Nebraska Methodist Inquisition

By Rev. Dr. Mel White, UFMCC & NewsPlanet Staff

SUMMARY: There's more at the stake than Jimmy Creech's career as the liberal denomination considers whether to convict a heterosexual pastor for granting a lesbian couple equal blessing rights.

Today, in Kearney, Nebraska, the Reverend Jimmy Creech will be tried before a jury of his peers for "conducting a homosexual union," and in the process "disobeying the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church." This historic trial will be a first for America's third largest Protestant denomination, a Christian church with a long history of civil rights activism. After a lifetime of distinguished service to his denomination, Rev. Creech faces the very real possibility that his credentials will be revoked and his career as a United Methodist Minister ended.

"Frankly," Pastor Creech explains, "I don't feel that I'm in trouble. I feel the Church is in trouble for choosing to deny God's blessings of grace, support, and care to anyone."

As senior minister of Omaha's First United Methodist Church, Pastor Creech, who is heterosexual, celebrated a lesbian couple's holy union in September, 1997, after being advised by his bishop that it would be "in violation of the Order and Discipline," and that if he proceeded "charges would be brought against him."

"I want to be accountable to my bishop and to my church," Rev. Creech confesses, "but I could not withhold God's blessing from these two faithful members of my congregation. I told the bishop that I believed the United Methodist Church was wrong [in its position to withhold the blessing of a holy union from same-sex couples] and that to abide by that position would give credence and power to it."

The verdict of the thirteen-member jury of Methodist ministers from across Nebraska is expected to be a serious bellweather indicating how much acceptance gays and lesbians have gained in mainstream churches in recent years. "My trial will determine," Rev. Creech explains, "whether or not -- by blessing two people who have shared their vows of love and fidelity with God's grace -- I have violated the integrity of the Church. I have to tell you," he adds, "that the integrity of the Church was violated when the Church decided to prohibit the celebration of the love and fidelity of two people regardless of their gender, regardless of their sex."

After selecting the jury on Wednesday, the prosecution will present its case and its witnesses. The United Methodist Church is the prosecutor. The "prosecuting attorney" or church counsel is the Rev. Lauren Ekdahl, a Methodist pastor from Lincoln, Nebraska. The assistant to the church counsel is Warren Urbom, a Methodist layman and current federal district court judge. The complainant is the Reverend Glenn Loy, a Methodist pastor from Ogallala, Nebraska, and his counsel is the Reverend Jeff Thurman, of the Stromsburg-Polk United Methodist Churches. Rev. Loy brought the initial complaint against Rev. Creech.

Creech is the defendant. His counsel is Dr. Doug Williamson, Professor of Religion at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, assisted by Mike McClellan, an attorney in Omaha and a member of Creech's church. The Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Leroy Hodapp, hopes to conclude the trial and announce the verdict by late Friday afternoon.

Last night, on the eve of the Jimmy Creech trial, a group of about fifty friends and supporters from his church in Omaha, from Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, from the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), and from other concerned activist and spirit groups, gathered at the Kearney United Methodist Church "to exorcise the demons of fear, ignorance, arrogance, and control -- those influences and power not of God which are preying upon the United Methodist Church and holding it captive to alien principalities and power." George D. McClain, the Executive Director of The Methodist Federation for Social Action, led those who had assembled in the church choir room in Bible readings, communion, the prayers of "social exorcism" and a sung blessing for Jimmy Creech, "And God Will Bear You Up On Eagle's Wings."

The Rev. Dr. Mel White, Justice Minister of the UFMCC, who will be supplying NewsPlanet with his observations from the trial, said, "During that pre-trial event, I presented Jimmy a gold Star of David embossed with a pink triangle, the badge homosexual Jews were forced to wear in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. I promised Jimmy publicly that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians and non-Christians alike would also 'bear him up' during the next three days of trial."

The Bibble Pages, Christian Molick,