Bishop faults jurisdiction’s gay issue stand

A UMNS Report
By Heather Hahn*

Indiana Area Bishop Michael J. Coyner on Oct. 15 published his criticisms of the Western Jurisdiction’s stand against The United Methodist Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Bishop Michael Coyner

Delegates to the Western Jurisdiction’s meeting July 18-21 adopted a “Statement of Gospel Obedience” that says the denomination is in error in its stance that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The jurisdiction’s statement also urged United Methodists to operate as if that stance in Paragraph 161F of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, “does not exist, creating a church where all people are truly welcome.”

In his Oct. 15 E-pistle to the Indiana Annual (regional) Conference, Coyner faulted the Western Jurisdiction’s actions in three ways.

He said the statement:

  • Comes across as a kind of “neo-colonialism,” distrusting the actions of the global church’s General Conference, which increasingly includes delegates from outside the United States, particularly Africa
  • Is a “very poor substitute for the honorable practice of civil disobedience as expressed clearly by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
  • Does not “offer the church any way forward on this difficult issue”

“What if the Western Jurisdiction, which has a proud history of diversity, tolerance, and openness to new models of ministry, had offered some suggestions for our United Methodist Church to move forward on this issue?” Coyner wrote. “Instead, the actions and statements of the Western Jurisdiction seem to conclude that ‘we are right and everyone else is wrong.’”

Responses from Western Jurisdiction bishops

Los Angeles Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño, who leads the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, and Pheonix Area Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata, who leads the Desert Southwest Conference, took issue with Coyner’s appraisal of the jurisdiction’s statement.

“There is a rather large jump from the statement agreed upon at the WJ Conference and neo-colonialism,” Carcaño said. “Neo-colonialism is a complex socio-economic, political and historical reality that in my opinion is not appropriately used in this  situation.  It does, however, add gravitas to Bishop Coyner’s statement and elevates a church situation to a level it does not deserve. It does, though, add to the barriers that we continue to erect among ourselves that do not allow us to have the conversation we need to have about not only this issue, but a number of other issues pertaining to the social, moral and ethical fiber of our church and our witness to the world, or lack thereof.”

She added that delegates from the Western Jurisdiction were seeking change to the denomination’s stance on homosexuality long before the increase in African delegates that was apparent at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

“What I read in the jurisdiction’s statement is not that we know better than everybody else but that we know differently,” Hoshibata said. “What we taught centuries ago and called it the Gospel of Jesus Christ has changed with the world and with culture.”

The bishops also said the Western Jurisdiction stands in the tradition of King’s practice of civil disobedience during the U.S. civil rights movement.

“Whenever there is any injustice — an injustice against one person, one group or one community — I think those are opportunities to speak out and share our thoughts and our concerns,” Hoshibata said. “It’s also an opportunity for us to demonstrate what we feel Christ has called us to do when he calls us to justice. This is precisely the Christ-like response I think Martin Luther King would have been supportive of.”

United Methodists in the jurisdiction have been in prayerful reflection on the matter of inclusivity for a long time, Carcaño said.

“It is our collective conclusion that God leads us in a different direction and that we can longer remain silent,” she said. “We are aware of the disciplinary consequences and believe that faithfulness to God is more important than staying in the ranks and file of the church and continuing to do what we United Methodists have done for too long. We have spoken and lived in contradictory ways; we have said that persons of homosexual orientation are of sacred worth but not worthy of fully being a part of the church.”

The Western Jurisdiction encompasses Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Guam and other U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean.

A personal response

At the beginning of his response to the Western Jurisdiction, Coyner stressed that he was writing only his personal opinion as a bishop. He noted that his comments do not reflect the official position of the Indiana Conference, the North Central Jurisdiction or the Council of Bishops.

“Lots of people here in Indiana have been asking me for my personal response, and so rather than having thousands of conversations, it seemed easier to send out one statement for anyone to read who is interested,” he told the United Methodist News Service.

He added that he hoped his response would “encourage further conversation” among United Methodists.

Coyner described himself as a member of the “great middle” of The United Methodist Church where he believes many church members find themselves.

“Right now, it feels like people are ‘talking past one another’ rather than having conversations with one another,” he said.

Divisions evident at General Conference

The Western Jurisdiction’s actions followed the defeat at General Conference, the denomination’s top-lawmaking body, of a proposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality.

During General Conference, bishops take turns presiding during the plenary sessions, and Coyner was presiding at the morning session May 3 when delegates rejected proposals to change the denomination’s stance on homosexuality.

