On Monday a group of United Methodists from New York and Connecticut will release a list of pastors who plan to perform weddings for homosexual couples despite the denomination’s ban on gay marriage.
The We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality project consists of 161 clergy members, 703 lay people and six congregations representing 67 United Methodist congregations who will risk their standing and jobs with the church by announcing their support for equal rights for the LGBT community.
One of the pastors involved is Rev. Jeff Wells of the Community United Methodist Church in Massapequa. For Wells, whose brother is gay, the issue is personal.
Growing up Wells remembers the struggles and taunting his brother endured. He went on to become the head of the gay pride committee in Milwaukee and a member on the International Stonewall Committee.
“I have always been very proud of my brother’s activism around this issue and have tried to do what I have been able to do, both before I became a pastor and since, to advocate for full equality in society for gays and lesbians and also for full inclusion in the life of the church,” Wells said.
The pastor first heard about the movement last spring, and signed on over the summer. While signing the pledge won’t get him in trouble, if he performs a gay wedding charges could be brought against him. These charges could lead to a trial and ultimately get Wells’ clergy orders taken away.
Despite this risk, Wells feels like this is something that needs to be done. “The time has come when we simply have to take a stand against the discriminatory policies of our denomination,” he said. “I see myself as taking an action for the church because I believe that changing this discriminatory tradition is actually going to revitalize it.”
Wells has been upfront about his stance with the members of his congregation, and has received mixed reactions.
“There are obviously people in my congregation who are at various places in the spectrum as far as their views on gay marriage, but the conversation has been very respectful,” he said. “Many people support what I’m doing and would like to see our particular local congregation become a reconciling congregation, which is fully welcome to gays and lesbians.”
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, where the rules that govern the denomination are set, will meet in April 2012. Wells said that the bishops are aware that the movement has been going on, but will not know who is involved until the list is published.
“Fundamentally, what it really comes down to is providing love and care for all people, which I think is exactly what we’re called to as ministers.”