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United Methodist clergy, even if retired, may not perform wedding ceremonies uniting two people of the same sex, even in states in which such unions have been declared legal, according to a ruling issued Monday by the United Methodist Judicial Council.

judicial_councilThat ruling (Decision 1111) stemmed from a resolution passed at the 2008 session of the California-Nevada Conference.

The resolution encouraged and commended retired United Methodist clergy who publicly offered to perform same-sex marriages, following a 4-3 ruling (PDF) by the California Supreme Court that legalized such unions. (That state court ruling was overturned by California voters in November).

Because the United Methodist Book of Discipline forbids UM clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies (¶ 2702.1), Bishop Beverly Shamana, then-bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, ruled that the resolution was “void and of no effect.”

Under UM procedure, her ruling was automatically appealed to the Judicial Council.

“The Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed,” the Council ruled, noting that “[a]n annual conference may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they [sic] disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions.”

The Judicial Council issued a related ruling in a case from the California-Pacific Conference (Memorandum 1115).

From a report by the United Methodist News Service:

[T]he council reversed California-Pacific Conference Bishop Mary Ann Swenson‘s ruling supporting a conference resolution recognizing “the pastoral need and prophetic authority of our clergy and congregations to offer the ministry of marriage ceremonies for same-gender couples.”

In a concurring opinion, Jon Gray and the Rev. Kathi Austin Mahle wrote “church law can only be made by the General Conference and cannot be achieved through piecemeal resolutions adopted in an annual conference session.”

In another ruling made during the Judicial Council’s spring session last week and issued Monday, the Council ruled that a decision by Southern Methodist University to lease property for the George W. Bush Presidential Center does not violate the United Methodist Book of Discipline (Decision 1113).

From reporter Neill Caldwell‘s account written for UMNS:

The United Methodist Church’s top court…ruled Southern Methodist University can lease campus property for the George W. Bush presidential library, museum and public policy institute….

Critics opposed to many policies of the Bush administration, including the war in Iraq, argued placing the institute on SMU property would be inconsistent with church teaching.

The Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie, director of the Mexican-American program at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, made the original request for a legal decision, contending the lease would subsidize “a specific political and ideological point of view.”

bush-centerOklahoma Bishop Robert E. Hayes Jr. made an initial ruling last August that Trevino-Teddlie’s request did not relate to church law. The Judicial Council disagreed, saying the request “could have and should have been answered” as it relates to church law.

In its own review, the nine-member council said it found nothing in the lease agreement that violated the school’s Articles of Incorporation or the church’s Book of Discipline….

Throughout much of Bush’s two presidential terms, SMU lobbied to serve as host for the presidential center. Bush and his wife, Laura, are both United Methodists, and the former first lady is a graduate of SMU. In February 2008, the university and the Bush Foundation reached an agreement to bring the library to the Dallas campus….

Judicial Council member the Rev. William Lawrence, dean of the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, recused himself from all proceedings of the case…

The presidential center, which is expected to be completed by 2014, will consist of a library that contains documents and artifacts of the Bush administration, a museum and a public policy institute.

The United Methodist Judicial Council chose not to rule in a case coming from the Alaska Conference (Memorandum 1118). The Conference had asked whether paragraphs 214 and 225 of the 2004 Book of Discipline are at odds with Article IV of the UM Constitution (paragraph 4 in the Book of Discipline). All three paragraphs deal with eligibility for church membership.

The Council said it did not have jurisdiction because the request for a declaratory decision did not directly relate to any action taken by a session of the Alaska Annual Conference(¶ 2610.2(j)).

The case stemmed from a 2005 Judicial Council ruling (Decision 1032) in which a Virginia pastor was found to be within his pastoral rights to refuse membership to a non-celibate homosexual man whom the pastor deemed unready to take vows related to repentance and discipleship. The Council ruled that a pastor has authority under the Book of Discipline to determine a layperson’s readiness for membership.

