Complaint Filed Against Methodist Pastor Who Married Gay Couple

The wedding ceremony last Saturday was deliberately timed — church officials meet in May and consider repealing a ban on clergy marrying same-sex couples.

A formal complaint has been filed against a Methodist minister for disobeying church doctrine by marrying a same-sex couple on Saturday in Charlotte, the United Methodist Church’s Western North Carolina Conference announced Tuesday.

Both the wedding and the complaint — which appear to be the first of their type in the state — come at a sensitive moment for the United Methodist Church. Its international voting body will consider proposals next month to repeal a ban on clergy marrying same-sex couples.

“This is the time to take a stand and to get this language changed,” Pastor Val Rosenquist told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.

Rosenquist acknowledged she risks being reprimanded or defrocked. However, she said, she was willing to face those consequences to put pressure on church officials.

BuzzFeed News first reported on plans for Jim Wilborne and John Romano’s wedding Saturday just before the ceremony began.

“I am not surprised by the complaint. It would have been a surprise if it didn’t happen," said Pastor Rosenquist. 

The allegations will be investigated by Bishop Larry Goodpaster, whose office specifically noted media reports about the wedding when announcing the complaint.

In a statement, church officials said that a same-sex wedding as alleged by the anonymous complainant “would be in violation” of the church’s rules, called the Book of Discipline.

Rosenquist responded by saying, “I’m not worried about anybody being particularly angry." She argued the wedding obeyed Biblical teachings rather than the church’s discriminatory rules banning ministers from marrying same-sex couples.

“Anytime we have an act of biblical obedience, it is not something that is accepted by everybody, so there are people who will push back," she said. “I am not surprised by the complaint. It would have been a surprise if it didn’t happen.”

Michael Rich, a spokesperson for the Western North Carolina Conference, said details of the investigation are “a confidential matter, and [the bishop] is not going to speak about it.”

Matt Berryman, the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, an LGBT advocacy coalition that is leading the charge for reforming Methodist policy on sexual orientation, criticized the church’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“It's time for The United Methodist Church to end this absurdity of punishing clergy who are channels of God's healing presence with us,” he said.

With about 7 million members in the United States, the United Methodist Church (UMC) is the largest mainline Protestant Christian denomination. But unlike several other leading denominations, such as the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the UMC has not repealed its ban on same-sex weddings. The church's conference in May will be its first since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage rights.

The service on Saturday was also officiated by Bishop Melvin Talbert, who is a member of the church’s West Coast division. It was not clear if a complaint has been filed against him in that jurisdiction.

For her part, Rosenquest hoped proceedings against her would influence the United Methodist Church’s General Conference.

“The more challenges that we have to this part of the Book of Discipline, the more widespread the dissatisfaction, and the more disruptive this part of the Book of Discipline makes our lives, the better chance we have of getting rid of the language,” she said.

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