United Methodists row over gay marriage as general conference begins

Reconciling Ministries Network/YouTube

Evangelical leaders are calling for the suspension of an elder in the United Methodist Church in the US after he married his male partner. 

Rev David Meredith, an elder in the United Methodist Church in West Ohio, married his long-term partner Jim Schlachter at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Columbus.

After a report appeared in the Columbus Dispatch and some public letters of support from progressive Methodists appeared online, the Evangelical Fellowship of West Ohio said the ceremony violated a "high view of scripture" and went against the traditional "Wesleyan expression of historic, orthodox Christianity".

Fellowship president Jeff Greenway said it was with "great sadness" that he found the ceremony to be a "clear act of disobedience to the spirit and letter of our covenant".

He called for Meredith to be suspended from his appointment as an elder.

He said: "The use of the Broad Street United Methodist Church for a same sex union worship service is a clear act of disobedience of the spirit and letter of our covenant as outlined in the Book of Discipline in paragraph 341.6."

He also called for two other ministers involved in the ceremony to be suspended and warned of "division and potential rancour" at a time when the Church's general conference is meeting in Oregon.

Meredith defended his actions. "I am completely aware that there are consequences, but I am not afraid," he told BuzzFeed in a phone call before the ceremony. He said he could be defrocked, removed from his congregation in Cincinnati and lose his income.

He also admitted the timing with the conference was deliberate.

Rev Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor of theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary, told BuzzFeed: "This is a very important moment for the United Methodist Church. I think the wedding can inspire empathy among the delegates, because you have a Methodist pastor — this is one of the leaders of the church. This is someone they have ordained, and that is important to other church leaders. The church is at a boiling point."

The United Methodist Church is the largest Protestant church in the United States with about seven million members.