In a column commenting on the Alaska case, former Judicial Council member Keith Boyette noted that “[p]roponents of eliminating pastoral discretion obviously hoped that the change in the membership of the Judicial Council in the current quadrennium would result in the Council overruling Decision 1032. The declaratory request from the Alaska Annual Conference did not present a vehicle for them to achieve this goal. The Judicial Council properly concluded that it lacked jurisdiction.”


Related posts
UM Judicial Council convenes for Spring session
Judicial Council sends controversial cases back to conferences
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles and information
Judicial Council docket — April 22-25, 2009 (PDF)
Council rejects resolutions on same-sex marriages | Neill Caldwell, UM News Service (April 27, 2009)
Church court OKs lease for Bush library | Neill Caldwell, UM News Service (April 27, 2009)
Spring 2009 Judicial Council session avoids contentious decisions | Keith Boyette (former member of the UM Judicial Council, 2000-2008) — posted at The Methodist Reveille blog (April 29, 2009)
Court docket includes Bush library, same-sex unions | Neill Caldwell, UM News Service (Jan. 21, 2009)
United Methodists elect new Judicial Council candidates | Institute on Religion and Democracy (April 29, 2008)
Five new members are elected to Judicial Council | Neill Caldwell, UM News Service (April 28, 2008)
Angela Brown of Jones Memorial UMC, San Francisco, elected to UM Judicial Council | Bruce Pettit, California-Nevada News Service (April 28, 2008)
Reflections on the 2008 General Conference | Editorial, Good News magazine (May/June 2008)
The George W. Bush Presidential Center
SMU’s Bush Library page

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This week’s MethodistThinker Podcast features a sermon by Bishop Al Gwinn, episcopal leader of the United Methodist Church’s North Carolina Conference.

bishop-gwinn1

Bishop Al Gwinn

Before being elected the the episcopacy in 2004, Al Gwinn served as both a pastor and a District Superintendent in the Kentucky Conference.

This sermon on this week’s podcast was preached in January 2009 at Edenton Street UMC in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bishop Gwinn’s text is 1 Peter 2:9-10.

To listen, use the audio player below (17 min.) — or download an mp3 (8MB).

Next week, a sermon by the late Methodist missionary and author, E. Stanley Jones.

For previous editions of the MethodistThinker Podcast, click the podcasts tab at the top of this page.

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The United Methodist Judicial Council, opening its Spring session today in Denver, Colorado, will hear cases relating to homosexual “marriage” ceremonies, church membership, and the planned George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University. (See full docket here—PDF.) The Council is the denomination’s supreme court and rules on questions of constitutionality in church law and practice.

judicial_councilThe homosexual-marriage case stems from a resolution passed at the 2008 session of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. The resolution encouraged and commended retired United Methodist clergy who publicly offered to perform same-sex marriages, following a 4-3 ruling by the California Supreme Court that legalized such unions. (That state court ruling was subsequently overturned by California voters.)

Because the United Methodist Book of Discipline forbids UM clergy from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies (¶341.6, ¶2702.1), Bishop Beverly Shamana, then-bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, ruled that the resolution was “void and of no effect.”

“It is not within the power or prerogative of an annual conference to offer the services of its clergy to perform acts which the General Conference has declared to be chargeable offenses against the law of The United Methodist Church,” she wrote.

Under standard UM denominational procedure, her ruling was automatically appealed to the Judicial Council. Last October, the Judicial Council remanded the case to the secretary of the California-Nevada Conference because documentation related to the Conference’s action was incomplete.

“The record does not provide the minutes and the specific action of the Annual Conference,” the Council wrote. “Consequently, the submission fails to reflect facts sufficient to invoke the Judicial Council’s jurisdiction” (full text here).

The church membership case, originating in the Alaska Conference, asks whether paragraphs 214 and 225 of the 2004 Book of Discipline are at odds with Article IV of the UM Constitution.

Article IV (¶4) says that “[a]ll persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.”

bod_04Paragraph 214 deals with membership eligibility; paragraph 225 governs the process of transferring membership to the United Methodist Church from another church or denomination.