After those petitions failed, dozens of protesters gathered on the plenary floor after the break, singing ‘What Does the Lord Require of You?’ Coyner asked the demonstrators to stop, and when they did not, he recessed the session for an early lunch. “I think you’re actually hurting your point,” he told the group.

The protesters stayed on the plenary floor through the lunch break, and representatives from the Council of Bishops negotiated with leaders of the demonstration and found a solution to the impasse. Germany’s Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, then the new president of the Council of Bishops, opened the session with a statement crafted by the bishops. The Rev. Frank Wulf, a California-Pacific Conference delegate, prayed. And the demonstrators left the floor peacefully.

“That particular protest moved toward being unhelpful when they disrupted times of worship and when their protest came without any advance discussion of their goals,” Coyner told the United Methodist News Service on Oct. 15. “Having the General Conference go into recess allowed various leaders of the groups and General Conference leaders to work out a resolution — which I believe was appropriate and fair.”

A way forward?

In his E-pistle, Coyner suggested that General Conference might one day modify its various statements on human sexuality “first to affirm Christians of good will are in disagreement on these issues, and second to adopt a more moderate and holistic approach to these issues.”

However, he said, such changes should come with “prayer, theological reflection, humility, listening to God and listening to one another.”

The Western Jurisdiction, he said, was not providing a helpful way forward.

Carcaño disputed Coyner’s assertion that the jurisdiction’s statement does not provide a way for the denomination to move into the furure.

“The statement says that in the West we will live with integrity what we have said as United Methodists — that we are all of sacred worth and all welcomed,” she said. “We recognize that the WJ statement puts the WJ in tension with other parts of the church.  Perhaps this tension will be just what we need to lead the entire denomination to a better place.  I am hoping that it will help us create the kind of Christian conferencing we need to be having on all matters important to God; a holy and disciplined conversation that does not wait for General Conference, but that is a daily exercise in our efforts to be faithful to God.  For the opportunity to reflect on this matter, I am grateful to Bishop Coyner.”

Coyner also took issue with those who see the Western Jurisdiction’s actions as a prelude to a schism in The United Methodist Church.

“Perhaps, I have been overly optimistic or hopeful,” he said. “But I do not believe our United Methodist Church will split. To me, it would be a sad commentary about our inability to ‘conference together’ if we allow an issue like sexuality to split us.”

Hoshibata and Carcaño also both expressed confidence in the church’s continued unity.

“I don’t believe the will of most United Methodists I’ve spoken to is to split on this matter,” Hoshibata said. “I believe it is the will of most United Methodists to say this is a place where we do not agree, that we would like to do more conversations and prayer to find common ground in this matter. But in order to move ahead as a denomination, we need to focus on the mission of making disciples, and that takes places in a variety of ways.”

Wenner, the Council of Bishops president, said Coyner’s statement “indicates that we need to engage in holy conversation on the question of human sexuality – not only at General Conference, but throughout the quadrennium.”

She said the Council of Bishops takes a lead on this.

“We meet as colleagues from all regions of the church, and we hopefully will model that we are united in Christ and in responding to the call to make disciples even in our diversity.”

The Council of Bishops will meet Nov. 4-9 for the first time with its new members.

*Hahn is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.



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  1. Starr Weaver

    The problem is not that we do not read the Bible – the problem is we interpret it differently. The UMC has said that slavery is not acceptable and women may preach, both of which are different from what the Bible says. The Catholics believe birth control is against God’s will. The Southern Baptists feel the same way about divorce – yet the UMC permits divorce and remarriage, including for it’s pastor. We used to think that to spare the rod, spoiled the child, meant you should beat them, but that is not what that means. Our Discipiine says war is not compatible with the teachings of Christ, but we allow military people to become clergy and we do not condemn for fighting.

    1. dan

      Starr, The Bible is not pro slavery but touches on how to best live in a culture where slavery is allowed and will not be ending anytime soon, the Bible also says that we are no longer “male or female and Paul also called the church at Rome to “greet Phoebe and assist her in whatever manner that she may require”, as for war our Discipline says more than what you are implying and it supports chaplains (who are not to bear arms anyway). As for divorce please review the process in which divorce and remarriage became permissible in our denomination then reconsider if it really adds or subtracts from your argument.

