SAN FRANCISCO – News of the offer from more than 80 retired Northern California clergy in the United Methodist Church to perform same-sex "marriages" has riled conservative Christians who say such an action is "silly" and merely a move toward "the latest fad."
"These retired clergy are turning their backs on two-thousand years of church belief and practice as well as the United Methodist Discipline they agreed to uphold as part of their ordination vows," commented Mark Tooley, who directs the United Methodist committee (UMAction) of the conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy.
"As failed clergy of dying churches, they are attempting to jump on the latest fad. Trying to seem relevant, they instead look silly," he expressed in a news release.
Late last month, 82 retired Northern California clergy from the United Methodist Church offered to perform same-sex "marriages," saying they want to help out active ministers who would risk more severe consequences for presiding over these ceremonies.
The move came a few weeks after California became the second state in the nation to allow same-sex "marriages."
"We're willing to challenge the injustice and contradictions of this," said the Rev. Don Fado, retired pastor of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, according to the Sacramento Bee, referring to the UMC's law forbidding both active and retired clergy from performing gay "marriages."
The ministers made the pro-gay vow during the annual meeting last month for the California-Nevada conference of United Methodists. Retired clergy from other denominations, including Presbyterians and Episcopalians, have told the Bee they also are considering performing same-sex "marriages."
"Having long since abdicated their responsibility as evangelists and predictably left with dwindling flocks as a result, many retired California United Methodist clergy are now offering to spend their golden years performing same-sex 'marriages,'" lamented Tooley in the press release Thursday.
In the release, the IRD noted that the California-Pacific Conference of United Methodism is one of the denomination's most liberal and fastest declining regions, having lost about half its members over the last 40 years, while California's population has boomed. Less than 3 percent of the United Methodist Church in the United States lives in California.
"When churches attempt to transform their surrounding culture with the Gospel, they thrive. When churches surrender to popular fashion, they become increasingly inconsequential," Tooley explained. "Much of United Methodism in California has sadly proved this."
Because the United Methodist Book of Discipline – Church law – forbids churches and clergy from performing same-sex unions, the clergy who disobey could be defrocked if disciplined.
The IRD noted, however, that retired clergy are much less likely to face church discipline.
Fado, the retired Methodist pastor, said his fellow clergy believe they are following Church law by reaching out to all of their flock.