January 17, 2014
Bishop Mark J. Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., Third Floor
Syracuse, N.Y. 13210
You have no way of knowing me, despite the fact that I am an ordained elder of the Upper New York Annual Conference (from the Central New York Conference), voluntarily located to my brother’s church in the 1960’s. Both my father, Lewis Bachman, and my brother, Neale Bachman, were ordained elders in the Central and North Central Annual Conferences. I have a history with this conference. After moving to the Washington, D.C. area, I moved my location to Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. I spent 30 years as a volunteer in ministry to youth at Foundry. Professionally, I worked as a labor attorney for the Federal Government. I am now retired.
I attended the Upper New York Annual Conference in Syracuse last year as a representative of the Appalachia Service Project and, thus, was present when the issues regarding Steve Heiss’ performance of same sex marriages arose. Later that summer, my wife and I were vacationing in Auburn when the vigil was held in support of Steve at University United Methodist Church and we attended that vigil. We have followed the course of proceedings against Steve since that time.
You have undoubtedly heard most, if not all, of the cogent arguments about why the church trials are a mistake. Based on my personal experience working with youth I can tell you that the United Methodist Church is in serious trouble. We are losing an entire generation of young people. Surveys demonstrate that a majority of youth and young adults believe that the church is discriminatory, hypocritical, and judgmental. They do not want to have anything to do with such an institution.
The fact that the church is, in fact, discriminatory is illustrated by the number of courts, including the Supreme Court, that have found that bans against same-sex marriage violate the equal protection provisions of state constitutions and the United States Constitution. The fact that this is a church matter, and not a civil matter, is a distinction without a difference. Differential treatment of individuals is differential treatment of individuals. As the Supreme Court noted in Windsor, the failure to recognize a same-sex marriage is demeaning to the persons in that marriage. Do you or do you not agree with this conclusion of the Court? And if you don’t, how do you reconcile your disagreement with Section 161.F. of the Discipline which states that all persons are of sacred worth? I assume that “all” means all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
The discriminatory policies of the Discipline and of church practice, in light of other provisions of the Discipline, support the conclusion that the church is hypocritical. Section 4 of the Discipline enjoins the church to be inclusive. Section 122 talks about such things as welcoming and gathering persons into the body of Christ; nurturing persons through the means of grace; sending persons into the world to live lovingly and justly, freeing the oppressed; being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence. Section 140 reflects the Church's call to inclusivity and the recognition that God made all creation and saw that it was good; that inclusiveness means openness, acceptance and support that enables all persons to participate
in the life of the Church; that inclusiveness denies every semblance of discrimination; that the mark of an inclusive society is one in which all persons are welcomed, fully accepted and supported enabling them to participate fully in the life of the church. Section 162.J enjoins the church to support equal rights for all persons regardless of sexual orientation. Section 164.F recognizes the right to act in civil disobedience and resist or disobey unjust laws. Section 202 enjoins local churches to minister to all persons in their communities and to provide appropriate nurture to all. Section 204 enjoins each local church to minister to all its members and provides that each local church has the responsibility to nurture all its members. Section 214 provides that all persons should be able to participate in the full life of the church. Section 303.2 provides that ordination is fulfilled through ministries of justice and compassion. Section 305 provides for
the incorporation of each baptized person into the church and its ministry; that the primary form of ministry in God's name is that of service in the world; and that all members of the church are commissioned to ministries of love and justice. And, finally, Section 340.1 provides that all clergy must serve in Christ's ministries of love and justice.
In light of these provisions of the Discipline, how are we to defend the policies and practices of the United Methodist Church with regard to homosexuality against charges of hypocrisy? The most common definition of “hypocrisy” involves saying one thing and doing another, often the opposite. Given the above-cited provisions of the Discipline which, among other things, (1) state that each and every person has worth in and of themselves and, thus, are entitled to respect;
(2) require the church to be inclusive and not discriminate; (3) require that all persons be treated equally without regard to sexual orientation; (4) require that all persons be enabled to participate fully in the life of the church; and (5) provide for both clergy and laity to participate in the church’s ministry of love and justice, and recognizing that none of those provisions contain an exception with respect to differential treatment with regard to sexual orientation, how is it possible to defend the policies and practices of the church with regard to homosexuality from the conclusion that those policies and practices contradict the plain meaning of the provisions of the Discipline?
Moreover, with respect to clergy trials in particular, since any reasonable definition of the term “justice” includes a requirement for fair and equal treatment of individuals, how can clergy conduct a ministry of justice without offering to homosexual persons the full ministry of the church, without discrimination, including marriage? Failing to do so would constitute a violation of their duty, under the Discipline, to act with justice. And, further, since the Discipline sanctions civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws, it would seem that clergy who refuse to act unjustly, consistent with their duty to do justice, are acting in a manner that is consistent with the Discipline. In this regard, I am surprised that complaints have not been filed against clergy who have refused to conduct same-sex marriages for failing to obey the Disciplinary injunction that they do justice. In any event, this summary of the Discipline makes clear that clergy are in an impossible situation: either they obey the provisions prohibiting same-sex marriage or they disobey their duty to do justice. I would think that any serious church would want its clergy to do justice.
I recognize that you are in a difficult situation because you too have obligations under the Discipline. I would urge you, however, to follow the course taken by other bishops and publicly acknowledge that the church has created an impossible burden for its clergy and that its policies and practices need to be revised. Schism is too difficult to administer in this day and age, given the size and scope of the denomination. We are too large to carry out something like the 1844 Plan of Nine which enabled the creation of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. A more reasonable accommodation of the conflicting views within the church is to leave matters regarding the treatment of homosexual persons to the discretion of each individual clergyperson and local church. One could hope that the next General Conference has the wisdom to make that compromise a reality.
As to the matters now before you with respect to Steve Heiss, I note that you have a significant amount of discretion in how you conduct the process. See, e.g., Section 363.1.e provides you with the discretion, in consultation with the cabinet, to dismiss the complaint; Section 2713.3.4, concerns your discretion to select the counsel for the church; Section 2713.2, allows you the discretion to select the presiding officer; and Section 2713.3.a provides you with discretion to select those who will choose the jury pool. I would encourage you to use this discretion with care and due consideration for the welfare of the whole church. Continued clergy trials, among other things, alienate much of the churched and non-churched alike, impose costs that use limited resources that could be better spent is support of the mission of the church, lead seminarians, and clergy, to consider ministry in more accepting denominations. In short, we need to stop the trials and make room for the differing consciences of clergy and laity in the United Methodist Church.
I wish you Godspeed in this period of trial for you, and for the whole church.