A photo of two lesbian United Methodist clergy who were recently married in a Seattle Area church, Rev. Joanne Brown (left) and Rev. Christie Brown (left). (United Methodist News Service)

December 18, 2013

UMC District Superintendent Marries Lesbian Pastors

The United Methodist Church’s official blog UMCConnections reported Monday on yet another gay wedding officiated by a United Methodist minister. But this ceremony, which took place on December 7, has a new twist that even most recent doctrine-defying marriages lacked. In this case, both members of the same-sex couple are also ordained United Methodist ministers.

Rev. Joanne Brown is the pastor of Tibbetts United Methodist Church in Seattle, the church in which the wedding was held. Her partner is Rev. Christie Newbill, the newest pastor of Woodland Park Church, also located in Seattle. The two met at Seattle University, when Brown was a professor of Wesleyan and Protestant history at the Jesuit university and Newbill was a ministerial student. The wedding was officiated by Rev. Patricia Simpson, who is also the pastors’ district superintendent. The latest figures indicate Woodland Park Church has an average attendance of 43, while Tibbetts UMC manages a weekly attendance of 108 . Both churches are affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), an unofficial LGBT lobbying group within the UMC.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline explicitly bans “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions” and forbids hosting same-sex ceremonies in a United Methodist church. Likewise, the Book of Discipline prohibits “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from serving as ordained ministers. But despite making a vow to uphold these laws, Rev. Brown declares that she has the ability to pick and choose which parts of the Discipline and Bible she follows. “I approach the Discipline the way I approach the Bible… the Gospel is a Gospel of radical love and liberation, and anything that does not speak the word of radical love and liberation is not of God.”

Both churches fall within the Western Jurisdiction, which has long been something a hotbed of liberal activism within the UMC on LGBT issues. Leader of the “biblical obedience” movement Melvin Talbert was a former bishop of the Seattle Area, and claimed at RMN’s annual convocation that the Jurisdiction’s “entire Council of Bishops… stood solidly in support” of such covenant-breaking. In 2012, the Jurisdiction passed a “Statement of Gospel Obedience” restating their continued opposition to language in the Book of Discipline that disapproves of homosexual conduct. Despite its activist streak, the Western Jurisdiction remains over-represented in the UMC’s denominational leadership, and inflicts a financial drain on the church by receiving more than it contributes.

The lack of integrity involved in the entire wedding is shocking. Two ministers, both of whom have sworn solemn oaths to uphold the teachings of the UMC and abide by certain personal standards, both decide to break their oaths. On top of that, their direct superior, who is ALSO sworn to uphold her oath and pastor to her subordinates, encourages sexual sin. Not only does she bless and encourage the wedding, she performs it herself, on UMC property. One can’t help but to wonder how none of the participants missed the obvious irony: why should anyone take seriously the couple’s marriage vow, when the entire ceremony makes a mockery of three solemn vows made before God?

Perhaps in other clerical disobedience cases, one could believe that the minister in question was one bad apple in a church community that otherwise frowns upon the behavior. But this most recent case showcases that some local United Methodist communities have fostered an environment where disobedience to biblical and doctrinal standards is not simply permitted, it’s encouraged. The United Methodist News Service notes that all three women “acknowledged that there could be consequences for the wedding — consequences they say they are prepared to accept.” Let us hope that those consequences are forthcoming, and that a clear message is sent to those communities fostering disobedience.

  • Donnie

    The UMC needs to do a lot of house cleaning, pronto.

  • Greg Paley

    While the UM as a whole has been losing members for many years, the losses have not been evenly distributed across the US – specifically, the Pacific area is the big loser, while there are gains in the more conservative congregations in the South. I think this article perfectly illustrates why the liberal west is on the skids. I don’t think at this point the liberal clergy even care about numbers or funding, they press on with their agenda with the most unChristian sort of arrogance.

  • theenemyhatesclarity

    Without accountability, bad behavior continues.

  • gary

    and they get bolder and bolder in their disobedience. Why wouldn’t you just flaunt it because you know you are not going to get any punishment of any consequence. Stand of bishops and get these heretics and false prophets out of the UMC or you will absolutely lose it. My wife and I have already left but I keep popping in to see what is going on because it is interesting (distressing too) to see how Satan is working in the UMC.

    • Terresa

      My husband and I have also left, not before ‘going through channels’ to try to warn the conference leadership of the infection that was spreading. In our naïveté we thought the bishop would want to know he had pastors marching in homosexual pride parades and making YouTube videos proclaiming their open homosexual behaviors to assure teens that “it gets better”. How foolish we felt when we were told, by him, that we must be unloving homophobes. It was painful to leave our church but we could no longer support our local church financially, knowing that doing so allowed it to then submit the apportionment that funds these activists.

  • Ed

    There is more to this than you have mentioned. Bishop Hagiya has openly encouraged clergy in the PNW annual conference to disregard the discipline whenever they feel the need. He even handed out a “Permission Giving Certificate” which gives the holder of the certificate a “free pass” to experiment or innovate in Christian ministry. It was clearly understood that this included disobedience to the Discipline because he said so openly. This means that nothing will happen to any of these persons involved and they know it. This event was planned in order to push past any and all boundaries and to prove that they are immune to the rest of the church and the discipline. If there is a trial it will be only for show and publicity and in the end, I will guarantee that they will be acquitted. More than likely there will not even be a trial. Folks, The United Methodist Church does not exist anymore. All that is left is a hulking bureaucracy that will soon collapse under its own weight as it tries to flit from one end of the country to the other to snuff out what it perceives as small acts of disobedience. The bureaucracy tells us that we need to be in conversation about these things and work toward a solution that will benefit all. That is a nice thought, but the other side isn’t going to talk. They are going to act. And they will keep on acting until we draw a line in the sand or until we collapse. Because it cannot stand now for what it believes and end the angst by separating from those who wish to define the church by their personal interpretation of the Bible the denomination as a whole will go down to defeat.

  • Judy

    This matter has been discussed for over “40” years by the UMC…that seemed to be a significant number in the Bible. After that time, it was time to move forward. It is time for the Bishops that are not happy with the Word of God and our Discipline to move on. They have broken their vows to God and to the Church. We no longer need to support them or their churches.

  • Jim Berkley

    On top of the other egregious theological and ecclesial boundaries broken, there is the more secular problem of power differential within the “couple.” One was a seminary professor and one was a student. In mandatory training pastors receive to prevent sexual harassment, such a relationship would be considered forbidden. It cannot be equal, and thus should not be permitted. So did a professor seduce a student–on top of all the other miscarriages of ethics and morality?

  • Dave Gingrich

    After 17 years, my wife and I are leaving. I hoped and prayed for renewal. But I do not believe this will get better. The denominational hierarchy is pervaded by heresy and sin. It always made me queasy when I wrote a chcek to UMC, knowing some of my money would be used very inappropriately. We have found a nice Wesleyan church nearby and don’t have to worry about that any more.

  • John S

    While agreeing the actions are wrong I do question the relevance of the membership numbers. If the congregations were larger would it justify the actions? Why is so much of the UMC’s dialogues, actions, programs and now theology oriented around, justified or condemned by bottoms in the pews?

  • James Negretti

    I have never been so offended as to witness a church hierarchy that reflects the desire to reconcile people to sin and death instead of the righteousness of GOD. As a repentant homosexual I never thought in my lifetime that I would have to protect sinners from the church. I pray that this church will purge the evil from within and stop calling the profane holy and holy profane. GOD is still saving sinners. These blind guides are putting stumbling blocks that prevent salvation. Who’s ministers are they?