Yet another United Methodist pastor has presided over a same-sex marriage as part of the mass disobedience movement known as “biblical obedience”. The purpose of the campaign is to intentionally flout the United Methodist Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage and activity in an attempt to force the UMC to change the Book of Discipline. What sets this wedding apart from the growing number of violations was a post-wedding celebration, during which Retired Bishop Roy I. Sano held a service of communion.
Sano was one of the retired bishops who stood alongside Retired Bishop Melvin Talbert when Talbert first called for a “biblical obedience” movement. He came out vocally as a proponent of the campaign earlier this month, in an op-ed post on the Pacific Northwest Conference’s website. “With biblical obedience we join in the sweep of this mission of God.” Sano wrote, “…I support those who are celebrating same gender unions based on the biblical foundations in the ministry of Jesus Christ for the mission of the triune God.”
Following the May 17th wedding of Nikki Salde and Kira Azzam, LGBT activists held a “Circle of Love,” a rally in support of all United Methodist pastors who perform gay weddings. The actual wedding took place in Wesley United Methodist Church, a San Jose church that has traditionally catered to the local Japanese population. The wedding ceremony was presided over by Rev. Michael Yoshii, head pastor of Buena Vista United Methodist Church in nearby Alameda, California. According to an email from Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA), it was then that Sano presided over a service of communion.
Also present at the ceremony was MFSA executive director Chett Pritchett, who offered a prayer. Frank Schaefer, a former pastor who was defrocked for performing a same-sex marriage, offered a reflection. Although the press release promised “[h]undreds of supporters,” video of the event shows about a few dozen. Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) put the number of supporters at over 50.
Presiding over a gay wedding and hosting one in a United Methodist church building are both clear violation of church law, but Sano’s actions are more questionable. The Book of Discipline forbids clergy from “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions.” What exactly constitutes a “ceremony” or a “celebration” of a homosexual union isn’t clearly stated. The Circle of Love was unquestionably a celebration of the marriage that had just taken place, and a communion service is almost certainly a “ceremony.” But whether or not the service was a celebration is debatable.
In many ways, Sano’s actions are reminiscent of Melvin Talbert’s at the RMN annual convocation last year. Talbert gave a blessing to all the legally married same-sex couples present, saying, “I announce that they are married, in the name of the Creator, Jesus Christ the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit.” There was a debate over whether or not Talbert’s blessing was in violation of the Book of Discipline, but many (myself included) saw it as an attempt to come as close as possible to breaking church law without actually doing so. Obviously, that debate became moot when Talbert performed a same-sex marriage a few months later and had complaints filed against him. Hopefully, Sano has more sense than to follow Talbert on that count.
Video of the wedding and photos of the “Circle of Love” rally are available on Reconciling Ministries Network’s Facebook page.Google+