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Bishop supports Illinois same-sex bill

A UMNS Report

By Heather Hahn*

Chicago Area Bishop Sally Dyck announced her support on Thursday, Jan. 10, for a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the State of Illinois.

United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck speaks about the importance of “holy conversation,” about contentious issues facing The United Methodist Church during its pre-General Conference news briefing in January 2012 at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck speaks about the importance of “holy conversation” about contentious issues facing The United Methodist Church during its pre-General Conference news briefing in January 2012 at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

“I believe in the institution of marriage as the source of emotional and legal stability and security for families and communities,” wrote Dyck, whose area encompasses the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference.

At the same time, she noted she would follow church law that prohibits United Methodist clergy from officiating at such unions.

“I can’t perform a same-sex marriage as a United Methodist clergy person and as the bishop I can’t give permission to any other clergy to do the same,” she wrote. “But just because I can’t provide the service of marriage to same-sex couples doesn’t mean that I should prevent people from being able to commit their lives to each other in the State of Illinois.”

Dyck’s letter is the most recent development in a debate that has been simmering inside the church and in society for decades.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, since 1972 has identified the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Church law prohibits United Methodist churches from hosting and clergy from officiating at “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.”

The 2012 General Conference, when it met April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla., rejected efforts to change that language, including a proposal to say the church was in disagreement about homosexuality.

Dyck’s statement sparked immediate reaction from unofficial United Methodist caucuses that advocate on varying sides of the issue.

Good News, which advocates maintaining the denomination’s stance, released a statement expressing disapppointment and noting that the denomination’s Social Principles also endorses “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Leaders of Good News, based in The Woodlands, Texas, are among the signers of an open letter accusing retired Bishop Melvin G. Talbert of urging disobedience against the denomination’s stance on homosexuality. The letter calls on the Council of Bishops to to “publicly censure” Talbert for remarks he made May 4 outside General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, and that he reiterated during a June 16 sermon at the ordination service of the California-Pacific Conference. In those remarks, Talbert called on more than 1,100  clergy who have signed pledges to officiate at same-sex unions to “stand  firm.”

The Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice  president and general manager of Good News, said in an interview that he does not see Dyck’s statement as advocating disobedience “but rather disagreeing with the church.”

“That said, both Bishop Dyck and Bishop Talbert are engaging in activities that tend to undermine the unity of The United Methodist Church,” he said. “Their public statements contradict the fairly strong global consensus within our church that marriage is a covenant ‘between a man and a woman.’  Thus, their statements and those of other bishops in the past expose publicly a deep division within the Council of Bishops and alienate United Methodists who support the church’s stated position.”

However, Chicago-based Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church, hailed Dyck’s letter.

“As an organization of course, we wholly endorse what Bishop Dyck has said,” said Randall Miller, the group’s interim executive director, in an interview. “We think that celebrating the relationships of same-sex couples who are in loving relationships and formalizing that through marriage is critically important. We also wish Bishop Dyck could go further in terms of encouraging United Methodists to move forward in terms of embracing marriage for everyone. But we understand that she is a bishop and operates under the Book of Discipline and rules of The United Methodist Church.”

His group was still working on a statement in response on the afternoon of Jan. 10.

The church’s debate over human sexuality has intensified as more U.S. states and other nations legalize civil same-sex marriage.

On Nov. 6, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage while Minnesota voters rejected an amendment that would have defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman. It is still illegal for same-sex couples to marry in Minnesota.

So far, nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Some form of gay partnerships also are legal in more than 20 countries worlwide including South Africa, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2006.

The majority of African United Methodists have opposed changing the church’s stance on homosexuality.

Read Bishop Dyck’s full statement below:

To the Clergy and Members of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.
January 10, 2013

Today the new General Assembly of the State of Illinois is expected to discuss and soon vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. It is expected that it will pass into law. I want to express my views on it and my support of it as law.

