Retired United Methodist bishops on sexuality, inclusion

News from The United Methodist News Service

Slogan and logo of the United Methodist Church, which says its roots extend back to the 1700s and John Wesley. The denomination currently has 12 million members worldwide and 42,000 congregations. The American church ranks behind Catholics and Southern Baptists in numbers—but has more congregations than any other religious group in the country.UMNS, February 2, 2011—Thirty-three retired United Methodist bishops have released a statement calling on The United Methodist Church to remove its ban on homosexual clergy. The bishops noted that the church has lifted other restrictions on clergy before. “Our United Methodist Church, ashamed and repentant in the past, ended official and unofficial restrictions on candidacy, ordination and appointment for reason of race, gender and ethnicity,” says the Statement of Counsel to the Church 2011. Nearly 40 percent of the denomination’s 85 retired bishops have signed the statement, released Jan. 31. Most signers live and serve in the United States. But they also include two retired leaders from the denomination’s central conferences: Bishops Joseph C. Humper of Sierra Leone and Franz W. Schäfer of Switzerland.


February 21, 2011: Three more bishops have signed the statement, according to retired Bishop Sharon Rader, a coordinator of the effort. That brings the total to 36 who have signed. The three new signers are:

Retired Bishop Daniel C. Arichea Jr. of the Philippines, who in the 1990s was chair of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines and the head of the Philippine Bible Society.

Retired Bishop Alfred Johnson, who led the New Jersey Area of the United Methodist Church, before retiring. Currently, he is working on a special ministry project in New York City.

Retired Bishop Richard Wilke, a pastor from Kansas who was bishop of of the Arkansas Area for many years. Wilke is best known nationally as author of, “Are We Yet Alive,” a landmark book about turning around Methodism’s declining membership.

Why Share Text by Retired United Methodist Bishops?

NOTE to OUR READERS: ReadTheSpirit is an online magazine covering media about religion, values and cultural diversity. Recently, we published interviews with authors of two new books rethinking religious teachings on human sexuality. Next week, we will welcome a third and final author in this series of interviews: Dr. Jennifer Wright Knust, the Boston University Bible scholar and author of, “Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire.” (You’ll also be hearing Knust on NPR and reading about her work in the New York Times soon.)

As a magazine staff, we are aware that our readers embody the world’s religious diversity. So, by definition, many of our readers are part of religious groups supporting full inclusion of gay and lesbian members; many of our readers are part of traditions with strict limits on sexual behavior—and many of our readers follow no specific religious tradition. What all of our readers share is the need for accurate, up-to-date information on faith and diversity. That’s what our daily journalism provides.

This week—shortly after we published our interviews with Jay Bakker and Brad Warner—we received a copy of a new text called, “Statement of Counsel to the Church 2011,” signed by 33 retired United Methodist bishops. Since then, we’ve seen fragmented quotes from the document floating around the Internet. For the sake of our readers concerned about accurate news on these issues, here is the statement and the complete list of signers …

Statement of Counsel to the Church 2011

BOOK OF DISCIPLINE contains the “church law” for United Methodists worldwide. No one (not even bishops) can speak officially for the entire denomination—except a General Conference. These worldwide gatherings of church delegates, held every four years, debate matters of church law and reflect decisions in the next edition of the Book of Discipline.Out of concern for the welfare of all God’s people, and, out of special concern for the people of The United Methodist Church, we, United Methodist Bishops-retired, believe The United Methodist Church should remove the following statement from The Book of Discipline (2008): “…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” ¶304.3

Our lives and ministries over the years have included prayerful, thoughtful consideration of our Holy Bible, our Wesleyan heritage, reflection on our experience of the church and world, and our conviction of God’s intention for a world transformed. With this statement of conviction and counsel we seek:

  • To affirm that the historic tests of “gifts and evidence of God’s grace” for ordained ministry override any past or present temporal restrictions such as race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
  • To urge the Church, ecumenical and denominational, to change the manner in which it relates to gay, lesbian and transgendered persons in official statements, judicial proceedings, and in congregational life.
  • To declare our conviction that the current disciplinary position of The United Methodist Church, a part of our historical development, need not, and should not, be embraced as the faithful position for the future.
  • To make known our names and shared personal conviction on this matter and to encourage other church and Episcopal leaders to do the same.

With increasing frequency we observe and experience the following disturbing realities and know them to be detrimental to the mission of a Church of Jesus Christ:

  • Laity and clergy, gay and straight, withdrawing membership or absenting themselves from the support of congregational and denominational Church life in order to maintain personal integrity.
  • Young adults, especially, embarrassed to invite friends and expressing dismay at the unwillingness of our United Methodist Church to alter its 39-year exclusionary stance.
  • Closeted pastors, currently called and ordained in our church, living divided lives while offering effective appreciated ministry.
  • Bishops being drained of energy by upholding Church Discipline while regarding it as contrary to their convictions.
  • Bishops caught between care for the Church by reappointing an effective gay or lesbian pastor and care for the Discipline by charging them under current legislation.
  • Seminary leaders desiring greater flexibility and openness from the church in order to advance their mission of identifying, recruiting, enrolling, educating and spiritually forming Christian leaders.
  • Christian gay men and women understanding themselves called of God to seek ministry opportunities within their United Methodist family Church home, but having to decide between: leaving to go to accepting denominations, or staying and praying for change, or challenging Church law and accepting punitive actions.

Our United Methodist Church, ashamed and repentant in the past, ended official and unofficial restrictions on candidacy, ordination and appointment for reason of race, gender and ethnicity. We believe the God we know in Jesus is leading us to issue this counsel and call—a call to transform our church life and our world.

Signed by United Methodist Episcopal Leaders—Retired: Sharon Z. Rader, Donald A. Ott, Beverly Shamana, C. Joseph Sprague, Melvin G. Talbert, S. Clifton Ives, Joe A. Wilson, William Lewis, Forrest Stith, Susan Morrison, Susan Hassinger, Judy Craig, Dale White, William Boyd Grove, C. P. Minnick, Kenneth L. Carder, Roy I. Sano, Joe Yeakel, Kenneth Hicks, Joseph Humper, Monk Bryan, Jesse DeWitt, Jack Tuell, J. Lloyd Knox, Charles W. Jordan, J. Lawrence McCleskey, Marshall L. Meadors, Jr., Franz Schafer, Sheldon Duecker, Fritz Mutti, Cal McConnell, Leontine T. C. Kelly, Robert C. Morgan.


Remember: You can read our interviews with Jay Bakker and Brad Warner. Come back next week for our interview with Boston University’s Dr. Jennifer Wright Knust.

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