The United Methodist Church, much like the state of Texas, does not approve of gay marriage -- or, for that matter, of any divergence from the Adam & Eve model of human sexuality set down in Genesis.
The UMC's official rulebook says that "sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage" and that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Northaven United Methodist Church, the giant white spaceship on Preston Road in North Dallas (where, full disclosure, my parents go to church), has long been a dissenter on this front. Decades ago, it bucked tradition and began welcoming openly gay members, not in the denomination-approved "love the sinner, hate the sin" manner but by declaring that homosexual relationships are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God, and it's long been a progressive outlier on matters of civil rights and social justice.
So, it wasn't entirely a surprise when retired pastor Bill McElvaney announced at Northaven on Sunday that he will buck church law and officiate at same-sex weddings, or that the congregation greeted the news with a standing ovation.
Eric Folkerth, Northaven's current pastor, has not yet followed his predecessor's lead in defying the church, nor is he quite ready to let same-sex weddings take place at his church (two nearby congregations -- MIdway Hills Christian Church and Central Congregational Church -- have agreed to play host for McElvaney.) The UMC has proved itself more than willing to punish those who stray from the official line, recently defrocking a pastor who presided at the wedding of his gay son. For McElvaney, in the twilight of his career, the move carries little professional risk.
But in a blog post, Folkerth leaves no doubt that he fully endorses same-sex marriage. He goes so far as to label the dictate that same-sex marriage ceremonies can't take place in UMC churches "insidious, and frankly, evil."
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When McElvaney will find occasion to officiate a same-sex wedding is unclear, though Folkerth speculates the first nuptials could go to Jack Evans and George Harris, Northaven members who recently celebrated their 53rd anniversary together.
Folkerth argues that McElvaney's pronouncement trancends the arcane, intra-denominational scuffle that will inevitably follow. It nudges the notion of gay marriage a bit further into the mainstream, closer to inevitable, widespread acceptance. And that, he argues, is completely in line with biblical teaching.
"God wants the Church of Jesus Christ to embrace same sex marriage," he writes.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.