Same-sex marriage at Reconciling Ministries Network event

Rev. Bruce Robbins

In a highly public and provocative act of defiance, two United Methodist clergy performed a same-sex marriage on September 1 during a Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) convocation. The Rev. Bruce Robbins and the Rev. Kathryn Johnson were following through on earlier pledges to perform same-sex unions.

“The Rev. Bruce Robbins and I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding of these two precious men [David Shumate and Andy Ragland] on September 1 in the midst of the ChurchQuake convocation sponsored by the Reconciling Ministries Network,” reported Johnson, former executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).

The same-sex union conducted by Robbins and Johnson was one of two ceremonies during the RMN event.

“When I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church in 1985 I felt a great sense of unease at holding my clergy orders in a church that openly discriminated against gay and lesbian persons,” Johnson wrote on the RMN website. “That unease has grown in intensity over the years and has been agonizing much of the time.”

The global United Methodist Church prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex unions. Although the practice of homosexuality has been a point of great emotional debate at denominational gatherings during the last 40 years, United Methodism holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

“At its fall meeting, 2011, the Council of Bishops issued a statement that each Bishop would enforce The Book of Discipline, including its prohibition against UM clergy performing same-sex marriages,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News, an evangelical renewal ministry within The United Methodist Church. “We now wait to see if the bishops will fulfill the commitment they made.”

Dr. Bruce Robbins, who co-officiated the ceremony, is the recently retired senior pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. In 2011, Robbins led the effort within the Minnesota Annual Conference to encourage United Methodist clergy to offer marriage ceremonies to same-sex couples.

“We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by Spirit and conscience to act,” read the statement Robbins promoted and sought clergy signatories. “We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the church to the world, and we are complicit. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of The United Methodist Church in prayer.”

Supporters of the United Methodist position on marriage are waiting to see what will come of this act of “ecclesiastical disobedience.”

Rev. Kathryn Johnson

“Both the Revs. Robbins and Johnson have publicly and proudly admitted that they have performed a marriage contrary to The Book of Discipline, Renfroe stated. “We call upon Bishop Bruce R. Ough and Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar to address this situation swiftly, to discipline the pastor under their authority and to issue a clear message that such divisive actions will not be tolerated in the future. If they do not act, others will be compelled to do so. But the church expects and deserves that its episcopal leaders will fulfill their calling and be true to the pledge they made in November, 2011. The integrity and the health of the church depend upon it.”

According to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” Under paragraph 2702 of the Discipline, officiating at a same-sex union is a chargeable offense.

To read the Rev. Johnson’s complete article, click HERE.

To read the Rev. Robbins’ homily, click HERE.

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