A jury of 13 United Methodists stripped one of the denomination's most outspoken ministers of his clergy credentials November 17. The jury found Jimmy Creech guilty of disobeying church law by presiding at a ceremony of a homosexual couple in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, last April. Creech, who made headlines when he was acquitted of a similar charge in 1998, will now become a layman in the harshest penalty the denomination has meted out for blessing a same-sex union. The verdict sends a clear signal to the 44,000 ministers in the United Methodist Church that the denomination will not tolerate gay unions and will, in effect, fire those who perform them. Sixty-seven ministers from California and Nevada await trial for performing a collective ceremony uniting two lesbians in January.The Creech decision could also have wide-ranging consequences at the denomination's General Conference—its highest decision-making body—which will discuss homosexuality in May. Various sides have lined up to draft new proposals to include or exclude gays from covenant ceremonies and ordination.Creech, who argued that his trial was immoral and presented no defense, said he was not shocked by the decision."Those who love justice and are compassionate and merciful, those who have a vision of Jesus where all are welcomed without favor, are injured by this decision today," he told reporters outside Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, Nebraska, where the trial took place.The night before the trial, Creech presided at a recommitment ceremony for Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer, the two men he united in North Carolina. Creech says he does not plan to appeal, a continuing sign of his opposition to the entire process."I admire Jimmy's courage of conviction, but I'm dismayed by his arrogance of superiority, believing his stance is more right than the collective wisdom of the church and its traditions," says John Grenfell, a board member of Good News, an independent evangelical movement within the denomination.Creech, 54, is the first minister in the history of the United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in this country, to be stripped of his ministerial credentials for performing such a union. Gregory Dell of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago was suspended for performing a similar ceremony. His suspension has since been limited to June 30, 2000.Dell, who attended the trial, says he is dismayed at the outcome. "It's gone beyond a family dispute when we're willing to excommunicate those with whom we disagree," Dell says. "Unless we change the rule, what's happened to Jimmy today is the destiny of a significant number of us."

Related Elsewhere

See our earlier coverage of Jimmy Creech and the Methodist Church:"Verdict Aftershocks | Bishops reject call for a special session, but protests lead to removal of minister Creech." (June 15, 1998)"Pastor Acquitted in Ceremony Trial" (Apr. 27, 1998)"United Methodist Letter Urges Same-Sex Union Support" (Nov. 16, 1998)"Same-Sex Ceremony Leads to Charge" (December 7, 1998)"Pastor Suspended in Test of Same-Sex Marriage Ban" (Apr. 26, 1999)"Methodist Court Affirms Ban on Same-Sex Rites" (Oct. 5, 1998)"Lesbian 'Blessing' Rekindles Tensions" (Mar. 1, 1999)"See also the pro-Creech Jimmy Creech page, by the Covenant Relationships Network.

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