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A Statement from the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio Regarding Acts of Ecclesial Disobedience

On Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 10:30 AM, Rev. David Meredith, an elder in full-connection in the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, was married to his long-time partner, Jim Schlachter, in a ceremony at the Broad Street United Methodist Church.   You can read a Columbus Dispatch report of the ceremony here.

Letters from the Reconciling Ministries Network and the United Methodist Centrist Movement have been written to affirm this act of defiance against the Scriptures and the 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.  You can read the Reconciling Ministries Network letter here , and the United Methodist Centrist Movement here.   A letter of affirmation was distributed to the press which was signed by ninety clergy of the West Ohio Conference and one Bishop.  As of the writing of this statement, we were unable to find the online posting of this letter, but it was reference in the Columbus Dispatch article.

These actions are troubling to us as members of the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio who hold a high view of scripture and seek to live out our Wesleyan expression of historic, orthodox Christianity.   It is with great sadness that we write as persons who love the Church, have been devoted to and invested in the United Methodist Church, and who have consistently advocated for unity.

Rev. David Meredith’s open and public act of being married in a same sex union is a clear act of disobedience to the spirit and letter of our covenant as outlined in the Book of Discipline.  Given the public nature of Rev. Meredith’s avowal as an openly and actively gay man, when a complaint is filed, we ask Bishop Palmer and the Cabinet to suspend him from his appointment based upon paragraph 304.3 or the 2012 Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church.

The use of the Broad Street United Methodist Church for a same sex union worship service is a clear act of disobedience of the spirit and letter of our covenant as outlined in the Book of Discipline in paragraph 341.6.  When a complaint is filed against the pastor of Broad Street, Rev. Lou Seipel, for her failure to follow our polity in this matter, we call for Bishop Palmer and the Cabinet to suspend Rev. Seipel for her deliberate violation of our polity while the complaint is being processed.

The officiating of a same sex union by a United Methodist Clergyperson is a clear act of disobedience of the spirit and letter of our covenant as outlined in the Book of Discipline in paragraph 341.6.  When the identity of the officiating clergyperson(s) is revealed and a complaint is file against said clergy, we call for Bishop Palmer and the Cabinet to suspend them from their appointment for this deliberate violation of our polity while the complaint is being processed.

The various letters and signatures of support of this action constitute a call for direct disobedience to the Discipline, and are, therefore, clear statements in support of actions which violate our covenant as United Methodists and clergy together.  We urge our colleagues to consider the harm that they have done to the fabric of our covenant community and the ways they have undermined the ministry of other elders and deacons with these actions as cited in paragraph 2702.1.

The various calls for support is clearly a part of a broader, coordinated movement of disobedience which is divisive in and of itself and will foster and exacerbate the division and potential rancor as we enter General Conference.

While we are not surprised by the actions of the Reconciling Ministries Network, we are disheartened by the actions and increasing progressive advocacy of the United Methodist Centrist Movement.  The call for support from the Centrist Movement has come under the signature of the two primary leaders of the movement.  From the beginning the Centrists posed as a movement which desired to reach out to both conservatives and progressives, and could lead the church forward to a positive and inclusive resolution of these matters.  The Centrist Movement originally presented as a part of its platform a call for a moratorium on trials to create a period to discern a positive way forward.  Now they are calling for actions which are in themselves “chargeable offenses” and may result in trials under the Discipline. We believe these actions reveal the true intentions of the Centrist Movement, which for the last year has aligned itself with the most vocal advocates for changing our United Methodist understanding of human sexuality. These self-contradictory actions, rather than offering a conciliatory sign of hope, function to divide the West Ohio Conference and the United Methodist Church more deeply.

The actions of Rev. Meredith as well as those who officiated at his gay marriage and those who offer affirmation and support increase the crisis the United Methodist Church is facing over human sexuality. Their actions further cloud a clear witness to the world about the loving and transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We call for evangelicals to pray for our Bishop, Gregory V. Palmer, those who will file complaints, and the clergy colleagues involved.  We also call for prayer for the General Conference in Portland.  It appears that the “It’s Time!” strategy which has been advocated by the Reconciling Ministries Network and other Progressive groups will result in a very challenging and acerbic environment in Portland.  We do not know how this will impact the present and future of our Church, but we encourage evangelicals to stay engaged in our connection and to give prayerful consideration about how to appropriately respond to the choices that will present themselves after General Conference.

Jeff Greenway

EFWO President