Bishop Dorff faces protesters at San Antonio conference

By Walter Fenton

Bishop James Dorff of the Rio Texas Annual Conference faced both silent and vocal protestors as he brought greetings to United Methodists attending the “Gather at the River” conference held in San Antonio, Texas, August 6-9.

Bishop Dorff

Bishop Dorff

The conference, sponsored by the Methodist Federation for Social Action and the Reconciling Ministries Network, called for, among other things, a “fully inclusive United Methodist Church,” and a liberalizing of the denomination’s teachings on same-sex marriage and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

As Dorff walked to the stage, silent protestors gathered at the altar rail of Travis Park United Methodist Church, site of the four-day conference. One protestor had made her way to the dais with two signs, one reading, “Dorff Not a Friend to LGBTQ People.” The protestor remained on the stage during the bishop’s words of welcome. As Dorff spoke, other participants appeared to heckle him and called on him to openly support LGBTQ persons.

Much of the protest stemmed from Dorff’s 2013 episcopal decision in the case of M Barclay (formerly known as Mary Ann Barclay), who now self-identifies as a “non-binary trans person.” Barclay, who at the time of Dorff’s decision, identified as a lesbian, was in the candidacy process for ordination and in an open relationship with another woman. The Rio Texas Conference Board of Ordained Ministry declined to grant her an interview on the grounds that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” are not to be advanced in the candidacy process.

Barclay appealed to Dorff, claiming the board should at least grant her an interview. Dorff ruled it was not his place to usurp the role of the board thus leaving its decision intact. On further appeal, the church’s highest court, the Judicial Council, ruled Dorff was obliged to make a ruling and so remanded the case to him. He in turn reversed the board’s decision, requiring it to grant Barclay an interview. Ultimately, the board voted not to advance her in the candidacy process because it found she had failed to effectively articulate her understanding of the “Lordship of Christ for the world” and her own “internal call” to ordained ministry.

In his brief remarks to those gathered in San Antonio, Dorff said, “It’s not a fun time to be a bishop in the church.” He noted that it’s not a “fun time” either for people in the LGBTQ community, and he acknowledged that the church is deeply divided over the question of fully including LGBTQ people.

Dorff went on to say that the church and the LGBTQ community are on a journey that is not over yet. “God wants,” he said, “a more inclusive church. We must become a wholly inclusive church. And many bishops want to be part of a fully inclusive church.” Those lines were greeted with applause and calls that Dorff more publicly advocate for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people.

There is a long and laudable tradition of bishops welcoming United Methodists who descend upon their episcopal areas for various gatherings. However, in his brief remarks to the LGBTQ advocates gathered in San Antonio, Dorff went well beyond a greeting. He essentially endorsed their agenda even though it is at odds with the church’s official teachings, the beliefs of most United Methodists around the world, and the position he emphatically claimed was his own when he asked jurisdictional conference delegates to elect him as a bishop.

Surely, it is not “fun” to be a bishop sometimes, but no one forced Dorff to assume the role. Having once assumed the job, the church needs him to warmly embrace and defend its teachings, even when it’s not fun

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News. 


  1. Sonja LeVan says

    WE already have to many Dorffs in our Denomination…caving in to the LGBTQ…..Start your own church!!!!…We have our Bible and Book of Discipline to support our beliefs, if you don’t like them….GO AWAY!!!!!!!

    • Rick Darst says

      Our Bishop Dorff has been a friend to all in this conference! He has guided us, with God’s grace, through some very tough times. The trials in our times are literally tearing other conferences apart. A different man would have not born the slings and arrows inflicted on him when he tried to again hold together our different beliefs and goals. Perhaps acting the way we did to him, on that stage, we thought may have won a small battle in getting Bishop to understand the inequity of the earthly church we live in. I doubt that! Rather I believe he more than any of us has wrestled and prayed for guidance on how to hold this body of Christ together. What have we done to hold our church together?

  2. Ian McDonald says

    Are all the Bishop’s currently in the United Methodist Church more interested in political correctness than standing up for the vows they took as Elders and then Bishops. More and more the United Methodist Church is letting the world make disciples of its leaders for the transformation of the church rather than making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

  3. We need a process to remove all leaders and bureaucrats that do not uphold and fully embrace Wesleyan doctrine. Are our leaders even passingly familiar with the writing of John Wesley? Why do we tolerate leaders with flawed and shallow understandings of the Wesleyan emphasis on personal and social holiness? Why do we tolerate those that claim unbelief and esoteric interpretations are somehow a more mature form of faith? A little leaven leavens the whole, error begets error, and we finally end up with a bureaucracy that seems to only promote and accept those who also have bent the knee to Baal.

  4. Regarding the question “Jesus never mentioned Homosexuality.” Do you not believe in the Triune Godhead.” Read Gen., 1:26;11:7 and John 1:1-8. Note the word “let us.” (us) objective of we:1. I and the rest of of a group that includes me: you and I: you and I and another that includes me. You and I. You and I and another or others. Who said “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is destable.” (Lev. 18;22.”None than the Triune Godhead (Us). See Lev. 18:22; Deut., 23:18; Gen., 19:5; Romans 1;27; and 1 Cor., 6:9. The Triune Godhead has spoken bothe in the Old Testament and the new their beliefs and they do not have to reitergrate (to renew; reinstate; or to reinterpretate again).

