Dear Bishop Webb,
As part of the ordination process, we were asked to prove that we were willing to be in ministry “to all persons without regard to race, color, ethnicity, national origin, social status, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic condition, or disability.” (¶335.8.c.4) If that wasn't clear enough, the non-binding but regularly quoted ¶161.f has reminded us, “All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.” These clear statements reflect the responsibilities of United Methodist Church clergy to all of God's children, heterosexual as well as not.
United Methodists are also told within the Social Principles, “Therefore, we recognize the right of individuals to dissent when acting under the constraint of conscience and, after having exhausted all legal recourse, to resist or disobey laws that they deem to be unjust or that are discriminately enforce.” ¶164.f. That is, The United Methodist Church recognizes that when systems are unjust, the appropriate response is disobedience.
Bishop, The United Methodist Church speaks from both sides of its mouth. While there are clear statements banning clergy from participating in same-sex marriage, we are also urged to be in pastoral ministry with people of all sexual orientations, and to disobey discriminate laws. With this conflict in mind, it seems unreasonable to pay attention to only one aspect of the Discipline.
It is my understanding that this time is set aside for the seeking of just resolution in the complaint process against Steve Heiss. “A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties.” ¶2701.5 By this definition, the goal is to do no harm. Yet, the complaint itself, and any trial that may result will bring harm, and not healing.
Bishop, you have the authority to dismiss the charges against Rev. Steve Heiss, and I urge you to do so. In reviewing your job description, “The purpose of the superintendency is to equip the Church in its disciple-making ministry.” ¶401 Continuing with this complaint process does not lead to disciple-making. In fact, a trial is likely to result in disciples leaving the church and potential disciples choosing never to darken our doors. You have a rather long job description, as I'm sure you know, including the setting of vision, a passion for unity in the church, and “a prophetic commitment for the transformation of the Church and the world. The role of bishop is to be a prophetic voice for justice in a suffering and conflicted world through the tradition of social holiness.”¶403.1.d.
It is often quoted that your role is to uphold the Book of Discipline, but it is far from that simple. In your role as a Bishop to the church as a whole, you have the conflicting interests. Some will say that you have to protect yourself, or focus on enforcing the rules, but the roles of prophetic voice, justice seeking, leading for unity, and vision setting come in conflict with protection and enforcement. Acknowledging this conflict, it seems it is time to focus again on “first do no harm.”
You are a leader in the church, seeking to benefit the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the United Methodist Church. Punitive trials do not benefit the church. They don't benefit they laity, the clergy, or the mission. They are an irresponsible use of money that is given in trust to the church for the building of the kin-dom. They are an embarrassment. They bring harm, and not good. My brother Rev. Steve Heiss did no harm. He upheld his pastoral responsibilities, followed his Spirit-led conscience, and was in ministry to God's children. I beg you to follow his lead in doing no harm, and dismiss the charges, for the healing and well-being of all.
My prayers are with you and all involved in this process. My God's wisdom, courage, and yearning for justice bless you in this time.
Rev. Sara E. Baron
Upper New York Elder appointed to the First Schenectady United Methodist Church