In 2005, the Judicial Council ruled in Decision 1032 (full text) that “[p]aragraphs 214 and 225 are permissive and do not mandate receipt into membership of all persons regardless of their willingness to affirm membership vows.”

The Council ruled that the Book of Discipline invests the “pastor-in-charge” of a local church with the authority to determine “a person’s readiness to receive the vows of membership.” (Those vows include “renounc[ing] the spiritual forces of wickedness,” “repent[ing] of sin,” “confess[ing] Jesus Christ as savior,” “promis[ing] to serve Him as…Lord,” and “receiv[ing] and profess[ing] the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments”—¶217; see also, United Methodist Hymnal, pp. 34-35.)

The Alaska case first came to Council last October. As with the California-Nevada case mentioned above, the Judicial Council remanded it to the originating conference because of inadequate documentation.

(NOTE: The membership case may ultimately become moot. The 2008 General Conference, barely mustering the two-thirds majority required for a constitutional change, voted 66.9% to 33.1% to alter the language of Article IV to make it more “inclusive.” Before taking effect, a constitutional change must be approved by two-thirds of the eligible voting members of the Annual Conferences. All of the UMC’s Annual Conferences are voting on that constitutional proposal, as well as many others, in sessions this spring and summer.)

The Bush Presidential Center case involves a decision made last year by Bishop Robert Hayes at a meeting of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference.

The South Central Jurisdiction owns much of the land where Southern Methodist University is located. Certain land use at SMU must be approved by Jurisdictional Conference delegates.

bush-centerLast summer, delegates voted to approve leasing land at SMU for a planned Bush Center and Library. (Both President Bush and his wife, Laura, are United Methodists; Mrs. Bush is a 1968 graduate of SMU.)

The approval was challenged by a group led by the Rev. Jeannie Trevino-Teddlie of Fort Worth, who heads the Mexican-American Program at Perkins School of Theology at SMU. She requested a bishop’s ruling as to whether the lease would violate a Book of Discipline provision (¶2503.4) which requires United Methodist property to be “kept [and] maintained…for the benefit of The United Methodist Church and subject to the usages and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church.”

She further asked if such a lease would “subsidize a specific political and ideological point of view.”

(The Bush Presidential Center web site notes that George W. Bush Policy Institute, part of the Center, will focus on “core governing principles of freedom, opportunity, responsibility and compassion. The…Institute will advance these core governing principles through research, discussion and scholarship. The Institute will operate independently of SMU but will leverage opportunities for collaboration with SMU faculty and students to enhance the Institute’s efforts.”)

Bishop Hayes ruled that a request for a decision about the SMU’s right to lease property to the Bush Foundation was “improper, moot and hypothetical.” Under standard United Methodist procedure, any ruling of law by a bishop is automatically reviewed by the Judicial Council.

The make-up of the nine-member Judicial Council changed sharply as a result of the election of new Council members at the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

As reported in the April 29, 2008 Fort Worth Star-Telegram (article no longer online), “The council previously had a 6-3 conservative majority. But only one of the council members elected…is conservative, joining the sole conservative member remaining on the council.”

According to a report by the California-Nevada (Conference) News Service, the election of “progressive” members was the result of a coordinated effort.

Richard Bentley, a clergyman in the California-Pacific Conference [and convener of the California-Pacific Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action], was instrumental in developing the winning progressive slate. He was one of three men who called together contacts from annual conferences in each of five U.S. jurisdictions to give input on candidates who progressives affirmed will be, in their terms, “fair and balanced.”

Consensus developed based on theological perspectives and existing base support that could be augmented….

The slate was printed and distributed to nearly every annual conference delegation.

An editorial in the May/June 2008 Good News magazine noted that distribution of the slate appeared to be in violation of General Conference guidelines.

A matter left unexplained after the election of the new Council members was who exactly was responsible for a brochure placed on the desks of many delegates the morning of the elections.

The goldenrod flier listed candidates who were “recommended by a politically unaffiliated group of fifty jurisdictional and central conference delegates” but didn’t say who these fifty were — it wasn’t signed. It simply appeared on the desks of many delegates. (A conference rule prohibits materials being placed on the desks of the delegates.)

