Sunday, February 16, 2014

letter 111

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.


Ned Bachman

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

letter 110

October 22, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Conference
United Methodist Church
324 University Avenue 3rd. Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Bishop Webb,

I am a transsexual woman who is asking you to please consider the lives of all LGBT folks and those of us in loving and committed relationships as you deliberate on Pastor Steve Heiss's charges. 

While I know the same gender marriage issue is primarily about the gay and lesbian communities, the transgender community endures all of the same prejudices and high suicide rates as do gay folk. We're the "T" in LGBT.  You see, Bishop Webb, since the 1970's and 80's much research has been done and it's now known that transsexuals are born with this medical condition of gender incongruence. Only God knows for sure why this happens. It can only be corrected medically and by a social transition so that the outward gender appearance matches the gender of the inner core being. Transsexual men and women experience the same discrimination issues and biases as gay folks, and sometimes worse due to their visual appearance and how well they "pass". They also go through emotional trauma and upheaval as children and teenagers and they  have the same constant feelings of "what's wrong with me?" as gay children and teens. The isolation is overwhelming and the fear of coming out or being "outed" is a fear of total personal devastation, rejection and constant terror.  Their  suicide rate, like gay kids, is much higher than the national average and other demographic groups.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because your decision will not only effect Pastor Heiss and the gay community, it will also effect the lives of transsexual and transgender people as well. Many transsexual men and women have difficulty getting jobs because we are not yet fully  protected by workplace non-discrimination laws as are  gay folks and other minorities. Consequently, many cannot afford to have their birth certificate legally changed to reflect their true gender and, as such, cannot get married in the Methodist church to a person they love,  according to the Book of Discipline.

Like gay folks, we also need safe and welcoming places to worship.  My loving spouse and best friend of 49 years and I are very fortunate to be members of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton. I lived in the closet all my life, under the prejudice, discrimination and fear described above, until seven years ago when the pain became too unbearable and I began my own gender transition. The first person we disclosed to was Pastor  Heiss. He gave us his blessings, acceptance, support, encouragement and was there for us every step of the way as we worked our way through the transition . I came out publicly at a Tabernacle church worship service on August 8, 2010 and underwent the medical procedures to complete my gender transition four months later. We could not have endured the major social and emotional upheaval that accompanies a personal gender transition  had it not been for our family and our wonderful accepting and supportive friends at Tabernacle and Pastor Steve.  I know my story is just one instance,  but it is a story that, without the support of our church, would probably not have been successful. This is why it is so important to have Pastor Steve continue his work and for you all to work on changing this Methodist Book of Discipline  to be consistent with the Methodist Open Hearts, Open minds All are welcome logo.


Carol Chandler

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

letter 109

October 15 2013
Dear Bishop Webb
As members of Tabernacle United Methodist Church, we support Steve Heiss’ decision to be open and honest that he performs marriage ceremonies for gays and lesbians.
As you know, Steve came to this decision based on his long and thorough reflection, research and bible study. If our church is to have the mission “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, surely we must provide support and love to all who come to the church.
We urge you to support Steve (and many other pastors) who have made the decision to treat all people equal, regardless of their sexual orientation. Christ’s message tells us to love one and other and treat everyone the same. Surely the Methodist Church should do no less.
In Christ
Margaret and Dick Culver

Thursday, October 10, 2013

letter 108

Bishop Webb,

Regarding the case of Rev. Steve Heiss officiating at lesbian and gay
weddings, I can imagine that you've heard all the arguments. I would
guess that others have reminded you already that Jesus, upon whom we
base our faith and practice, said nothing about lesbian or gay
sexuality. That in our gospel tradition Jesus himself repeatedly
breaks the law and emphasizes that the law is designed to serve
humanity, not the other way around. That Jesus reserves his sharpest
criticism for those he calls “hypocrites” and worse, who use law and
custom to withhold compassion and generosity from the people who need
it most. That Jesus emphasizes that the greatest law is to show our
love for God by loving one another – including outsiders, “strangers,”
and enemies! – and demonstrates that love himself by healing,
touching, feeding, freeing, and forgiving.

