Rev. Jimmy Creech has been without a congregation for a year. On March 13, 1998, Creech was acquitted by a jury of 13 Methodist ministers on charges that he disobeyed the United Methodist Church by blessing the union of two lesbians in September of last year. He was pastor of First United Methodist Church of Omaha when the verdict came down. He subsequently lost the pulpit of Omaha’s largest church, but remains a Methodist minister.
He has since taken a leave of absence from the church and is back in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. Despite losing his church, and nearly losing his credentials, Rev. Creech does not regret sticking to his convictions.
“For the church to change it’s going to require people who are recognized as leaders in the church who are going to draw the line at some point and say ‘I will not participate in the mistreatment of people,'” he said during a recent interview with Whosoever.
Creech has been a long time, and very vocal, advocate of gay and lesbian rights and was forced to resign his ministry of a Raleigh, N.C., church eight years ago because of his public stand on the issue. But, in 1996, when the United Methodist Church formally prohibited clergy from performing same-sex unions, Creech knew the time had come for him to draw the line.
Prohibiting pastors from blessing same-sex unions tied the hands of clergy members, according to Creech. That meant he was not allowed to give full pastoral care to gay and lesbian members of the church. “That was unacceptable to me,” he said. “For me to abide by that law would make me complicit in persecution of gays and lesbians and I was not going to do that.”
With the line drawn, there was nothing else for the denomination to do but put him on trial. Creech was not surprised by the move, but wept openly when the not guilty verdict was read at the conclusion of the trial in Kearney, Nebraska last year. He sees his trial, both literally and figuratively, as one step in a long struggle to bring gays and lesbians back into God’s fold.
“This is a wonderful time to be a United Methodist,” he said with a smile. “We’ve never had the opportunity to have discussions about sexual orientation and the persecution of gays and lesbians by the church that we have today. It’s reached a level that’s never existed before. We have a chance to right a wrong that we’ve not had until this day. We shouldn’t be afraid of the conflict and the animosity it’s generating. We need to realize that when change takes place, conflict and animosity will be there. This is our time. I find it an exciting and hopeful time.”
Creech is under no illusions that change will happen overnight. Instead, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons should prepare themselves for a long struggle and take a long view of history.
“Martin Luther King Junior said the stars are more clearly seen in the darkest of nights. I think when things are most discouraging we have to realize if we’re active, faithful and are really pushing for change we have to go through dark times to realize the justice that we seek. We can’t let things that happen today or yesterday discourage us.”
Creech certainly hasn’t become discouraged even though his future is unclear. While he is still a licensed minister with the United Methodist Church, he’s not sure if he’ll ever stand behind another pulpit and tend a flock. During his leave of absence he’s traveling the country speaking at churches and college campuses. He’s also using the time to write a book. He hopes that by telling his story people will “understand the struggle within the church — how good people compromise their principles to protect an institution — how good people are controlled by fear and the pain it causes GLBT people.”
It’s that spiritual violence against GLBT people that Creech hopes to be part of a movement to stop. But, again, it’s a struggle that will take time, patience and persistence from all of us who one day hope to see the doors of the church flung open to GLBT believers.
Rev. Creech offers words of hope. “We must all be patient and not demand that change happen immediately, but we must be persistent. We can’t back away or become afraid. It’s God’s movement in history and it will happen.”
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.