Over 200 Methodist Clergy in Illinois Pledge to Oppose Church on Gay Unions

More than 200 clergy joined a growing list of United Methodist ministers in pledging to support same-sex civil unions despite any possible repercussions from the church.

After civil unions were officially made legal in the state of Illinois on the first of June, 208 members of the clergy belonging to The United Methodist Church there have signed a pledge stating that they will oversee same-sex civil unions, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The Northern Illinois Conference for the United Methodists has consisted of major supporters of gay rights for some time. Earlier in June, the conference took an initial vote to end discrimination against same-sex couples, and they plan on petitioning the denomination's next global gathering in 2012. They now stand alongside clergy from the New England region, New York, and Minnesota who have taken similar action, according to the Huffington Post.

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The Book of Discipline for The United Methodist Church clearly states that everyone has worth but “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The resolve of the Northern Illinois Conference was reportedly strengthened by the result of a United Methodist trial court decision in which the Rev. Amy DeLong was suspended for 20 days, beginning July 1, for overseeing a lesbian union in 2009. While found innocent of being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual,” as is stated by the Book of Discipline, she will have to undergo a year-long process to “restore the broken clergy covenant relationship,” according to the United Methodist News Service.

DeLong says that the punishment will not stop her from officiating same-sex unions in the future. She is reportedly the first United Methodist clergyperson in 20 years to be found guilty of overseeing a same-sex union who was not punished by either indefinite suspension or by being stripped of her position.

Despite the stance of his fellow Illinois clergy, the Rev. Scott Field of Wheatland Salem United Methodist Church in Naperville stands by the book, suggesting that a moral disagreement with the homosexual lifestyle should not be confused with hatred.

“Northern Illinois fancies itself as some sort of prophetic voice in the denomination,” he said, according to the Tribune. "It's highly unfortunate. It politicizes some legitimate issues about gay and lesbian relationships and leaves us with another round of conflict."

Field reportedly said that he believes that the church should not support homosexuality, but that it shouldn't act violently toward homosexual persons either.

After the DeLong verdict, the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News magazine, said that suspension is not a strong enough punishment for clergy who act against the church's laws, according to the UMNS.

“In no other organization would a person be able to willfully break the organization's policies and expect to keep working," he said. "An organization's response would be to thank the person for his service, let him pack his things and usher him out the door."

The UMNS also reported that the counsel on behalf of the church in DeLong's trial, the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, said he felt confident that the United Methodist's stance on homosexuality would not change at the 2012 General Conference, despite apparently increasing opposition. He said that conservative delegates from countries like Africa would likely continue to vote in favor of the church's stance on the issue as it is now.

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