The flier’s…recommended candidates were all elected, and in the order listed on the brochure.

Following the elections, a delegate raised a question about the official-looking flier, but the report back was that no rule had been violated.

Dan Johnson with flier

Dan Johnson with flier

Use the audio player below to hear delegate Dan Johnson (clergy member, Florida Conference) raise a question about whether the flier, apparently distributed in violation of General Conference rules, had affected the outcome of the Judicial Council elections.

Bishop Mike Coyner (Indiana Conference) is the presiding officer.

The interchange is about two minutes.

The nine current members of the United Methodist Judicial Council are:

  • Susan T. Henry-Crowe (Council president, clergy, South Carolina Conf.)
  • — Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life at Emory Univ. in Atlanta

  • Jon R. Gray (Council vice president, lay, Missouri West Conf.)
  • — attorney, former circuit court judge

  • Angela Brown (lay, California-Nevada Conf.)
  • — asst. district attorney in San Francisco, board member—National Center for Lesbian Rights (PDF-see page 2), past vice president—NIA Collective, an organization for lesbians of African descent

  • William B. Lawrence (clergy, North Texas Conf.)
  • — Dean of SMU’s Perkins School of Theology

  • Ruben Reyes (lay, Philippines Central Conf.)
  • — Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines

The alternate members:

  • Joe May (first clergy alternate, Mississippi Conf.)
  • Jay Arthur Garrison (first lay alternate, Holston Conf.)
  • J. Montgomery (Monty) Brown (clergy, West Virginia)
  • Thomas K. Byerly (lay, West Michigan Conf.)
  • Mary A. Daffin (lay, Texas Conf.)
  • John Harnish (clergy, Michigan Conf.)
  • James D. Karblee (clergy, Liberia Conf.)
  • Raymond Mande Mutombo (lay, North Katanga Conf.)
  • Deanell Tacha (lay, Kansas East Conf.)
  • William F. White (lay, Wisconsin Conf.)
  • Rodney E. Wilmoth (clergy, Rocky Mountain Conf.)
  • Vicki Woods (clergy, New England Conf.)

Related posts
Judicial Council sends controversial cases back to conferences
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles and information
Judicial Council docket — April 22-25, 2009 (PDF)
Court docket includes Bush library, same-sex unions | Neill Caldwell, UM News Service (Jan. 21, 2009)
United Methodists elect new Judicial Council candidates | Institute on Religion and Democracy (April 29, 2008)
Five new members are elected to Judicial Council | Neill Caldwell, UM News Service (April 28, 2008)
Angela Brown of Jones Memorial UMC, San Francisco, elected to UM Judicial Council | Bruce Pettit, California-Nevada News Service (April 28, 2008)
Reflections on the 2008 General Conference | Editorial, Good News magazine (May/June 2008)
The George W. Bush Presidential Center
SMU’s Bush Library page

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This week’s MethodistThinker Podcast features a sermon by the late Dr. Bill Hinson, long-time pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Houston, Texas.

Dr. Bill Hinson

Dr. Bill Hinson

During his 18-year tenure at First UMC-Houston, more than 3,000 people joined that congregation on profession of faith.

In 1985, Dr. Hinson was honored with Denman Evangelism Award. In 2000, the National Association of United Methodist Evangelists recognized him with the Philip Award for Outstanding Leadership in Evangelism.

A native of South Georgia, Bill Hinson attended Boston University, where he earned a Master’s degree in Sacred Theology, and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, where he graduated with the Doctor in Sacred Theology degree.

The sermon on this week’s podcast, “The Making of a Minister,” was preached in June 2004 at a North Georgia Conference Service of Ordination and Commissioning. Five months later, Bill Hinson suffered a massive stroke. He died on Dec. 26, 2004.

At the time of his death, Dr. Hinson was serving as president of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

To listen to the podcast, use the audio player below (23 min.) — or download an mp3 (10MB).

Next week, a sermon by Bishop Al Gwinn of the North Carolina Conference.