I believe in the institution of marriage as the source of emotional and legal stability and security for families and communities.

In May I will have been married for 37 years. I have many friends who are not presently married and have never married, but I believe most of them have wanted to find a lifelong relationship to which they are committed for spiritual, physical and emotional comfort and support.

And I have friends, acquaintances and former parishioners who have been in lifelong relationships with someone but have not been able to have their relationships recognized by the state or the church because they are in a same-sex relationship. In spite of all the same pressures and stresses that heterosexual couples face, they have managed to stay faithful and true to each other, providing stability and strength not only for their families but for their communities and churches.

Marriage also provides stability and security for me in a way that I usually take for granted especially as both my husband and I grow older. We just assume that we can be with each other in the emergency room or that if, God forbid, something happens to the other that we will be provided for through our combined resources. After all, we’ve built those resources together over the last almost 37 years.

But same-sex couples can’t assume the same benefits, not even the benefit of being with each other should there be an emergency or in critical last moments to hold the other’s hand…no one should have to be getting permission to be by a loved one’s side at a time like that but that is the reality for same-sex couples.

I believe in marriage because it also is the institution that best provides for the well-being of children. I believe that children need to have parents who have the emotional and legal benefits of marriage as well as parents who are active in their lives.

In addition to the benefits of marriage that I have described above, I also believe that the State of Illinois needs to be on the forefront (if #10 of 50 is the forefront) of providing for marriage equality in order to promote economic growth. People look for places to work and start businesses that will attract as many good workers, entrepreneurs and business people as possible and a marriage equality state can provide that added edge to the competitive economic market.

While The United Methodist Church holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, it also holds the teaching and a long tradition (albeit a struggle every inch of the way) of civil rights. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue; it provides for all what is afforded to some.

The marriage equality act in Illinois does not bind anyone who is licensed by the state to perform marriages to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple (as no one can bind us to perform a marriage for a heterosexual couple). In fact, even though I support this legislation, I can’t perform a same-sex marriage as a United Methodist clergy person and as the bishop I can’t give permission to any other clergy to do the same. But just because I can’t provide the service of marriage to same-sex couples doesn’t mean that I should prevent people from being able to commit their lives to each other in the State of Illinois.

Therefore, I believe it is to the benefit of our families, communities and the State of Illinois for the Marriage Equality Bill to become law in our state. Not all United Methodists will agree with my belief on marriage and they are entitled to their own belief. Because I believe in marriage, it’s my belief it will be a benefit for this law to pass.

Bishop Sally Dyck

Read the full statement from Good News

Good News is disappointed that Bishop Sally Dyck has chosen to advocate for the legislative approval of same-sex marriage in the state of Illinois.  Since 2004, our church has said that we “support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”  Indeed, our definition of marriage as a covenant “between a man and a woman” dates back to our denomination’s inception in 1972.  This position received a 77% vote at General Conference in 2004 and still represents the one issue among all the sexuality-related issues that garners the broadest support across the church.

We respect Bishop Dyck and have worked well with her in the past in relating to the Unity Task Force of the Council of Bishops which she led.  However, we believe that for Bishop Dyck to advocate a minority position that is at odds with the stated position of the church fosters disunity and deepens the sense of disconnect felt by many United Methodist members.  In 2011, more than 14,000 United Methodists signed a letter to the Council of Bishops asking them to support the denomination’s position on same sex marriage.  The Council issued a statement of support.  Bishop Dyck’s advocacy flies in the face of the Council’s statement.

We share Bishop Dyck’s commitment to ensure the protection of the civil rights of all persons.  However, there are other ways to ensure the civil rights of gay and lesbian persons without redefining the bedrock institution of marriage.  We see no reason why the church should allow a secular, anthropocentric, hyper-sexualized Western culture to tell us what marriage is, rather than looking to the Scriptures and, with real concern for the rights of all, maintaining what God has revealed.

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

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