Another Complaint, No Consequences

By Thomas Lambrecht

As has become all too common, another complaint against a pastor for celebrating a same-sex wedding has been resolved without any discipline. In other words, the case has been “resolved” without any form of authentic resolution.

The Rev. Ben Marshall, a retired clergy member of the North Texas Conference, performed a same-sex wedding on April 22, 2017, in violation of the Book of Discipline, which forbids such services. A complaint was filed against him by the Rev. Fred Durham, also a retired clergy member of North Texas. According to a statement released by the annual conference, the complaint was mediated by Bill Waddell, the legal consultant for the Council of Bishops.

Durham also filed a complaint against the Rev. Eric Folkerth, the pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, a Reconciling Congregation that hosted the April wedding.

Both Marshall and Folkerth stipulated that they are “sorry for any harm … caused to those who disagree with our understanding of our pastoral calling and covenant.” (The full text of their statement was not publicly released.) There was no regret or repentance for breaking the church’s teachings and requirements, just an “I’m sorry if you feel hurt” response. There was no commitment not to repeat the violation, nor was there any mention of consequences suffered for breaching our shared commitment to “support and maintain” our “Church government and polity” (Discipline, ¶ 336.12-13).

The fact that there were apparently no consequences for this breech of covenant is doubly galling because it is a direct affront not only to the general church and our Book of Discipline, but also to the actions of the North Texas Conference. Bishop Michael McKee specifically outlined in a letter to clergy in 2015 that they would be unable to “preside over the ceremony, give the vows or the exchange of rings, pronounce the couple married, or sign the marriage license.” The fact that Marshall did so was in direct defiance of his bishop.

In addition, the 2016 session of the North Texas Conference adopted a resolution “stipulating that, until the Commission on a Way Forward completes its work, members of the North Texas Conference would be bound to uphold the Book of Discipline.” Marshall and Folkerth’s actions directly contradicted the will of their annual conference as expressed in this resolution.

The “just resolution” of the complaints against Marshall and Fokerth continues a pattern of clergy in various annual conferences performing same-sex weddings and receiving no consequences for their act of disobedience. Most complaints are settled with a “just resolution” that apologizes for any harm that people feel because of the violation, with some resolutions giving the offender a platform to promote their views in opposition to the church’s teachings. Other complaints are simply dismissed without action.

This is one very dramatic reason that laity and clergy alike have so little regard for episcopal leadership in the UM Church.

The longer these acts of disobedience are ignored or rewarded, the harder it will be to restore accountability. In general, most bishops have shown an unwillingness to hold clergy accountable for these actions. We are grateful for the isolated instances where UM bishops actually uphold our mutually-agreed upon covenant. This situation in Dallas, however, demonstrates how unlikely it is that the 2019 General Conference will be able to maintain the church’s current teachings on marriage and sexuality in a way that gains the compliance of all, or even most, U.S. United Methodists.

Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and vice president of Good News. 

Comments

  1. Since The UMC has a lesbian bishop who routinely performs such ceremonies how can we punish anyone else? The connection is broken. Time to move out.

  2. Progressives are continuing to aggressively take the traditionalists to the cleaners on this with their very clever maneuvering tactics. They follow a model, most likely carefully planned out, that is based on deceit, subterfuge, dishonesty, disobedience, and unethical tactics. After each of these victories, they then assume the role of hero, liberator, and visionary accompanied by all the supporting popular secular rhetoric. The orthodox segment of the church has been reduced to little more than a sounding gong in its response to this since it is up against a strong cultural tide. Even the Judicial Council has become inept and virtually ignored on the matter. My guess is that the progressives and the centrists feel much smugness at this point as they continue virtually unstopped. Even in a compromised church of local option governance, progressives would then go after the traditional congregations. They will not be satisfied until 100% of the UMC is converted to their way forward.

    And, out of this the Commission On A Way Forward is supposed to find a way to keep the UMC united?

  3. Tom rightly points to the stratagem that has become du jour: the Great Evasion. “The longer these acts of disobedience are ignored or rewarded, the harder it will be to restore accountability.” Is there even one person remaining in The United Methodist Church who doesn’t recognize this errant policy as deceitful, a disaster for the church, and a prelude to an inevitable division of assets?

    • Many in the pew do not know what is going on in our Church. The informed are few compared to the whole. The strategy in other terms, is that the force of one side is being opposed by the other side. When the balance of power comes to the critical point, the issue will be decided by the strongest force in the fight or by surrender of one side. Apathy is apparent in a lot of local Churches.

      • Gary Bebop says:

        There are two conversations going on. The first idealizes the conflict as one that will be resolved by revival or grand bargain. The second rationalizes the conflict as one to be resolved by control of assets. There are two visions in play. The first imagines that the church will repent of the corrosive effects of modernity and will surrender in obedience to Jesus Christ. The second holds out no hope for that because it believes itself woken to an inevitable modern progressive future. At some point the tension between these competing visions will snap.

  4. Gary,
    What’s much worse than the de facto practices that are becoming entrenched is the attitude accompanying this gross abuse of the UMC complaint and resolution process. These people have taken that most generous and compassionate procedure and trampled it under their feet. They are taking full and complete advantage of it with no respect for it or the overall UMC in order to advance a selfish, secular driven agenda. Would they advocate that all complaints across the church be resolved using their just resolution process, or do they care enough to even ponder such a question?

  5. The only way to get the Bishops’ attention when these actions against the Discipline occur is for local congregations – and MANY of them – to withhold their apportionments, sending a letter to the Bishop and Cabinet clearly outlining that they are responding to these injustices.

    This action should be taken by local church leadership – NOT the clergy/local church’s pastor. The church leadership should make this clear to the Bishop, and also let him/her know that if their pastor is “punished” with appointment to a different congregation, they will refuse to pay the salary of the incoming appointed minister.

    Local congregations have much more leverage than they often realize. They do have the power to influence the Bishop and the Cabinet in these decisions; no matter what those leaders’ theological leanings might be. But until they start using this power to bring about just resolution of these defiant acts against the Discipline, nothing will change.

  6. Licensed Local Pastor says:

    These are the actions by the Bishop’s which have almost completely eroded any credibility, integrity or authority they may have had. These continued violations without any type of accountability will lead to a split in the denomination. Jesus said a house divided cannot stand, how arrogant have these Bishop’s become to ignore the very words of Christ because they supposedly know better?

  7. this happened to me. I am an elder in full connection, in good standing in my conference. Last year I told the congregation about the decision of our General Conference not to change the wording of the BOD concerning homosexuality. I also stated that I agreed with the Book of Discipline. At that point 2 people walked out of the service. One of them called the DS and complained about me agreeing with the BOD. I was moved this year. I was told by the DS the only way I could stay at that church was if I became “center”. Otherwise I would have to move. I told her that “I can’t and I won’t change my theology”. My current appointment is 3/4 time, I was given a $19,000 cut in salary and there is no parsonage. This is my punishment for being Orthodox, Evangelical Conservative. I don’t see any hope for my church. My heart is grieved.

    • Licensed Local Pastor says:

      These are the type of actions that District Superintendent’s are taking and will continue to take against orthodox Elder’s and Licensed Local Pastors until they have driven the voices of truth out of the denomination. I never thought Matthew 5: 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” would ever apply to an elder in full connection. I never thought Jesus was talking about future church leadership.

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