Retired bishops call for homosexual ordination

By Jeff Walton

The United Methodist Church should revoke its policy of not ordaining actively practicing homosexual persons, according to two retired bishops who spoke during an April 26 press conference at the denomination’s convention in Tampa, Florida. Retired Bishops Donald Ott and Sharon Zimmerman Rader were referencing an earlier statement signed by 36 bishops, most of whom are also retired.

“I look forward to being able to attend a General Conference where an act of repentance for this is made,” predicted Ott, implicitly comparing the church’s current teaching against homosexual practices to injustices perpetuated against Native Americans, a focus of this year’s denominational gathering. Ott was among 15 bishops who declared their public support for homosexual practice just before the 1996 General Conference.

At the Tampa press conference, Ott pronounced that existing language in the church’s Book of Discipline calling homosexual practice incompatible with Christian teaching “never should have been inserted.” He also charged that the church “is in denial.”

“The language in the Book of Discipline is double talk,” Ott insisted, claiming that United Methodist bishops were “drained” by simultaneously upholding a church discipline that he asserted was contrary to many of their personal beliefs. Ott called for more active bishops to publically refute the church’s existing teaching, something he lamented few were willing to do.

Ott shared that he holds a portion of the communion chalice shattered by a homosexual activist at the 2004 General Conference in an angry act of protest. The retired bishop revealed that he longed to present that fragment at a communion service at a future General Conference where active homosexual persons were affirmed.

Rader, who serves as the Ecumenical Officer of the Council of Bishops, thanked the gathered activists for “naming the hurt our church has visited upon LGBT persons.”

Recounting her first General Conference in 1976, Rader stated that the denomination was talking about matters of homosexuality then “and ever since.” Every General Conference since 1972 has debated homosexuality, always reaffirming the biblical stance that sex is for marriage between man and woman.

Recalling from her childhood church a painting of Jesus waiting at a door, Rader speculated that Christ might not be waiting for people to let him in, but rather inviting them to come out of fear.

“That language must be gone,” Rader declared of the Book of Discipline, adding that Jesus Christ “wants us mostly to love God and others.”

“I want to join Jesus in praying that doors are open and rules and prohibitions are cast away,” Rader concluded.

Rader and Ott were followed by two African American theologians who complained that blacks were set against homosexual persons.

“What we hate is the hurt when the Bible is used against others,” denounced theologian Cheryl Anderson of the Black UMC scholars group supporting the bishops’ statement. Anderson teaches at United Methodist Garrett Evangelical Seminary outside Chicago. She was echoed by United Methodist Boston School of Theology Dean Pamela Lightsey, who charged that conservatives in the church looked to blacks in the United States and Africa “to support discrimination.”

Anderson advised that an appeal should be made to the “spirit of the law,” when interpreting scriptural prohibitions on homosexual practices, apparently arguing that the verses should not be read with plain meaning.

“I am the reality that the church seeks to deny in the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline,” announced Lightsey, who identified herself as a “black lesbian United Methodist” and asserted she had “walked the path of discrimination” her whole life.

“Walk in the Journey. Be yourself. Love who you are,” Lightsey advised.

Jeff Walton writes for UM Action, a committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Editor’s note: During a separate event, Bishop Melvin Talbert joined 13 other United Methodist bishops at a gathering on May 4 outside the 2012 United Methodist General Conference to show support for clergy in the denomination who choose to officiate at religious weddings of same-sex couples. Doing so is a violation of church law. Talbert was joined at the dais by Retired Bishops Judy Craig, Violet Fisher, Elias Galvan, Susan Hassinger, Don Ott, Sharon Rader, Roy Sano, and Jack Tuell; and active Bishops Warner Brown, Sally Dyck, Grant Hagiya, Bob Hoshibata, John Schol, and Mary Ann Swenson.

“The time for talking is over. It’s time for us to act in defiance of unjust words of immoral and derogatory discrimination and laws that are doing harm to our GLBT sisters and brothers,” said Talbert. Doing so is a violation of church law.