Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey preaches on May 3 at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
Recently, a small church in Michigan, Cassopolis United Methodist, had their church Pastor, Rev. Benjamin Hutchison, taken away from them. Was it because of poor attendance, hardly, he had quadrupled the membership since being appointed. He saved the church from dying according to many members. His crime, he was in a long-term committed relationship with another man. Just after that, nearly 30 United Methodist pastors joined in a celebrating a wedding ceremony for Rev. Hutchison and his husband, and now, to further hammer home her distaste for love, Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey has picked out nine of them for prosecution under church law. Here’s my letter to Bishop Kiesey:
Last year, I was forced to file a complaint with the Bishop [Masters v Toms-Complaint to Bishop (redacted)] about hateful and dishonest actions by Bruce Toms, the newly appointed Pastor at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church. At the time, I was told by several Methodist Ministers to not have high expectations; that the Bishop’s first reaction would be to protect the institution; and his second would be to protect the elder. That came true, with a letter from the Bishop making some intellectual contortions that defy belief.
In the end, the Bishop concedes the statement of welcome adopted by the Church in 2011 was not a violation of the Discipline; that a Pastor cannot unilaterally undo the “legal” actions of a Church Council; but still, somehow, managed to find an excuse to side with Toms. Below, is my response to the intellectual gymnastics.
Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Florida Episcopal Area, United Methodist Church
Dear Bishop Carter:
I know you are aware that I am not at all satisfied with the response you have provided. It’s less about your findings, and more about the logic on which you seem to have based the determination. Much of the reasoning stated in your letter would call into question the integrity of the recollections of me and the other lay members involved in the 2011 process, and that’s just not acceptable to me. I know these people to be of the highest moral character, and I know Bill Josey’s recollection of many events to be substantially different than that of everyone else involved. So that’s just not going to go unanswered.
Therefore, I intend to respond to your letter of findings in some detail. You can disregard it if you wish, obviously, but it is important to me and the others involved to respond.
“The question of justice and grace in relation to gay and lesbian Christians is a matter of great importance. It can be approached missionally, pastorally, judicially and legally. Our Book of Discipline affirms the sacred worth of every person (161f) and our commitment to be in ministry “for and with all persons (161f). These affirmations are placed in the context of the Social Principles, which, “while not to be considered church law”, are nevertheless “a call to faithfulness and are intended to be instructive and persuasive in the best of the prophetic spirit” (Preface).”
We all know that 161f is part of the Social Principles and therefore not church law. However, Bruce Toms used it in his now “classified” and secret PowerPoint presentation to make his point that the former (as you call it) statement was in violation of the Discipline. So, since he did nothing wrong, the other sections of 161f would carry the same weight he seemed to give, would they not? In other words, use of the Social Principles was a door opened, not by me, but by Toms.Continue reading »
For over 10 years I’ve been a member of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church here in Tampa. I started attending an older adult Sunday School class because of my interest in the topics. I wound up doing some substitute teaching, and starting a little over two years ago, I wound up teaching full-time, and now have the help of another person.
Rev. Bruce Toms
Recently, as is the custom with Methodist churches, we got a new pastor, Bruce Toms. I was glad for the change, hoped for the best, and could have been a champion for the guy, but that’s not to be. I’d been told that he was bit conservative, but the previous pastor, Kevin James, was certainly no bleeding heart liberal. Toms has taken it to new heights though.
In August of 2008 I opened a discussion with the Administrative Council of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church about the adoption of an inclusive statement of welcome and non-discrimination. It was “A Resolution for Justice.” In 2008, frankly, I was met with a tremendous amount of ugliness from the likes of Kevin James, the Pastor at the time, and then head of the Personnel Committee, Bill Josey, who actually physically pushed Phil Waters, the presiding officer aside, and took over the meeting.
I spent the intervening three years advancing the conversation within the church body itself, and returned to the Administrative Council in August of 2011. This time, a large contingent of people supportive of such a resolution attended. There was a passionate discussion, and the Council heard personal stories of the harm that the messages often conveyed under the guise of religion can cause to young lesbian and gay people, and how they are often driven away from the Church because of a lack of real welcome. There was spirited debate, both sides arrived at a compromise, and a consensus was reached. Shortly after that, a statement of welcome and non-discrimination, completely and fully compliant with the language of the Discipline of the United Methodist Church was adopted. As planned, it was published to the Church website, and despite the concerns of only one or two, no one left this Church as a result.
The statement reads simply:
“We affirm that worship and membership at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church is open to all who seek to know Christ and share His love, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or economic status, and we welcome and respect all members of our community without regard to these characteristics.”
During an early personal conversation with Toms, he indicated he wanted the statement off the site. About a month ago, the site was redesigned, and the statement was left off. This started a downward spiral in my relationship to Palma Ceia United Methodist Church, The Methodist Church writ large, Bruce Toms, and even the Chair of the Administrative Council, Marty Peate.Continue reading »