Cross
Case heads back to West Ohio committee

A ruling in the case against a United Methodist Cincinnati gay pastor will go back to the same committee that investigated the case in 2017 to address “egregious errors.”

The North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals ruled the West Ohio Committee on Investigations made errors of church law in dismissing some of the charges against the Rev. David Meredith and remanded the case back to the conference committee to re-examine parts of its findings.

However, the appeals committee asked the appellant, the West Ohio Conference, to “pause” further judicial proceedings until the completion of the special General Conference set for Feb. 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri.

The 2019 special meeting of The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly will be limited to acting on a report by the Council of Bishops, based on the proposals from the Commission on the Way Forward. The 32-member commission, appointed by the bishops, has the charge of finding ways for the denomination to stay together despite deep differences around homosexuality.

“As we have deliberated we have been mindful that we are all the church and no one party has that label exclusively,” the appeals committee said in its decision.

Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, episcopal leader of the West Ohio Conference and a member of the Way Forward Commission, said the denomination’s judicial process defined in the Book of Discipline is at times “arduous, but it also bends toward seeking a just resolution.”

In the church a just resolution is defined as “one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties.”

Sending these charges back for a new hearing is appropriate, said the Rev. Gregory Stover, appellant for West Ohio Conference. But he disagreed with another part of the decision.

“The instruction of the Committee on Appeal to pause all proceedings until after the completion of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference is disturbing and likely irregular. It represents yet another example of the failure of our system to move expeditiously to uphold our order and discipline,” he added.

Stover said he and his co-counsel, Rodger Walk, will examine the ruling to determine if any further action is warranted.

Meredith, pastor of Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, faces complaints of violating church law after marrying Jim Schlachter, his partner of almost 30 years. Two days after his 2016 marriage, complaints were filed with the West Ohio Conference.

The West Ohio Committee on Investigation, in an Oct. 15, 2017, meeting, considered three charges against Meredith:

  • “Immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage”
  • “Being a self-avowed practicing homosexual”
  • “Disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church"

The committee dismissed the first two charges and part of the third. The part dismissed from the third charge specifies that “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” Disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church still carries the possibility of a church trial and the removal of Meredith’s clergy credentials.

On March 9, the West Ohio Conference presented arguments that the conference Committee on Investigation made “egregious” errors when it dropped some of the charges against Meredith.

A press release from Clifton United Methodist Church issued after the findings pointed out that Meredith and his supporters were not permitted to speak during the hearing. However, the appeals committee said the appeal only concerned questions related to the West Ohio Committee on Investigation.

Meredith said the decision “betrays United Methodist polity, theology and practice,” by prioritizing denominational law instead of being the church.

“This ruling is a sad illustration of the judicial lock-box that the Methodist establishment has placed itself in,” said Steve Depoe, chair of Clifton United Methodist’s church council. “The Holy Spirit was not favored during that hearing, nor in the decision.”

Palmer asked United Methodists to “join me in the continuing work of prayer, dialogue and relationship building for all parties involved and for the whole church in this season, which has its challenges and is full of opportunity for healing, renewal and revival.”

By Kathy L. Gilbert
March 20, 2018 | UMNS