I am on the conference mailing list, although likely I will soon be dropped, so I received the one about Pastor Heiss's upcoming trial. As a lifelong United Methodist (I'm about seven years older than the merger) and a longtime attorney, I feel compelled to respond.
While members of the denomination are not of one mind on the issue of same-sex marriage, it is important to understand that this is not a theological debate between the Conference and its clergy or lay members. The Upper New York Annual Conference is not authorized to make or change Church law, but is obliged to fully and fairly administer Church law.
Yet you are all, also, members of this Church, and in our vows to become and remain members, we solemnly promise to "resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." I can no longer stand silent while a tyrannical majority proceeds to do just that under color of a 1970s addition to the Discipline that demonizes many of our members, not for what they have done, but for what and who they are.
Is it the law? You bet. Dr. King spent time in a Birmingham jail for breaking "the law." So did Freedom Riders, and fugitive slaves and those who harbored them, and for that matter, the Apostle Paul and the Big Guy Himself who was duly tried, convicted and executed under "the law" that existed at the time.
You then highlight the impossibility of this issue being resolved before the next General Conference in 2016. That would go down a little better if the 2012 General Conference had done a better job of publicizing, debating and deciding the issue when it came up last year. I was on the conference mailing list for that debacle, too- and all I read about was guaranteed appointments and "Plan UMC" and all that internal housekeeping stuff that your lay members (and, more importantly, your unchurched but spiritual non-members) don't care a whit about. The only thing I did hear about the "incompatible" language in the Discipline came through a post-General Conference email on this mailing list- quoting a minister from my own conference, my own damn district, which basically said, "Good riddance we kept those icky gay people away."
I won't be attending any future Catch the Spirit gatherings at his crib, I promise you.
So what, short of using a time machine to get to 2016, can we do?
Try a little kindness. Try a little prosecutorial discretion. Try a little civil disobedience if we have to. If the bigots who insist on bringing these complaints don't get their judgmental self-satisfaction out of trying to ruin the careers and congregations of these brave ministers of God who follow their true capital-C Call, they might be less likely to go running to the Conference Center with the blasphemous bulletins in hand as evidence of ministerial heresy. I'm not saying dismiss their complaints summarily- but doesn't this church have better things to do than schedule witch trials at the complainants' beck and call? Make them fill out forms. Put them on the conference website in Excel, like you do the pastoral compensation formulas. That alone will discourage virtually all but the Westboro Baptists among us.
Ask the accused if they will waive confidentiality so the details of their trials, and their outcomes, can be made public. I'd be willing to bet that a pastor doing the deed obviously knows exactly what he or she has signed up for and will welcome the shining light of God into the end of the proceeding, as well.
Select judges and juries with fairness and justice in mind- and if "incompatible with Christian teaching" is deemed to be, well, incompatible with REAL Christian teaching, say so. Say it loud and say it proud. Eventually the bigots will stop wasting everybodys' time.
Blessedly, you end with encouragement of prayer for Pastor Heiss, including specific reference to the vigil in Syracuse on August 1st. Depending on the whims of clients and judges, I am hopeful of being there. I'll be the one in the purple T-shirt made by our downstate brothers and sisters in MIND, and would be happy to discuss this with you further.
(Those are not my arms. I'll be the whiter, fatter and, yes, straight guy.)
RAYMOND C. STILWELL, ESQ.