For previous editions of the MethodistThinker Podcast, click the podcasts tab at the top of this page.


Related information
Bill Hinson, Confessing Movement leader, dies at 68 | United Methodist News Service/Good News magazine (PDF) (March/April 2005)
A resolution honoring the life and ministry of Dr. William H. Hinson | Georgia State Senate (March 29, 2005)
Lord, He Went: Remembering William H. Hinson (ordering information) | Abingdon Press (2006)
A charge to keep (an excerpt from Lord, He Went) | Stanley R. Copeland, Good News magazine (Sept./Oct. 2007)

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Noted United Methodist leaders Maxie Dunnam and Eddie Fox have released separate YouTube videos in which they state opposition to several proposed constitutional amendments to be voted on this year by Annual Conferences throughout the UMC.

amendments-clipDr. Dunnam is the former president of Asbury Theological Seminary. Dr. Fox is the world director of World Methodist Evangelism.

In the first of two videos, Dr. Dunnam argues against Amendment I, which would alter eligibility requirements for church membership by revising Paragraph Four (“Inclusiveness of the Church”) of the UM Constitution.

At first, [this amendment] seems quite benign…. [But] there is more here than meets the eye…. This amendment was brought to [the 2008] General Conference by a gay advocacy group in Texas by the name of Breaking the Silence. This is a group that has long opposed our United Methodist Book of Discipline where it states that though “all persons are of sacred worth…the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

For over 30 years, we United Methodists have made our views clear on this matter. We’re open to all persons but not to all practices. Groups that have wanted to change our grace-filled, biblical position have been unable to convince the General Conference to do so. So now they’re trying a different tactic.

The amendment is an attempt to change our position so that persons [who are] openly practicing a [homosexual] lifestyle and who have no desire to change would be allowed to join the church and continue in that lifestyle….

There are additional very serious implications. Because the amendment states no “organizational unit of the Church shall be structured to exclude any member,” you can be sure that radical gay advocacy groups will argue that practicing homosexuals, once they have joined the church, cannot be kept from the ordained ministry. It pains me to say so, but this is the real agenda behind Amendment I.

And please understand this: the Constitution trumps what’s in the rest of the Discipline. If this amendment means what I believe it means, if passed, it will make our position on homosexuality and on practicing gay clergy null and void.

See the full six-minute video below.

 

In a second video, Maxie Dunnam states his concerns about five amendments (numbered IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXV) that would allow United Methodists in the U.S. to structurally segregate themselves from United Methodists in Europe, Asia, and Africa. This would be done by creating a series of “regional conferences.”

 

In his video, Eddie Fox of World Methodist Evangelism also argues against the five amendments aimed at changing the UMC’s structure.

Mr. Fox has a related column here.

All 135 UM Conferences (62 Annual Conferences in the U.S. and 73 Conferences in Africa, Asia, and Europe) will vote on a total of 32 amendments, including 23 relating to the structure of the denomination. The full text of all 32 proposed amendments is here (PDF). (Note: There are two minor errors in Amendment XXV on page 18. In the second paragraph, the two references to “Article I” should read “Article II.”)

The 23 amendments related to church structure were proposed by the Task Force on the Global Nature of the Church (the Task Force’s 2007 report—PDF).

Most of the 23 are “cosmetic” in nature, simply implementing certain name changes. As noted above, the “five amendments of distinctive substance” that would actually alter the structure of the UMC are numbered IV, X, XIII, XXIII, and XXVI.

To be enacted, a constitutional amendment must be ratified by two-thirds of the aggregate “voting members” from all the Conferences. (Provisional deacons and elders, “local pastors,” and associate and affiliate clergy members are not eligible to vote — ¶602.1 of the Book of Discipline).

Members may debate a proposed amendment, but cannot alter it.