  5. Rev. Dean Fleming says

    Another way to look at this is that the Bishop went into a hostile environment to give an Episcopal Greeting that was ambiguous but as conciliatory as he was willing to be. If he wanted to endorse their efforts and agenda, he could have said so. He did not.

    I find the attribution of thought and motives in this circumstance quite unfair.

    • Did you watch the linked video? What part of the statement did you think was not an endorsement of the RMN agenda? Here is the unedited last half of Bishop Dorff’s address:

      “These are difficult days. Uh, God wants an inclusive church. [Amens and mild applause] We must have an inclusive church. [Shouts and applause] We must be fully inclusive. [Shouts and applause] It has been very difficult to get to this point. The journey is far from over. I want you to know that I want to be a part of the journey. I want you to know that there are many bishops who wish to be a part of the journey to have a fully inclusive church. [Applause and shouts of “Do something”] I understand. I understand, and I am seeking to do God’s will in the very best way that I can. [hecklers shouting over the bishop “Retract your statement”, etc] I will continue to do that, and I will seek to be a Bishop of the whole church, [hecklers shouting over bishop] the whole church and the LGBTQ community.

      [Hecklers shouting at many points during closing] I want to welcome you to San Antonio. If I have disappointed some of you in some ways in which I have administered my role as a bishop, I am very very sorry for that, and I want you to know that I continue to look to find ways to grow as a Bishop in the church… [hecklers shouting “Grow”, etc] And, I will. God bless you, and I pray that God will continue to bless us as we move forward on this journey for full inclusion. Amen.”

      • Rev. Dean Fleming says

        Paul: I did watch the video. Where in there do you see an endorsement of the idea of ordaining gay clergy? Of approving of gay weddings? Of allowing offenders of the discipline to go unpunished?

        Should our church welcome those in the LGBQ community? Of course!

        But nowhere do I see any endorsement of the main issues

  6. John Elford says

    I appreciate Bishop Dorff’s courage in speaking to the RMN convocation in San Antonio. Many bishops in the past have been invited to speak, but Dorff is one of the first ones actually to address an RMN gathering. If you have ever listened to Jim Dorff, you know that he is open to the moving of God’s Spirit. And so I’m not surprised, but incredibly grateful for his remarks about inclusion. I hope and pray for a more inclusive church, a church willing to confess the sins of marginalization and oppression, a church open to being transformed in its life and in its polity by the moving of God’s spirit.

  7. I appreciate that those on the each side of this issue feel strongly about it. The Scripture calls for an end to oppression and oppression of LGBTQ persons is a historical reality, just as oppression of so many others. Yet, while full inclusiveness must include all LGBTQ persons, it must also somehow include the most bigoted and oppressive members of our connection as well or it’s simply not inclusiveness. Personally I find the views of bigots offensive, and I”m not sure how I would accomplish inclusion that included them, but I believe that the Bishop is striving for this and I appreciate his courage and honesty.

    • Chingachgook says

      “Splunge” – adjective – Meaning: it’s a great idea but possibly not but you are not being indecisive.

      One looks at this and is staggered on how to respond to such hateful, illogical, and unreasonable vitriol disguised as magnanimity…I don’t buy it for a nanosecond.

      A) Be inclusive but if you disagree you are a bigot
      B) The scripture calls for an end to oppression as long as you agree with us, if not you will be yourselves oppressed and suffer a social death (what Johana Goldberg called “Fascism with a smiley face”).

      Following Jesus is by nature exclusive. Just as Jesus is using the law of the excluded middle in Matthew 19: 4-6 (this is exclusivity not inclusivity): “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”

      In Mathew 7:13-14 he gets is even MORE exclusive: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

      If you are practicing LGBTQ and want to join the Church, good for you; you found the place where sinners go to learn to repent. If you join then DEMAND that I abandon scripture and call me a bigot then please leave immediately “You brood of vipers!” you wolves in sheep’s clothing!

      Bottom line – I want nothing to do with this “movement”, I am tired of being nice to people who are attempting to kill me and my friends/family socially.

    • And how are you NOT marginalizing and oppressing those that do not agree with your particular point of view by labeling them as bigots?

      The rock bottom divide in this issue is that we are coming at this from totally different perspectives of Christianity and the church in four significant areas:
      who God is and who we are;
      what God requires of us in this lifetime;
      the way in which church relates to society;
      the role the General Conference and the Book Discipline play in the life of the church.

      I have an understanding of freedom that has served me well over my lifetime: My freedom ends where the next person’s freedom begins and your freedom ends where mine begins. If you want me to respect your views then you need to respect mine! You leave me to my beliefs without criticism, and I will leave you to yours! But when you demand that I believe as you do, then we and by extension, the United Methodist Church, have a gianourmous problem!

  8. Please, if we are to quote Leviticus about those things that are abhorrent, let’s not pick and choose which things to abhor. Following Leviticus, we then would need to abhor those who eat shellfish, those who wear cloth made of mixed materials, eat rare meat,trim your beard, have tatoos, eat fruit before its tree is 5 years old.

    • As our Articles of Religion state: “Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.” (Article VI – Of the Old Testament)

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