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Decision No. 1115

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April 23 2009
In Re: Review of Decision of Law by Bishop Mary Ann Swenson of the California-Pacific Annual Conference on Whether a Resolution Passed by the Annual Conference Supporting Clergy Who Celebrate Same Gender Marriages Violates ¶¶ 341 and 2702 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.

Digest of Case

The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed in part and reversed in part. When the Bishop ruled that clergy are subject to the provisions of just resolution and fair process (¶ 2701) in situations that involve alleged violations, her ruling is affirmed. When she ruled that “the resolution is permissible” though it is in violation of the provisions of the Book of Discipline, her ruling is reversed.

Statement of Facts

The record shows that the California Pacific Annual Conference supported Resolution 08-14 v.1 entitled “Pastoral Response to Legality of Same-Gender Marriage in California” The Resolution states:

WHEREAS, many people who we know and love is our parishes are celebrating with overflowing joy the recent California Supreme Court decision to recognize their place in society and their right to be married, and WHEREAS, beloved same-gender couples in out parishes are coming to us with their desire to celebrate their love and commitment, and to have those affirmed not only by the state but by their faith community as well, and WHEREAS, the legality of same-sex marriage in California, the needs of our parishes, and the demands of love require a pastoral response from the clergy and congregations of the California-Pacific Annual Conference, THEREFORE, be it resolved that we recognize the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.
At the 2008 Session of the California-Pacific Annual Conference a member of the Conference requested a Bishop’s decision of law stating:
I hereby request Bishop Mary Ann Swenson to determine and declare if Resolution #08-14, as passed by the California-Pacific Annual Conference on June 21, 2008, is legally permissible as it relates to paragraphs 341.6 and 2702.1 of the 2004 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. I further request that Bishop Mary Ann Swenson report back to the annual conference her decision of law before the conclusion of the 2008 Session.
Bishop Swenson responded to the question in writing. In part the Bishop wrote;
This kind of “compassion and understanding” is already prominent in the language and principles of our complaint procedures: ¶ 2701 on “Fair Process in Judicial Proceeding” begins, “The judicial process shall have as its purpose a just resolution of judicial complaints, in the hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Jesus Christ.” What the resolution does not call for is for pastors to violate the provisions of the Discipline governing the celebration of same-gender marriages (¶ 341.6 and ¶ 2702.1) In fact, the resolution is specific in acknowledging the authority of the Discipline:”…we recognize that we are governed by the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church…” The resolution is about what the Conference does, not what a pastor does. In this instance, only a pastor can violate the Discipline by celebrating a same-gender marriage. The resolution does not call for or encourage violation of the Discipline; it does provide for a response that is pastoral (compassionate) in nature. I do not read the Discipline to constrain a pastoral response on the part of any one or any collective body, nor is a compassionate response contradictory to the application of our judicial procedures. Therefore, I rule that the resolution is permissible.
ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE
In so far as the resolution supports the pastoral and prophetic ministry of clergy under ¶ 340 of the Book of Discipline, the Bishop’s decision is affirmed. In so far as the resolution violates the prohibition outlined in ¶ 341.6, the Bishop is reversed. The resolution acknowledges that clergy conduct is governed by the Discipline rendering a clergy person subject to disciplinary action when a violation of the Discipline takes place. The resolution goes on to express that it “hopes compassion” would be shown to those pastors that are compelled by conscience to celebrate same gender marriages if disciplinary procedures ensue. In so far as the resolution expresses hope that disobedience to the order of the Church would be dealt with compassionately, the Bishop’s decision is in keeping with ¶ 361 and is affirmed. In so far as the portion of the resolution which expresses support of conduct which is prohibited in ¶ 341.6, the Bishop’s ruling is reversed.

Decision

The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed in part and reversed in part. When the Bishop ruled that clergy are subject to the provisions of just resolution and fair process (¶ 2701) in situations that involve alleged violations, her ruling is affirmed. When she ruled that “the resolution is permissible” though it is in violation of the provisions of the Discipline, her ruling is reversed. Ruben T. Reyes was absent. Jay Arthur Garrison, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

CONCURRING OPINION
The current Book of Discipline prohibits clergy from performing ceremonies that celebrate same gender marriage. For a conference to “support those pastors who conscientiously respond to the needs of their parishioners by celebrating same gender marriage” runs contrary to the current disciplinary language. Changes in church law can only be made by the General Conference and cannot be achieved through piecemeal resolutions adopted in an annual conference session. Jon R. Gray Katherine Austin Mahle joins in this concurring opinion.

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