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UM Pastor Accepts Once-Rejected Gay Man as Member

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    Pastor accepts once-rejected gay man as member April 4, 2007 A UMNS Report By Linda Green* The pastor of a Virginia United Methodist church has granted
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2007
      Pastor accepts once-rejected gay man as member
      April 4, 2007
      A UMNS Report By Linda Green*

      The pastor of a Virginia United Methodist church has granted
      membership to the gay man whose 2005 denial of membership by the
      previous pastor prompted controversy across the denomination on the
      issues of homosexuality and pastoral authority.

      During worship services on March 11 at South Hill (Va.) United
      Methodist Church, the Rev. Barry Burkholder accepted the man's
      transfer of membership from a Baptist church to South Hill (Va.)
      United Methodist Church.

      The development follows a series of rulings related to the case,
      including one on pastoral authority, by the denomination's highest

      "The Judicial Council's ruling says that the pastor of the church is
      the person in authority to determine whether an individual is ready to
      receive the vows of membership," Burkholder told United Methodist News

      "And having spoken with this individual and him having professed
      Christ as his savior, his belief that Jesus Christ died for his sins
      tells me that he is ready to receive the vows of membership."

      The Rev. Edward H. Johnson had refused to receive the man into
      membership in 2005, saying the man would neither repent nor seek to
      live a lifestyle that does not include homosexuality.

      The man has continued to worship at the South Hill Church and to
      participate in its music ministry. Meanwhile, Johnson since has been
      appointed pastor at Dahlgren (Va.) United Methodist Church.

      Homosexuality and the church

      Like many other Protestant denominations, The United Methodist Church
      has struggled with the issue of homosexuality for more than 30 years.

      In its Book of Discipline, the church declares the practice to be
      "incompatible with Christian teaching." But while the church has
      proscriptions against ordination of "practicing" homosexual clergy and
      clergy conducting same-sex ceremonies in United Methodist churches, it
      has no specific law about church membership and homosexual practice.

      The Virginia case is among several to bring issues related to
      homosexuality before the denomination's high court.

      Johnson was placed on involuntary leave of absence in June 2005 by a
      vote of fellow clergy of the Virginia Annual Conference after he
      refused to receive the man into membership. Four months later, the
      nine-member Judicial Council ruled that United Methodist pastors have
      authority to decide who becomes a member of a local church and
      reinstated Johnson.

      Specifically, the Judicial Council ruled that "the pastor in charge of
      a United Methodist church or charge is solely responsible for making
      the determination of a person's readiness to receive the vows of

      Burkholder said he based his decision to receive the man into
      membership on the council's ruling, the criteria for membership found
      in Paragraph 214 of the 2004 Book of Discipline and the invitation for
      membership found in the Service of Word and Table 1 of the United
      Methodist Hymnal.

      "Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly
      repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. This
      is my definition" (of membership), he said.

      Following the close of the March 11 worship service, the man and two
      others who transferred membership that day were greeted by most of the
      church's members, according to Burkholder.

      "A vast majority of the congregation came forward and warmly welcomed
      all three of these people into the life of the church," said the
      pastor, adding that he was "very gratified at seeing that."

      Thoughts from the bishop

      Burkholder said he made the decision to accept the man into membership
      because "that is what I was charged with doing when I was ordained."
      He said it is important to "understand that there has never been any
      coercion, there has never been any suggestion on the part of the
      bishop as to the action that I took here at the local church."

      Bishop Charlene Kammerer, in an interview with United Methodist News
      Service, said she was unaware of the latest development until
      Burkholder contacted her afterward.

      "So what this conveyed to me was that another United Methodist pastor
      in the Virginia. Conference - through his own getting to know the man
      and counseling with him spiritually and also with working with other
      leaders in the church - felt very comfortable inviting him to join,"
      Kammerer said.

      The congregation's continuing struggle with the issue and its
      spiritual discernment "helped the new pastor be clear in issuing the
      invitation," she said.

      The congregation and its pastor have taken a "very courageous step,"
      she said. She added that she could not imagine what kind of courage it
      has taken for the man "to continue to be an active participant as a
      baptized Christian in this congregation where he had been clearly
      rejected and set apart."

      "I thank God for the ways that I believe that Christ is continuing to
      work in his life," she said.

      Ongoing dialogue

      The Judicial Council ruling on the Virginia case was the subject of a
      denominational consultation last February in Nashville, Tenn., where
      pastors, bishops, theologians, seminary deans and denominational staff
      gathered to discuss its implications. The consultation focused on the
      nature, practice and integrity of the church's leadership.

      While the ruling uncovered conflicts in church membership criteria,
      ecclesiology and the authority given to pastors, church leaders expect
      the issues will continue to be debated across United Methodism.

      "What has happened here in the same congregation is that one pastor
      made a decision and another pastor made a different decision,"
      Kammerer said.

      She singled out the South Hill church as a "local congregation who has
      struggled mightily to understand the meaning of membership and what
      really has happened to them and particularly to the man in this

      The bishop said there are members of South Hill who disapprove of the
      man's lifestyle and sexual orientation, but "these same members would
      not exclude him from membership in The United Methodist Church based
      on that reality alone."

      She said it is her hope and prayer "that no United Methodist pastor
      would use discretion to bar anyone from membership in The United
      Methodist Church."

      *Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in
      Nashville, Tenn.

      News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@....


      United Methodist News Service
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