In last week’s blog I stated that the repeal of DOMA (DOMA and the UMC) is a game changer for clergy who are being asked to officiate at gay ceremonies. While individual clergy may still wish to set higher standards and restrict who they will unite in marriage, the denomination can’t exclude a whole class of people without good reason. It would be like the United Methodist Church saying to me that I couldn’t perform marriages for people over 70 years old because they were unlikely to procreate. Unless the denomination can prove to me that there are biblical principles that I am violating, I don’t see why I couldn’t perform any marriage that is legal in my state. This would certainly be less theoretical if I were actively serving in California.
As I write this, I am aware that my authority to perform “pastoral acts,” such as funerals and weddings, is tied to my ordination and appointment to a local church. This undercarriage remains, even when I am performing my duties outside the local church and for non-Christians. There are several caveats; because congregations are notorious for being narrow-minded and prejudiced, the local church is not allowed to restrict my ministry or curtail my works of compassion towards any person or group. They certainly are not allowed to vote on who I marry or burry. The United Methodist Church, as a denomination, is equally famous for bending to political pressure and failing to do serious theological work in matters relating to social justice. To counterbalance this known fault, however, United Methodists have historically given the benefit of the doubt to individual clergy who acted according to their conscience.
We are still three years away from the next General Conference and any opportunity to adjust our church law. As gay marriage becomes common in perhaps a half dozen states over the next year, the UM Annual Conferences of those states are unlikely to continue to defrock the clergy who perform these unions. The question that occurs to me is, what right would either the local church or the General church have to interfere if a clergy person has the support of his or her colleagues? I have always said that my calling is to advance the Gospel in my region. The local church is often to self absorbed to support the ministry that I do for the world outside their walls. The denomination as a whole is such a nebulous political beast that it is hard to believe that it always knows what is right for my region. So, I think the United Methodist clergy of each state need to decide together what is best for the advancement of the Gospel in their context.