September 5, 2013
Bishop Mark WebbUpper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., Third Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210
Syracuse, NY 13210
RE: Rev. Steve Heiss
Dear Bishop Webb,
I’ve read Steve Heiss’s letter acknowledging that he has conducted wedding services for same-sex couples now that marriage equality has become law in New York state. I understand that he has been charged with violating the BOD, and that there is the very real possibility of a church trial.
I am a life-long United Methodist and I pray sincerely that there may be a way to avoid this consequence. Over the last forty-odd years, there has been much research around human sexuality and sexual orientation. The findings indicate that gender is not simply binary (male or female), but that many variations occur, including transgender individuals whose physical appearance does not match their sexual expression, those who identify with both male and female sexual expressions, and those who are a-sexual (no particular sexual expression). A small percentage of the population is intersex, i.e. they are born with both male and female physical characteristics and may identify with any of the sexual expressions noted above.
I am convinced that our Maker loves variety and that the diversity of sexual expression and sexual orientation that has come to light over the last half-century is an expression of that God-given diversity. I cannot accept that anyone would CHOOSE to be gender variant. Rather, I firmly believe that our sexual expression and our sexual orientation are a result of genetics and hormonal influences in utero -- completely beyond our control -- and surely not a “choice”. My career as a public school teacher and administrator has affirmed this belief.
Therefore, since I believe that God loves what God has created, I also believe God loves each of us as we are. Further, we read in the gospels that Jesus has charged us to love one another as God loves us.
As I read Genesis, God created a help-mate for Adam because it was not good for Adam to be alone. I believe that to be the case for each one of us (with the possible exception of those few who have been given the gift of celibacy). I have been blessed with two tender and generous husbands (I was widowed) and two strong marriages. I have also been blessed with two children, two “bonus” children and ten grandchildren. My life is rich and satisfying and I would not willingly give up either marriage or any part of my family. It would not have been “good” for me to have lived alone. Yet this is what our church asks of people who are “different.” That, I believe, is an injustice.
I suspect that, as same-gender marriage becomes legal in more states, the number of challenges to the BOD will multiply. If each were to result in a trial, it would siphon resources from missions and ministries that are essential to the well-being of many and would be a tragedy for the UMC. It might well be the death knell of the denomination in the U.S.
I understand that Bishop Melvin Talbert (ret.) has developed the concept of “Biblical Obedience”, which he believes supersedes obedience to the negative and restrictive rules of the BOD. I also understand that several other bishops have endorsed this position; i.e., they will not proceed with church trials of ministers who conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
It is my hope and prayer that the charge against Rev. Steve Heiss can be resolved quickly, and without a church trial and that our beloved UMC may find a way to allow for the regional differences that have emerged with regard to attitudes toward and beliefs about gender variance.
Respectfully,Mary Jane Russell