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Former pastor speaks on homosexuality and the UMC

By Emily Cooper

Despite being removed as a pastor of The United Methodist Church, Jimmy Creech stays in the denomination because, if he left, he would lose the opportunity to effect change.

Creech and his wife were guests at the monthly meeting of Openings, “a supportive and welcoming network of GLBT persons and allies coming from diverse spiritual traditions to open hearts, mind and doors.”

At the interdenominational meeting at Washington Street UMC in Columbia, Creech responded to a lesbian Unitarian Universalist’s question: Why do United Methodists tolerate the church’s stance against gays and stay in the UM church?

Change is coming, Creech believes, citing the evidence of the Western Jurisdiction’s decision not to enforce the UM Social Principles’ understanding regarding homosexual United Methodists.

In response to our common belief that God’s grace and love is available to all persons, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church states our belief that the United Methodist Church is in error on the subject of “homosexuality’s incompatibility with Christian teaching.” Other jurisdictions are in similar discussions.

Creech had been a pastor of a small, rural UM church in Warsaw, N.C., for three years at the close of the 1984 General UM Conference. A member came to his front door in tears. The morning newspaper had reported the General Church’s new Social Principles said the practice of homosexuality was “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” could not be ordained.

The man before him was in his 40s, a professional who had been a member of the church all his life. He told his pastor he had to leave his church. “He talked to me about what it was like growing up as a child and hearing that ‘nothing can separate you from the love of God.’” And then, recognizing his sexual orientation was different, he had an “irreconcilable conflict, loving God and hating God for making him who he was.

“His visit changed my life,” Creech said. “That morning, ‘Adam’ broke those stereotypes down. I told him I supported his decision to leave the church. No one should remain in an abusive relationship; and, no matter what, God loves you.”

Creech began to study human sexuality in relationship to the church’s history, beginning with “the world was God’s good creation.”

“When the church left the Jewish world and went into the Greek world, the physical and spiritual separated. Sexuality was separated from loving,” he said.

St. Augustine in the 5th century said the sex act is the foulest of all human weaknesses, Creech told the gathering of 50 people. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas relied on Aristotle, who promulgated the belief that the sole purpose of sexual activity was procreation; all else was sin.

“That is where we have to go back and start correcting history. It takes us further from Jesus, not closer,” Creech said.

He performed several weddings for same-sex-loving couples and, as no other clergy was willing, he became a co-leader of an AIDS support group in Raleigh. An AIDS patient told Creech, “I’ve known I was ‘queer’ since I was a child. I also know God hates me and I’m going to hell, so don’t even talk to me about God.”

Another patient, knowing he was going to die, was concerned about becoming isolated from his mother. She did not know her son was gay and, reading about Creech’s problems within the church in the Sunday paper, she had told her son, “I just can’t understand how a minister could associate with that kind of people.”

Creech helped facilitate their reconciliation before the son’s death.

A flagship church in Omaha, Neb., sought out Creech because of his strong stand, but when he married a lesbian couple there in 1997, the conference changed its mind.

Creech was tried in 1998 for not abiding by the UM Social Principles (the Social Principles cover a multitude of guides for members), but the conference’s jurors said the principles were not legally binding. By a vote of 8-5, Creech was acquitted.

Five months later, the UM Judicial Council ruled that only the principle about homosexuality was legally binding, so Creech was again put on trial.

At the Openings meeting, Creech read from his book, “Adam’s Gift,” about one of the witnesses at his trial, an African- American member of his church who had said as a young boy he didn’t want to be gay, that one church had “exorcised him twice,” and he “had spent a lot of nights crying his eyes out and was at a point of committing suicide.”

At that trial, Creech’s orders of ordination were removed.

While other mainline denominations have moved dramatically in favor of welcoming GLBT persons, the global United Methodist Church has lagged behind, primarily because, on the basis of membership numbers the African conferences say they have, African conferences out-vote efforts to change church policy at General Conference-level.

Creech and his wife, Chris, attended a large meeting in Paris where they met many GLBT refugees from diverse religions who had had to flee African countries in fear of their lives.

Creech noted that the most often-cited biblical passages in opposition to samegender loving were written in the context of a protest of promiscuity (from Paul’s Letters), of same-sex rape (from Genesis) and idolatry. Those were the passages used at his trial.

To counter the negative publicity of his trial, Creech said, the UMC hired a firm to create the award-winning slogan, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” in 2001, a slogan called into question by those supportive of the GLBT community.


Emily Cooper is an editor emeritus of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate. She has edited and published newspapers in South Carolina and Virginia, was a Capitol Hill press secretary and directed public relations for national and statewide trade associations.

Publication: South Carolina United Methodist Advocate; Date: November 2012; Page: 9

 

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