I can imagine that others have already pointed out the biblical laws
that few or no Christians currently concern ourselves with, found
alongside those troubling verses in Leviticus. Laws that prohibit
eating pork, lobster, shrimp, and assorted other delicious seafood.
That prohibit tattoos, bowl hair cuts, most modern vegetable gardens,
polyester-cotton blends, gossip, and working on Sunday. Even those
that may have died a bit harder, like the laws prohibiting attendance
at church by disabled people, eunuchs, and children whose parents were
unmarried. Like women in authority. And yet which most Christians
consider dated or archaic.

I suspect that other letters have even mentioned that the bible
probably doesn't say what you think it says about lesbian and gay
sexuality. That, rather than condemning the behavior of loving,
committed consensual adults, the biblical “clobber passages” are
arguably referring instead to ritualistic fertility orgies or other
religious worship practices by neighboring cultures and communities.
That the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the story of vain sacrifices
(Isaiah 1), adultery and lies (Jeremiah 23), haughtiness and idolatry
(Ezekiel 16:49-50), pride (Ecclesiasticus 16:8), and wickedness and
inhospitality (Wisdom of Solomon).

Others may even have pointed out the number of lesbian, gay, and
gender nonconforming biblical characters – such as Jonathan and David,
Ruth and Naomi, the Roman centurion, Lydia, Prisca and Aquila,
Deborah, Hatach, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the magi – who are
presented as models and exemplars of chesed (lovingkindness) and

I suspect that you know all of this already. I'm sure that others have
brought these things to your attention as your conversation with Rev.
Steve Heiss has progressed, and I would imagine that one does not
become a Bishop within the United Methodist Church without knowing the
bible intimately.

And so the issue is not what you know, but what you do. The question
is whether you will be a dutiful and conscientious scribe or Pharisee
of the law, or whether you will set out for Jerusalem – turn toward
confrontation and take on the powers that oppose God's loving and
expansive rule, whatever the cost. Whether you will, in fact, bring
good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery
of sight to the blind,
let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the
year of our God's favor. I pray that you will.


Rev. Miller Jen Hoffman
Open Door Metropolitan Community Church

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

letter 107

October 8, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
324 University Avenue
3rd. Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Bishop Webb:

            “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  How can we say we are just or kind when we discriminate against gay and lesbians and deny them the same rights and privileges that others enjoy, especially the right to marry.  How can we as United Methodists say we are just and kind when we will not grant gay and lesbians the same rights and privileges that many states, including New York State, grant?
            All people regardless of sexual orientation are children of God and should be accorded the same rights and privileges.  In my opinion, sexual orientation is not a choice, but is a given.  Why should anyone be penalized for something beyond his or her control? 
            The United Methodist Church has a reputation for being a champion for social justice, but in this instance, the Church has turned its back on God’s children by exercising their option to penalize and to punish clergy who are trying to follow God’s word.
            I urge you to recognize that we are all children of God and should not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation.  Unjust and unfair laws can and should be changed.  I urge you to do all in your power to guarantee that same sex couples have the right to be married in the Methodist Church by ordained clergy.  Help the United Methodist Church achieve the goal of exercising justice and kindness to all. 

Very truly yours,

Ruth S. Farrell

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

letter 106

Bishop Mark Webb
324 University Avenue, 3rd Fl.
Syracuse, NY 13210
RE: UMC & LGBT Equal Rights
Dear Bishop Webb:
It appears there is a continuing dissonance between above rights and the United Methodist Church’s advertised intent viz, Open Doors, Minds & Hearts. You, of course, know this well. Reportedly a substantial fringe group within said church opposes this attitude of openness and equality. As I remember, this country and this Church has been there before (think Civil Rights). Would that the current, if not modern, Church will lead the way rather than be dragged kicking and screaming into the present.
What will the Church do if a substantial portion of the clergy elect to recognize equal rights in their churches? I.e., if they risk “discipline” or removal by extending Christ’s hand to all, as he reportedly did?
I am sure that such a scenario has been discussed in the Church hierarchy. Incidentally, a UMC known to me considered “moving on” to the Congregational fold because of this very issue and because it had lost many attendees due to the fact that as a United Methodist Church it could not officially open it’s door, mind and heart in an authentic Christ like manner. The bigots came first in its “Discipline.” Perhaps it’s afraid of losing the bigots. Obviously, it is afraid.
What occurs, regarding such as the Rev. Steve Heiss and others, will light the way or keep the doors, hearts and minds in their current hypocritical positions.
Our thoughts are with you as you address this seemingly insurmountable issue. God speed and good luck.
Thank you for your consideration.
Respectfully yours,
Roy H. Stock