      1. Starr Weaver

        My point is that the Bible at any one point in time has been used to validiate a denomination’s position and still is. Wesley said we should bring to our reading of Scripture our rational minds and scientific knowledge and our life experience and the witness of the Spirit to bear upon our study, interpretation and application of Scripture in our lives. He believed that to rightly interpret and apply Scripture, we need the benefit of the church’s theological, ethical and biblical reflections over the last 2,000 years-including the work of scholars, commentators, ethicists and theologians. I have done the study and review that you mention above – which has lead me to where I am today. I also have read the writings and observations of some of the top people in our church, which also lead to where I am today. I believe that God wants us to be moral, faithful, committed people who take care of the less fortunate because we are his body in this world. I cannot condemn two people in a moral, faithful, committed relationship any more than I can approve of the actions of two people who are amoral, unfaithful, and to whom the “marriage” vows they took mean nothing.

        1. dan

          As a good Wesleyan you must approach your conclusions from #1 Scripture = does Scripture directly affirm the homosexual act? (especially in light of the fact that it directly prohibits it in the OT) #2 Tradition = has the long standing wisdom of the Church, especially the Historic Councils, supported homosexual activity? #3 Reason = Is it reasonable to conclude that homosexual activity (in the light of Scripture and Tradition included) is approved by God? #4 Experience = does the Holy Spirit lead us to the experiential conclusion that homosexual activity is approved by God (this is not the same as saying that we feel love and empathy for our homosexual friends and family etc. but the activity itself is what must be considered)?

          Also if you believe a homosexual relationship can be moral why do you compare it to an “unfaithful, amoral, heterosexual ( I assume you meant heterosexual) relationship whose marriage vows meant nothing”? Do you really think that anyone is approving of that type of relationship as being OK? That comparison seems to me to be illogical.

        2. Starr Weaver

          I was speaking of either type of couple – you will note that I did not put the word “heterosexual” in there. If I had wanted it in there, I would have put it in. However, since I beieve at this time more heterosexual couples take marriage vows in a church as a sacrament, that is why I made the comment about the vows. If you are abusing your partner or flitting from one relationship to another to another, I believe that is what is wrong. I really think that relationships that want or need to be approved under the “law” should all be civil unions. If a couple wants to enter into the sacrament of marriage, they should do it within their own denomination or religion, regardless of the type of couple they are.

          In 1988 The General Conference authorized a Committee to Study Homosexuality with the mandate to take account of the theological and ethical scholarship, seek the best biological, psychological and sociological information and opinion. At the close of their report, a majority concluded with this recommenation: “The present state of knowledge and insight in the biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological, and sociological fields does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly maintain the condemnation of all homosexual practice.”

          Neither the OT or the NT writers had a concept of “sexual orientation”. I don’t imagine they would have understood a person who was born with both male and female genitalia, yet we know there are such people and today we are able to help them. I do not believe that either the OT or the NT directly forbids people from accepting the sexual orientation they were born with. There are denominations that believe sexual intercourse is to be used for procreation only and that when you reach the age that is not longer possible, you are to refrain from participating in it. These people also believe this is stated in the OT.

        3. dan

          Starr, I asked about the relationship question because you seemed to compare an obvious bad relationship to a loving one which makes no logical point.

          Other than that you did not respond to any of my questions but avoided them, what does #1 Scripture, #2 Tradition especially as it relates to the Early Church Fathers and the Councils, #3 Reason as it pertains to Scriptural teaching and #4 Experience as it is lead by the Holy Spirit all say pertaining to the homosexual act, do they affirm it?

        4. Starr Weaver

          I’m not sure they “affirm” it because I am not sure they address it – but for a simple answer, yes.

        5. dan

          Starr, Evidence of Each please. Scripture that affirms homosexual behavior please, Early Church Fathers quotes please? Later Church Fathers? Historical Councils that affirm homosexual activity?

  2. Aliceinwonder

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/feminist-nuns-go-topless-clash-with-catholics-at-gay-marriage-rally-fk-god-in-gay-we-trust/ This kind of rot doesn’t help their cause much. Why do they do this kind of ridiculous, outrageous drama? And they wonder why they don’t get any respect. Gee…..I dunno.

  3. Judy Auman

    Anyone who has already commented on this forum has already formed their opinion on the matter of homosexuality. God destroyed an entire city because of sodomy which tells me He is not for it at all. You can interpret the scripture any way you choose to but as far as I’m concerned there’s only one thing that is going to happen for certain: this issue is definitely going to divide the UMC!! The Bishop from Indiana had a right to make his statement but I think he was wrong to make it because he is a representative of the UMC!!

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