2 UMC pastors may be defrocked for officiating same-sex wedding

The First United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, displays an LGBT rainbow decoration. | Getty Images

Two United Methodist Church pastors in Mississippi face the possibility of being defrocked after officiating a same-sex wedding, defying denominational rules prohibiting such practices.

The Rev. Elizabeth Davidson and Rev. Paige Swaim-Pressley officiated the wedding of two women who identify as non-binary in January. They now face being put on involuntary leave and possibly being defrocked after a complaint was filed.

The UMC Book of Discipline presently labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and prohibits the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals. Pastors can be subject to involuntary leave if they display “incompetence, ineffectiveness, or inability to perform ministerial duties.”

UMC Bishop Sharma Lewis of Mississippi ended mediation talks with the two clergy and has moved for a church trial, with Swaim-Presley having already been suspended, reported The Clarion-Ledger earlier this week.

“The parties involved were properly informed of the complaint and their rights to respond under church law. This has been a difficult situation for all involved persons,” stated the conference, as reported by the newspaper.

“The Mississippi Conference of The United Methodist Church has lived under the agreement of confidentiality and is committed to doing so in the future. Your continued prayers for all those involved in this matter are greatly appreciated.”

The Mississippi Board of Ordained Ministry Executive Committee will next vote on whether to put the two pastors on “involuntary leave,” which, if approved, will need to be affirmed by a two-thirds majority vote of all UMC Mississippi clergy at a conference meeting held in late June, according to a press release published by United Methodist Insight.

An email sent by Lewis to the clergywomen who performed the ceremony posted by UM Insight notes that the bishop opposed overseeing the “just resolution” process with the two clergy, a process put forth as an alternative to a church trial.

“I do believe that you intentionally violated your ministerial vows and that this act of knowing disobedience cannot be resolved outside of termination of your clergy relationship,” wrote Lewis, as quoted by UM Insight.  

Davidson and Swaim-Pressley released a joint statement noting that they had known the same-sex couple through their time as chaplains at Millsaps College.

“It is our hope that this distraction to our collective ministry will be resolved quickly so we can all return to telling a hurting world about God’s love, and the good news of liberation for all people that Jesus Christ came to bring,” the two pastors stated, as quoted by UM Insight.

“In officiating this wedding, we were simply trying to live out the call of Jesus who always placed himself with the oppressed and marginalized. If we must be punished for doing so, we are at peace.”

In recent years, many progressive leaders within the UMC have refused to follow or enforce the Book of Discipline rules despite failed efforts to change the rules. Over 1,800 churches left the UMC last year amid the schism on homosexuality.

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