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



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  1. Taylor Loy

    David, I have always been Wesleyan, as AG is strictly Wesleyan. I am far more open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit than the vast majority of Western Christians. I ADORE traditional worship. The ONLY thing that kept me from joining the UMC as opposed to AG or Nazarene was the wing of the UMC that I believe ignores Scripture in place of social convenience. I have found my way after years of longing and dissatisfaction within AG (due to the overemphasis on tongues and far-right social policies) to the UMC. I have NEVER been happier in my life. I look forward to church EVERY SINGLE DAY. But I would give up this joy if it meant I would send a signal that I will stand with Christ and the gospel. That’s why this debate matters to me. It isn’t about gay marriage. It’s about the Bible and message of salvation we, the light of the earth, must shine out to the world. God bless you and forgive any rudeness I may have shown. I do sincerely love all of you, my brothers and sisters in Christ.

  2. Mike McKnight

    I have been a United Methodist pastor for 37 years and am thankful that our church continues to uphold scripture which states that homosexuality is a sin. Our Discipline states ministers are not to take part in same sex marriages. Bishops, pastors, etc. who cannot accept this belief should find another place where their views would be honored. I assure you that we will lose more pastors and members when we accept this sinful conduct than the few bishops and clergy who leave. Look at the other denominations who have chosen to accept homosexuality as “o.k.” and are now watching their people go elsewhere.

  3. Rod Tornquist

    Romans 1:24-27 is clearly the clinching argument concerning what scripture has to say about homosexuality, as Taylor Loy points out. N. T. Wright says, in his commentary on Romans in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary “The underlying logic seems to be as follows. Those who worship the true God are, as Paul says elsewhere, renewed according to the divine image (Col 3:10). When this worship is exchanged for the worship of other gods, the result will be that this humanness, this image-bearing quality, is correspondingly distorted. Paul may suppose that in Genesis 1 it is male and female together that compose the image of God; or he may simply be taking it for granted that heterosexual intercourse is obviously the creator’s intention for genital activity.l Either way, his point is that homosexual behavior is a distortion of the creator’s design and that such practices are evidence, not of the intention of any specific individual to indulge in such practice for its own sake, but of the tendency within an entire society for humanness to fracture when gods other than the true one are being worshiped.”

    Paul Achtemeier concurs with N. T. Wright in his commentary in the Interpretation Series on Romans 1:24ff; “The violation of the created order in human sexuality is therefore, as Paul understands it, an outgrowth of the violation of the created order, a violation whose root lies in idolatry. For Paul, the kind of life he describes, ‘women exchanged natural relations for unnatural…… men committing shameless acts with men,’ cannot be understood as an alternate life-style, somehow also acceptable to God. It is, as Paul understand it, a sign of one of the forms God’s wrath takes when he allows us free reign to continue in our abuse of creation and in our abuse of one another as creatures. Such conduct may not be celebrated as another expression of God’s grace. It is clearly portrayed here as a sign of God’s wrath.”

