Two United Methodist Church clergy of Washington state were recently suspended for a day for officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies, considered a violation of the denomination's rules.
The Rev. Cheryl A. Fear of Garden Street United Methodist Church in Bellingham and the Rev. Gordon Hutchins of The Bridge Church in Tacoma were suspended for 24 hours without pay for performing gay marriages in 2012.
Clergy are forbidden from officiating same-sex marriages even in states where the practice is legally recognized, according to the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline.
"Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches," reads the Discipline.
The one-day suspensions come instead of a church trial, which would have led to the possibility of being given a heftier punishment by UMC officials.
John Lomperis, the Institute on Religion & Democracy's United Methodist Action Director, told The Christian Post that this was "sadly unsurprising" given the ideological leanings of the Pacific-Northwest Conference.
"Such flaunting of our denomination's biblical standards is not new for this region, which has operated with a sort of ecclesial anarchy for quite a number of years," said Lomperis. "Thanks to its liberal leadership, the Pacific-Northwest Conference has long been one of the fastest-dying UMC conference, losing a whopping 5.3 percent of its members just within the last reported year."
Fear and Hutchins' suspensions bring more attention to the controversy over the UMC's position on homosexuality, which officially views the behavior as "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Last December, Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania was defrocked for officiating his son's gay marriage back in 2007. Two years ago, retired seminary dean the Reverend Thomas Ogletree performed a same-sex wedding for his son in New York State and was reported for doing so in a complaint filed last year.
The church trial for Ogletree was scheduled for March 10, but was then postponed and presently does not have a new date selected. Despite the talk about the UMC being increasingly divided over the issue, Lomperis told CP tat the biblically conservative viewpoint was winning due to changing demographics.
"United Methodists on both sides now admit that given the demographics of our global denomination, no General Conference in the foreseeable future is expected to change our denomination's 'on paper' affirmation of biblical teaching on marriage and sex," said Lomperis.