Related posts
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08

Related articles and information
Full text of all 32 amendments (PDF)
Transcript of the brief General Conference debate on Amendment I (PDF—see pages 2705-2707)
Worldwide decision: United Methodists to vote on amending constitution | Bill Fentum, UM Reporter (April 10, 2009)
Meddling with membership | Walter B. Fenton, Good News (March/April 2009)
Inclusiveness and membership decline (on the possible implications of Amendment I) | Riley Case (March 23, 2009)
Coming soon to your Annual Conference (article on Amendment I) (PDF) | The Kindred Connection (Winter 2009) (This is a publication of an arm of the Reconciling Ministries Network — “We envision a United Methodist Church which…accords all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, full participation in the life of the church.”)
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News (March/April 2009)
A rationale to oppose proposed constitutional changes | Tim McClendon, Columbia District Superintendent, South Carolina Conference
The worldwide Methodist movement | Eddie Fox, Interpreter Magazine (Web-only article—March 31, 2009)
Conferences to consider church structure | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 10, 2009)

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This week’s MethodistThinker Podcast features a sermon by Bishop B. Michael Watson, episcopal leader of the United Methodist Church’s North Georgia Conference.

Bishop Mike Waston

Bishop Mike Waston

Before being elected the the episcopacy in 2000, Mike Watson served as a pastor in both Alabama and Florida. His first assignment as bishop was to the South Georgia Conference. In 2008, Bishop Watson was assigned to the North Georgia Conference.

This sermon on this week’s podcast was preached last month at Dunwoody UMC (Dunwoody, Ga.). Bishop Watson’s text is John 12:20-33.

To listen, use the audio player below (17 min.) — or download an mp3 (8MB).

Next week, a 2004 sermon by the late Bill Hinson: “The Making of a Minister.”

For previous editions of the MethodistThinker Podcast, click the podcasts tab at the top of this page.


Related posts
Bishop Mike Watson’s 2008 Installation sermon
Bishop Mike Watson: Spiritual disciplines for the New Year

Related information
Biography of Bishop Mike Watson

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A Good Friday prayer

On Good Friday we commemorate that day nearly 2,000 years ago when the way of salvation was opened. Jesus the Messiah, the One who knew no sin, became sin for us and suffered the death we deserved.

goodfriday-crossAs the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

A prayer:

Father, how can we thank you enough? You did not spare your own Son, but gave Him up for us. We echo the words of the songwriter who asked, “What wondrous love is this?”

Thank you for Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Now, as He lives in us by the Holy Spirit, may we become living sacrifices, pouring all that we have, all that we are, all that we hope to be into the advancement of your kingdom.

This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, the Living One, who was dead and now is alive forevermore.

Use the audio player below to listen to a 5-minute excerpt from Dr. Tony Campolo‘s classic presentation, “It’s Friday, But Sunday’s Coming.”

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Posted below is this week’s MethodistThinker Podcast, featuring an Easter sermon by Dr. Bill Bouknight.

Bill Bouknight

Bill Bouknight

Dr. Bouknight retired in 2007 after serving 41 years as a Methodist pastor, first in South Carolina and later in Tennessee.

He is the author of The Authoritative Word: Preaching Truth in a Skeptical Age (Abingdon, 2001) and If Disciples Grew Like Kudzu (Bristol House, 2007).

This week’s sermon was preached on Easter Sunday 2007 at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., as part of a series on the Apostles’ Creed. Dr. Bouknight’s text is Luke 24:1-12.

To listen to this week’s podcast (16 min.), use the audio player below — or download an mp3.

Next week, a sermon by North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson: “We Wish to See Jesus.”


Related posts
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’
Coming soon: The MethodistThinker Podcast
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08
Bill Bouknight: The good news from General Conference ‘08

Related information
Biography of Dr. Bill Bouknight
Dr. Bouknight leaves Christ United Methodist Church vibrant in its faith | The (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal (May 21, 2007)

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The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) is urging repeal of a federal regulation that seeks to protect doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other medical employees who refuse to participate in care that violates their moral or religious beliefs.

gbcslogo3The Obama administration has indicated its intent to rescind the “Provider Refusal Rule” and is allowing an official 30-day period of public comment on the issue.