  4. Elsie Gauley Vega

    For application forms for a marriage license to refer to Person A and Person B DOES NOT
    turn the applicants into “it”, or make them genderless; but obviously the officials could have asked for some help from some grammarians!!!!! I would have said, “Applicant A and Applicant B.” The two people do not need to be thought of as ‘husband’ and ‘wife’…..no matter their gender, they are spouses.
    Oh, please, do any of you really want to return to “what marriage has always been”?????
    Do you want to buy or sell someone’s daughters? Do you want to have multiple wives and a bunch of concubines besides?????? Oh, ‘marriage as it has always been’….what joy that was.
    And have you really read the Bible? How did you miss the part showing Jonathon removing all his clothing in front of David? History teaches me that people didn’t wear underpants in those days. And even if they did, he removed ALL his clothing. If this scene showed a boy and a girl, you would clearly understand this to mean “Take me, I’m yours.” It is two men, and seems to mean the same thing!!!! Sure, David got married–many times–he was king and had to produce an heir. But it does not look like he ever found true happiness with any of those women.
    Why would the writers of scripture have included that intimate scene with J and D unless they felt a need to be honest and acknowledge that always, everywhere some of God’s sons and daughters have been born with same-gender orientation?????????
    Most United Methodists know that some of our best preachers, musicians, hymn writers, S.S.
    Teachers, professors, scholars, financial backers, faithful workers have been gay men and lesbians. We have among us, too, intersected and transgender persons.
    Flowers come in all colors. Horses and trees come in all sizes. etc. etc. Those of you who are up-tight over God’s love of diversity need to pause and stop resisting God’s delight in diversity. Preachers often mention that people have different gifts. Many preachers know that not everyone is born with opposite-gender sexual orientation. I never asked, “God, why did You make me this way?” I knew that God is Creator, Source of Truth and Light and Love.
    So, I grew and matured and am the lesbian God made me. To do otherwise would be a slap in God’s face.
    Don’t talke to me about “it’s not natural.” Psycholgist, zoo keepers, scientists who study birds and other land and sea animals can tell us what is ‘natural’ in ‘nature.’ Jesus said He’s send Holy Spirit to teach us what He didn’t have time to teach us. Please listen to Holy Spirit. Don’t just “love Jesus” but try to be as inclusive as He was!!!!!!!!! Work to clean up official church policy. Stop breaking the hearts of LGBT persons and the relatives and friends who love them. The scripture I read says we are to love (include) as we would be loved (included).

  5. Loraine Isenberger

    I have been disappointed in my church because of their response to the homosexuality ‘problem’. I thought we were to accept people because all people are acceptable. Yet, I have seen for years that people like my brother have been systematically ignored because of their preferences, as have the homeless because of their lack of funds…….etc. Open minds? Where are they. Only pulled out for the TV ads? Now, if the discipline says no same sex marriages, then change it. We certainly spend enough time on others things-and then ignore in our churches. Lets leave the politics to the politicians and stick to the Religious angle of our church. When we show our selves to be sincere to the younger generation they will catch on-but that takes acceptance of all-not just whomever happens to be on the list for today. Why are we not trying to help our brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are being killed and persecuted? Isn’t that more down our line?

    1. Taylor Loy

      First of all, I would say that the only thing that this new generation needs is a more comprehensive understanding of the word of God. We do not change doctrine, nor affirm something which is sinful, nor oppose anything which is good, only to please the new generation of Christians. The only thing that this new generation of people needs is the word of God. And if we decide to change that then we deserve to lose our mantle as God’s chosen generation.
      There are some people who are prejudiced. That is a fact. However, you do not combat prejudice or bigotry with saying that something is okay which is clearly and obviously sinful based upon the word. This is not about protecting people’s feelings. It is about upholding God’s word, our soul of authority on earth.
      And as far as bringing the gospel to the Middle East is concerned, that will be only further complicated when our church brings the gospel to people who wholeheartedly and rightly so oppose homosexuality. They will not listen because we have forsook the word of God for the passions and convenience of our modern Christianity.
      And I think that fair and equal “open minds” ought to consider that just maybe the Bible isn’t kidding when it says that homosexuality is a sin in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Fair?

      1. Elsie Gauley Vega

        The Methodist Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church have ‘changed their minds’ many times. We used to uphold slavery…later decided it was a sin to buy and sell people. The definition of ‘marriage’ has changed many times in the Old Testament. We used to deny remarriage to divorced people. And if we are honest, we see homosexual couples in both the Old and New Testaments. In my youth I never heard a sermon against gay couples. I don’t find any footnotes in the baptism service saying that my baptism is null and void because I realized that I am lesbian, not heterosexual. I still consider myself a full member of the church I grew up in and have faithfully served through the years…., single, partnered, single then single again since i left her because she insisted on being “closeted”—and I need to be out to work on changing The Discipline.
        God Bless Bishop Sally Dyck!!!!!!!! God bless her courage in seeking social and civic justice for all even while continuing to uphold our broken, crippled Book of Discipline.
        Yes, it took years for our denomination to acknowledge that buying and selling people is a sin and to help do away with slavery. God forgive us for taking so long to acknowledge that God does not create us all to be heterosexual.
        Those of us who grow up realizing that we are not heterosexual also want to open God’s “good gift of sexuality…of falling in love” and want to have a life partner!!!!!!!!!!!!
        I Thank God for all the Bishops and Clergy who understand that!!!!!!!!!!!!

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