Sisters and brothers, you have decided that I was disobedient “to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church.” I know many of you struggled with that because I know you. Now you must impose a penalty which you believe is appropriate and responds to that verdict.
I want to suggest that you consider approaching your charge by asking what penalty will best serve, not me, but our church. I ask you in light of that question whether you and our church can live with the kind of disobedience of which you have determined I am guilty. Can we live with it until the denomination meets in May of 2000, and consider what it has done not to a body of legislation, but to real people?
You see, it is true. I will not abandon the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in my pastoral care or in my community any more than I would abandon children, old folks, the mentally or physically disabled, people of color or any other group that our society decides to marginalize.
Out of fear or ignorance, as long as I am ordained I will extend the full ministry to which my ordination calls me: to all persons–not in spite of their differences, but in celebration of and joy over them. Words have been spoken here about harm and damage.
There has been pain–a lot of it. I want you to remember that along with the pain you heard about here, there is incredible harm and damage that has been done and is being done to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender lay or clergy persons who are in your midst. Persons whose pain is so often mysteriously unrecognized. Pain from a church which says GOD loves you, but we’re not quite sure how much WE do–at least, how much we do beyond platitudes and confusing statements about fully affirming the worth of your identity as responsible disciples of Christ, but denying your living that identity as full persons.
I suggest we call a truce. Penalize me with a reprimand. Enter a letter of censure in my permanent record of ministerial service, but decide that our denomination can and even must live with such “disobedience” until May of 2000 when we meet in General Conference and see what we have wrought with those few minutes of voting in 1996.
Let me and the hundreds of other clergy, and the thousands of laity, many of whom are represented here, and who support this kind of ministry/minority thought, stay in the family. I know if you do, that some others will choose to leave. They will find that tolerance intolerable. But if you don’t, then you must start the cleansing of our denomination–which that other group demands–now.
You must remove me from your midst. You or others like you will have to remove others. A terrible choice: allow some to leave because your tolerance is too great or remove some because our practice of ministry is so reprehensible. I wish you didn’t have to do this.
I’ve celebrated 32 services of Holy Unions for same-gendered couples in the last 18 years. Those services like the weddings I’ve celebrated brought people a sense of blessing, support, accountability and hope. Then the church changed. I didn’t. The church did. And service #33 became disobedience. Don’t start the dynamic of denominational cleansing tonight sisters and brothers. It isn’t, in my mind, worthy of you or our covenant. You found me guilty because you believe my violation of paragraph 65C met the definition of disobedience. So be it.
See if it is in your heart to let us live with disobedience for 14 months. Let the punishment fit the crime. Decide how we can do–if not “no harm”, at least less harm. Bear each others’ burdens, hold one another in this time of pain and serve the Christ who is with us even in our woundedness. If you grant this extension of ministry, you have my word that I will conduct no liturgical act–services of Holy Union, weddings, baptisms or others–as an act designed for public political witness.
I did not do so with Karl and Keith’s service. I won’t do it with any other. I can and do support people who do such. But under my penalty I will not. My pledge is not to become less politically active in or out of the church. It is only to assure you that liturgical acts that I do won’t be designed or supported to that end.
I know that throughout this trial, your prayers have been with me. Now, mine are with you.
The pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago for many years, the Rev. Gregory R. Dell was subjected in 1999 to a nationally publicized church trial that resulted from charges filed against him within the United Methodist Church for conducting a Service of Holy Union for two gay men from his congregation. The trial resulted in a yearlong suspension from pastoral duties, after which Dell returned to Broadway UMC.