal benefits to employees for health care and pension could be construed as "promoting the acceptance of homosexuality." If, however, the Council reverses their previous decision or expands upon it to prohbit such benefits, we must as a denomination consider what it means for us as the Body of Christ to deny persons adequate health care based on their sexual orientation. Of course, any ruling to prohibit benefits to lay employees would also violate Paragraph 162H of the Book of Discipline which clearly affirms the civil rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation.

The question in both of these cases will be whether the Judicial Council prudently follows precedent and the Constitution or whether they use these as opportunities to further scale back the inclusiveness provisions in our current church law. Given their track record on these issues and the current penchant to allow ideology to trump church law, we have good reason to be concerned.

The 2008 General Conference will no doubt continue the debate as the Church wrestles how it will incarnate the Body of Christ for the world. Will we choose inclusion, love and grace or will we be bullied by fear and misunderstanding choosing instead exclusion, judgment and discrimination?


Jenn Peterson said...

Hi Tiffany--just discovered your blog. Glad to see you in cyberspace!

Thanks for reminding me of JC's upcoming rulings.


Anonymous said...

I've done a 180 on these issues in the past, actually more like several 180's.

I don't see how any medical benefits should be denied ANYONE. For that matter I am a supporter of a national healthcare system.

I think the ultimate "litmus" test for all church-related ruling should be based on the "great commandment". Basically, is an issue hurting others? Are they hurting themselves?

Some may retort, "well GLBT's hurt God because they don't follow the bible". To which I would answer, is God that weak that we can hurt Him/Her? Second, if we were to assume that homosexuality IS a sin, I would answer we are all broken in some respect, and we all fall short, but we need to do the best we can to be kind to one another, and take care of each other. After all true and undefiled religion involves taking care of orphans and widows (Jas 1:27). Further, how many UM's do we have that are divorced? Aren't they sinning as well?

Ok so I got carried away, and it's nothing new anyhow.

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

Welcome, Jenn and Dave! Glad you both found your way here.

I would love to hear more about your story, Dave.

Anonymous said...

Oh I don't think that I have much of a "story" per se...

I guess as I've gotten older, I realize how far short I've fallen of the goal... who am I to judge? Over and over the bible tells us explicity not to judge one another.

From some personal experience:
1) I have been told by some LGBT that they "chose" their orientation because of bad experiences with the opposite gender, i.e. rape, incest, abuse, etc
2) Others have told me that they were "born that way"

In case 1) if they were hurt in the past, and they have deep rooted hurts that may never mend, never be able to forgive, then they need love. If in the case of 2) then if they "were born that way" then so be it... I know a lot of people who have problems and they "can't help it" or "were born that way", yet society doesn't shun them.

The above didn't come out right, but hopefully some idea of what I was trying to say came across.

Further, I have a problem with folks who are all "well the bible says marriage is between a man and a woman", blah, blah, blah... as far as i can tell in the bible their idea of marriage and ours weren't exactly the same. I'm no historian, but I'm guessing that marriages weren't as idealistic, and as equal as we make them out to be. I figure the OT & NT authors didn't view marriage the same way as we do between a man & a woman. Why should we expect that they'd have even heard of a LGNT marriage, if a hetero marriage like we ideally envision for today didn't exist back then...

I am a Stephen Minister in my church, and I had the opportunity to spend some time with a guy whose friend was gay, but was berated by a fundamentalist that the gay person was "going to hell and was a sinner". This well meaning (and former druggie) fundie caused a lot of pain and confusion, and I was there to see the pain and hurt and realized that even I had been wrong and hypocritical.

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...


Thanks for sharing. We all have a story! I think you are not alone. So often, however, the debate gets framed as "liberals" against "conservatives" and people feel as though once they take a stand they have to remain entrenched it in. I believe that the Holy Spirit is continually at work, creating more love and justice in the world. Your story is evidence of that.

I hope you share that story with others. Perhaps then we in the UMC could live peacefully with our sisters and brothers in Christ!