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Methodist church decision a relief to El Cerrito ministers who participated in lesbian ceremony

 

The announcement that no sanctions will be brought against clergy who participated in a lesbian wedding ceremony has brought a sense of relief to the Ivery household in El Cerrito. But Donna Fado Ivery knows the issue is far from resolved.

The Feb. 11 decision means her father and husband are no longer at risk of consequences as severe as dismissal. But there remains a rift in the Methodist church the likes of which, she says, hasn't been seen since the times of slavery.

There have been two trials in the United States since the August 1998 Judicial Council decision that the denomination's Book of Discipline statement prohibiting holy unions of gays and lesbians is a chargeable offense. One minister, Greg Dell of Illinois, was suspended for a year, and another, Jimmy Creech of Nebraska, was removed from his ministry.

It was in protest to the Judicial Council ruling that 70 clergy of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church co-officiated at a service blessing Ellie Charleton and Jeanne Barnette in Sacramento on Jan. 16, 1999.

Don Fado, the lesbian couple's pastor, invited clergy to join him in blessing these active church members. Donna describes the women, who are both in their 60s, as "quiet Christian grandmotherly types, who have been together for 15 years, but never had a Holy Union. "

"They were the right people at the right moment," says Donna.

Among the ministers joining Don Fado in blessing the union were his daughter, Donna Fado Ivery, and her husband, Hubert Ivery.

"I was proud to say a prayer to bless our friends who share the evidence that God has instilled in them a faithful, committed, covenantal love," said Donna Ivery. "For disability reasons {she suffered a head injury six years ago}, I opted out of the judicial process by agreeing to not perform holy unions or Christian marriages, and thus the complaint was dismissed against me."

At the time of the ceremony Hubert was the minister of St. Paul's in South San Francisco. On July 1, he became pastor of El Cerrito United Methodist Church. The local congregation had made the decision before the Iverys arrival to become a "reconciling congregation," which means it welcomes gay and lesbian members without asking them to change their sexual orientation.

"A beauty of the United Methodist Church is its tradition of diversity," said Donna. "There is a difference of opinion in the United Methodist Church regarding human sexuality. One is that God created more than heterosexuality, and the diversity is good, and not sin. Another is that homosexuality is sin and Christ can transform it/make it straight. The El Cerrito United Methodist Church falls within the first camp, and has voted to be a reconciling congregation, or one that is open and affirming to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. The administrative council of the church voted last year to allow holy unions to be held in their sanctuary."

While reconciling congregations celebrated the Feb. 11 decision, others said they would seek to have the Methodists' national ruling body affirm its ban on same-sex marriages, or form a separate conference.

"It might split the church," said Donna. The last time the church divided, she said, was over slavery.

Hubert Ivery's statement before the Committee On Investigations Hearing Feb. 3

The Spirit of Truth

I can identify very much with the disposition of my gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered brothers and sisters. As I think of my own heritage {Hubert is African-American}, I often asked myself how they did it? How did they endure being treated less than animals? How did they endure the brutality, the scorn? How did they endure the rapes, the violence, the humiliation? How did they endure the hangings, the beatings, and the stares of contempt?

How did they endure bad theology? How did they endure incorrect biblical interpretation with its false justification? How did they endure the hypocrisy of those who faithfully attended worship on Sunday morning while they dogged other human beings through the week.

I submit that it was because of their simple witness of the Spirit of Truth. A spirit forged out of a sacred encounter which validated their humanity, their dignity, their worth, and which reverberated the fact that they were children of God. We have already heard gays and lesbians say that their own relationship with God and sense of acceptance by God goes without saying. What's at stake is a total sense of acceptance by the United Methodist Church.

John Wesley made much of and wrote often about the Witness of the Spirit. The Scripture says, that God is Spirit and those that worship God must worship God in Spirit and Truth. The Scripture also states that we can know whether something is right or wrong by testing the spirit of it.

For me the Spirit of Truth rises above rather than falls victim to the historical and traditional passions of the majority. For me the Spirit of Truth works to establish community. It establishes an atmosphere of listening and understanding. For me the Spirit of Truth is ever growing. The Spirit of Truth brings people together rather than pulls them apart. The Spirit of Truth allows for the establishing and the re-establishing rules that are just. But more than anything else, the Spirit of Truth is always open to the Presence, the Wisdom, and the Power of God. For all of these reasons I feel that Paragraph 65c of the Discipline is an inadequate witness of the Spirit of Truth. I don't think any of us can be fully satisfied until the rules which give direction to our lives are truly reflective of the Spirit of Truth.

I also believe that we are called to be reflective of the Spirit of Truth in these proceedings. I believe that we cannot place a cost on truth nor weigh truth against potential fallout. I believe that when more than a few ministers of the Gospel bear witness of injustice, it is not a time to be punitive, but rather a time to look more deeply at their pain and the pains of those whose cause they fight. Finally, I believe that all of us are called to be accountable when we are confronted by the Spirit of Truth.

I have graciously entered into prayer with you, the Committee on Investigations, as you will soon begin to deliberate in the Presence of the Spirit of Truth.

Rev. Hubert L. Ivery


Run dates: 2000-02-13 - 2000-03-07
 


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