With the ongoing debate within the United Methodist Church (UMC) over its problematic “Position on Homosexuality“, and the recent news that an anti-equality marriage amendment will be on the ballot in Minnesota in 2012, Rev. Bruce Robbins decided to speak out.  

Robbins is pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.  Hennepin belongs to the Reconciling Ministries Network, “a growing movement of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries, and other groups” working for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the United Methodist Church.

This past weekend, at an afternoon clergy meeting during the Annual Conference of the Minnesota UMC, Rev. Robbins invited fellow clergy to sign the Equality for All in Christian Marriage Statement.  According to the UMC news service, “about a dozen clergy members” initially signed, but “by 9:30 p.m., the total signers had increased to about 40. As of June 3, the number had reached 70.”  There are 365 UMC churches in Minnesota.

Equality for All in Christian Marriage

Minnesota Annual Conference 2011

We joyfully affirm that we will offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage. We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by Spirit and conscience to act. We thank the many United Methodists who have already called for full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church.

We repent that it has taken us so long to act. We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the Church to the world, and we are complicit. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of the United Methodist Church in prayer.

Any United Methodist person in Minnesota Conference who conducts Christian marriages is welcomed to sign.

I have chosen to sign the Equality for All in Christian Marriage Statement and I belong to the Minnesota Annual Conference.

The Statement doesn’t address the secular question presented by the 2012 ballot measure of whether same-sex couples should be constitutionally barred from getting a civil marriage license.  What the Statement does do is protest the UMC’s church law which states that “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”  As Rev. Dr. Melvin Woodworth said regarding his congregation’s recent endorsement of a similar statement,

I can’t in good conscience perpetuate an injustice.  I can’t get around the injustice of the state law – I don’t have power over that.  But I can get around the injustice of the church law, and I’m doing that.

While the focus of this act of loving disobedience is church law not civil law, this action will undoubtedly spark discussion about the anti-equality ballot measure in each of Minnesota’s 365 United Methodist congregations.  That can only benefit those supporting civil marriage equality, especially since the conversation is starting now, 18 months before the 2012 elections when voters are open to persuasion.

Within the UMC context, the protest represented by the Equality for All in Christian Marriage Statement is significant because clergy who break church law can be be removed from the pulpit.  But the signatories to this Statement do not stand alone within their denomination.  In the past few years, 68 Methodist pastors in California and Methodist congregations in District of Columbia and Washington state have very publicly signed similar statements.  With other mainline Protestant denominations like the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America fully embracing the LGBT people in their congregations, it seems only a matter of time before the UMC will follow suit.  The next opportunity for denomination-wide change will come during the UMC’s 2012 General Conference next spring.