Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Oklahoma Area:
The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court striking down all state bans regarding same-gender marriage has intensified a debate that has been at the center of public discussion for a long time.  There are many people who firmly feel that the decision of the Court was right, while others express profound disappointment over the ruling. 
For over four decades, The United Methodist Church has struggled — just as our society has — over issues of human sexuality. Last week’s decree added another dimension as we wrestle with the subject.
As the bishop of the Oklahoma Area, I feel compelled in light of the Court’s decision to share with you what my required duties are and where we minister as a denomination.  I do this so there will be no misunderstanding or confusion about what I am instructed to do as the episcopal leader of Oklahoma United Methodists, and about what we are called to do as the Body of Christ — the Church.
The denomination’s Book of Discipline says that the duty of a bishop is (to have) “a passion for the unity of the church … to be the shepherd of the whole flock and thereby provide leadership toward the goal of understanding, reconciliation, and unity within the Church — The United Methodist Church and the church universal.” (Paragraph 403.e)
As your bishop I am called to give spiritual oversight to everyone, regardless of any differences; I am mandated to seek unity in the Church whether we agree or disagree; I am required to love each and every person equally and without prejudice.  No matter who you are or what your beliefs may be, I truly believe every person is of sacred worth, and I am guided by God to see you as a person made in God’s image.
As for how this ruling affects our denomination, you need to be aware that this decision does not change The United Methodist Church’s position on same-gender marriage.  Our denomination defines marriage “as the union of one man and one woman.” (Book of Discipline, Paragraph 161b)  Furthermore, United Methodist clergy are not permitted to perform “same-sex wedding ceremonies” or “ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions” (Paragraph 2702.1b), and performance of such a ceremony is a violation of current Church law. Also, such ceremonies “shall not be conducted in our churches” (Paragraph 341.6).
The Supreme Court’s decision contains the following statements concerning the rights of religious persons and organizations:
“Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.  The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths.”
The only entity that can change the doctrine of The United Methodist Church is the General Conference, which meets every four years.  In early May 2016, in Portland, Oregon, this issue and others will be discussed and voted on by delegates from around the world.  Until that discussion and any subsequent voting, the denomination’s prohibition on same-gender weddings is in place.
I call upon all United Methodists here in Oklahoma and elsewhere to pray for our Church, our society, those directly caught in the tension of this issue, and especially for those who stand in the gap seeking to be pastoral to each person and in every situation. 
There are no easy solutions to this and other complex matters within our society, but we do have the choice of working together to find common ground and to claim our rightful identity as children of God seeking to be the disciples of Jesus Christ!
May God bless us all.
In His Service,
Robert E. Hayes, Jr.
Bishop, Oklahoma Area
The United Methodist Church

comments powered by Disqus