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Church will honor same-sex unions Robin Russell, Feb 25, 2008
By Robin Russell Managing Editor
Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., has announced it will recognize same-sex unions in special ceremonies that fall just short of an official wedding.
Though it is among a handful of United Methodist churches that do so, the action, which became effective Feb. 1, has made headlines in the Washington Post and other newspapers. Foundry is the church presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) attended with her husband, Bill, while he was in office.
In the church’s November newsletter, the Rev. Dean Snyder, senior pastor, announced he will lead services that “recognize and honor lesbian and gay committed relationships.”
These church services, however, will not be “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions,” he added, citing the denomination’s Book of Discipline sanction against United Methodist clergy performing such ceremonies.
Dr. Snyder said that his action—which indeed walks a fine line—reflects “an attempt to be ecclesiastically obedient while at the same time offering pastoral care to our members.”
Foundry has a “large gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender membership,” according to the church newsletter, and the decision comes after several requests were made for such services to be offered by the church.
Guidelines for the new services at Foundry require that same-sex “marriage” ceremonies, where couples actually exchange vows, to be held off-site and not be led by a church minister. The church would, however, host worship services that recognize and honor commitments that have already been made. Only couples that are members and have attended a “Pre-Cana” marriage preparation weekend can participate.
Critics say Foundry’s action crosses the line and violates United Methodist Church policy.
The 1996 General Conference adopted the statement: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” (Par. 341.6). General Conference has continued to uphold a ban on church-sanctioned homosexual unions and has also determined that the practice of homosexual practice is “incompatible with Christian teaching” (Par. 161G).
Delegates will consider several resolutions seeking to overturn that policy at the 2008 General Conference, which begins April 23 in Fort Worth, Texas. In his pastoral letter, Dr. Snyder urged members of Foundry to work for changes to the Discipline because it “discriminates against people because of their sexual orientation.”
The Discipline is also clear, he pointed out, that homosexual persons “are individuals of sacred worth” and that United Methodists should be committed to “be in ministry for and with all persons.”
Mark Tooley, director of the UMAction arm at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said Foundry is violating church law.
“It is absurd to claim that a United Methodist church can ‘recognize’ a same-sex union without celebrating it,” Mr. Tooley said in a Feb. 14 written statement released by the IRD that carried the headline: Clintons’ Former United Methodist Church Skirts Discipline with Same-Sex ‘Celebrations.’
“By providing worship leadership and a church building, Foundry United Methodist Church is doing everything short of an exchange of vows,” Mr. Tooley said. “This is clearly a violation of the spirit of the Discipline.”
A spokesman for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church disagreed.
“There is no violation of the Methodist Book of Discipline as it relates to Foundry Methodist Church,” spokesman Shaun Lane said in news reports. Since Foundry's announcement, the conference office has not received phone calls either supporting or questioning the new policy, according to Mr. Lane.
Patricia Miller, executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, said Foundry is violating church law. Her group describes itself as "confessing Jesus Christ as son, savior and Lord" and working to uphold United Methodist doctrine and the Wesleyan tradition.
"I certainly support ministries to and with the gay/lesbian community but, having said that, I believe this is a violation of church law as outlined in the Discipline," Ms. Miller told United Methodist News Service on March 12. "The Discipline is very clear and very specific."
Ms. Miller said Dr. Snyder is "word-smithing" in his description of Foundry's new policy and its intent. "I think what this does is break covenant with the rest of the United Methodist Church and further causes divide and conflict within the church," she said.
Bishop John R. Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, which includes Foundry, said Dr. Snyder did not seek his permission or advice on the matter. Bishop Schol noted that Foundry's congregation is "diverse and reflective of its community, including a significant presence of gay and lesbian Christians."
"So far as I can tell, they did not seek publicity about this and have not attempted to make it an issue for our denomination," said Bishop Schol. "I have recognized that they face a difficult question of how in the name of Jesus Christ to minister to all of their members given our denominational policies about homosexuality, and I have no question about the sincerity of their desire to honor their covenant with the larger church. I also have sympathy for those who worry that our unity may be weakened as a result of the disagreements we have.
"Here in our conference, small groups of people with differing opinions have been meeting to discuss homosexuality," he said. "I hope these conversations continue and that we can seek to know and care for each other even when our views and convictions differ."
In a March 7 interview with United Methodist News Service, Dr. Snyder said he had not conducted any such ceremonies since the policy change, nor has he received requests for such. However, several same-sex couples have participated in the "Pre-Cana" marriage retreats.
While Dr. Snyder made the final decision to change the policy, Foundry's church council unanimously passed a resolution on Jan. 15 endorsing the change.