To the Clergy of the Río Texas Annual Conference
Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The just-issued ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States has settled the issue of whether or not same-gender weddings can be barred by actions of the states. The Court has ruled they can not. Therefore, same-gender couples may legally marry in the state of Texas in the very near future. There are currently 21 other countries and 37 states which permit such marriages. This issue is not new. It has been under discussion across our country and across the church for many years. The action of the Supreme Court, however, is definitive. From the perspective of the government, the issue has been settled.
What then does this ruling mean for The United Methodist Church and its clergy?
This ruling does not change the position of the UMC in any way. Only the General Conference can change our position on this or any other matter. The decision clearly states that the ruling is only civil in nature.
What is our current position regarding this issue?
Same-gender unions shall not be conducted by our ministers or conducted in our churches. (Par. 341.6, Book of Discipline 2012) "...conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions, or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies" is a chargeable offense. (Par. 2702, Book of Discipline 2012)
Where do UM pastors in the Río Texas Annual Conference go from here?
While same-gender marriages are prohibited by current church law, our clergy are also called to "commit themselves to be in ministry with and for all people." (Par. 161, F, Book of Discipline 2012)
It is my opinion, as your Bishop, that United Methodist pastors may engage in premarital conversation or counseling with same-gender couples. Pastors may attend such services, read Scripture, pray, and/or offer a homily.
Pastors may not allow church facilities to be used for same-gender weddings or ceremonies.
Pastors may not preside at a same-gender wedding, may not offer the vows or exchange of rings, may not make the pronouncement, and may not sign the Marriage License.
It is my responsibility and commitment to administer the Discipline of the UMC as it exists. Unless/Until it changes, it is also the commitment of all Elders in the UMC to do the same. I pray that we will all work together to hold fast to our high calling in the midst of change....change in the culture and change in the church.
While many celebrate the decision of the Supreme Court, many also disagree. Some disagree on constitutional grounds, some for religious conviction. The Court itself was deeply and passionately divided.
As we hold each other accountable for the Order of the UMC, may we never forget that we are all one in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to ALL the world. May God keep us always moving toward the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
God bless you in your ministry.
Bishop James E. Dorff
Rio Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church