In an “Action Alert” posted on the GBCS web site, Linda Bales, director of the Board’s Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project, insists that the rule, enacted during the George W. Bush administration, “opens the door for health-care workers…to arbitrarily refuse to provide services such as contraception, blood transfusions, infertility treatment and family planning counseling.” (More from the GBCS Faith in Action newsletter is here.)

Church and Society’s call for rescission puts the United Methodist board at odds with several medical organizations that have banded together in defense of the conscience rule, including the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Pediatricians, Christian Pharmacy Fellowship International, the Fellowship of Christian Physician Assistants, and the National Association of Pro-Life Nurses.

freedomtocare-logoOther groups in the pro-conscience-rule coalition include Anglicans for Life, Focus on the Family, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Salvation Army, and the Christian Legal Society.

Together, these medical, religious, and public policy organizations have launched the web site, Freedom2Care.org.

Although several previous federal laws are intended to allow health-care-related conscience exceptions, often these laws “were not being followed,” according to attorney Casey Mattox of the Center for Law & Religious Freedom. (Use the audio player below to listen to an interview with Mr. Mattox, produced by the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.)

The Bush administration Department of Health and Human Services issued the expanded rule (PDF) last year “to ensure that, in the delivery of health care and other health services, recipients of Department [of Health and Human Services] funds do not support coercive or discriminatory practices in violation of [previous federal laws].”

The expanded rule, according to information published in the March 10, 2009 Federal Register (PDF), was intended “to balance the rights of patients in obtaining legal health care services against the statutory rights of providers…not to be discriminated against based on a refusal to participate in a service to which they have objections. Thus, the Department imposed an additional certification requirement [for entities receiving HHS funds].”

In other words, the rule requires such entities to specifically certify that they are in compliance with previous federal legislation.

David Gushee

David Gushee

David Gushee, a distinguished professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights (and also an Obama supporter in the 2008 election), is disappointed that the new administration would act to repeal the rule.

“Christian conscience requires me to insist that religious institutions and professionals not be required as a condition of accreditation, or employment, or contact with federal dollars, to actively facilitate or perform deeds that their conscience forbids them from doing,” he wrote in USA Today.

Lifewatch, the United Methodist pro-life caucus, also believes the Provider Refusal Rule should be allowed to stand. The group is encouraging pro-life Methodists readers to submit comments in support of the policy.

Guidelines for comments are posted here. Comments can be e-mailed to proposedrescission@hhs.gov. The deadline for comments is Thursday, April 9.

UPDATE: Late on April 2, the U.S. Senate defeated an amendment to the 2010 budget resolution that would have would have protected the rights of medical professionals. Three Democrats sided with 38 Republicans in voting for the amendment. (Roll call here.)

Two of those Democrats, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, had earlier sent a letter to Pres. Obama urging him to not rescind conscious clause protections.

We believe it is very important that federally funded health care providers and entities not be discriminated against because they refuse to participate in procedures or activities which are a violation of their consciences. Such providers and entities should not be forced to participate in any activities violating their beliefs in order to continue providing vital health care services.

Discriminating against health care providers because of their consciences or forcing coercion into their practices would be a substantial deviation from our shared goal of reducing abortions in America. Therefore, we strongly urge you to preserve the conscience protection rule.

Sen. Nelson, a former governor of Nebraska, is a member of Rockbrook United Methodist Church in Omaha, according to Project Vote Smart.

In a Christian Doctors Digest interview posted below (audio), Casey Mattox of the Center for Law & Religious Freedom (part of the Christian Legal Society) explains the Provider Refusal Rule and discusses how it applies to healthcare professionals.


Related posts
‘Church and Society’ withdraws support for Freedom of Choice Act
‘Church and Society’ to Obama: End protections for unborn
Update on the ‘Church and Society’ court case
Methodist morality and Election 2008
Party platforms and the UMC
Democrats, Methodists, and abortion policy

Related articles
Conscientious objections | Alan Sears, Alliance Defense Fund
United Methodists and abortion today | Bishop Timothy Whitaker
The Sanctification of Human Life — chapter 2 of How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmit (Zondervan, 2004)

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