Joining a man and a woman before God is standard duty for members of the clergy. But for performing a union of a different sort, the Rev. Jimmy Creech, a United Methodist minister, will soon be tried in a church court.
At issue is Creech's officiation at a covenant ceremony last September uniting two women in his congregation, First United Methodist Church. The event resembled a Methodist wedding, with scripture readings, an exchange of vows and a celebration of communion.But it came a month after Creech's bishop told him not to do it and a year after Methodist leaders added a statement to the denomination's rule book forbidding ceremonies that united people of the same sex.
Creech said in a recent interview that he could not, as their pastor, refuse the women's request and that he considered the church's opposition to unions of people of the same sex to be discriminatory. He could lose his ministerial credentials if convicted.
The trial, which is scheduled to begin March 11 in a Kearney, Neb., church, will highlight a divisive pattern emerging within Protestantism, where the consensus against homosexuality has been eroding, as it has elsewhere in American society.
Issues concerning homosexuality, especially the question of whether to ordain noncelibate gay men and lesbians as ministers, have touched off rancorous debates at church conventions, where opponents often cite biblical injunctions against homosexual acts. A few cases have ended up before ecclesiastical judges.
No major Protestant denomination has voted to allow the ordination of homosexuals as ministers, nor has any developed official rituals to bless same-sex unions. But the stands that denominational leaders have taken vary considerably.