(CINCINNATI) — An openly-gay Methodist minister is waiting to learn his fate from a board of church leaders who may ultimately send his case to a church trial that could strip him of his ministry for marrying his longtime partner.
The United Methodist Church’s North Central Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals met Friday as part of an ongoing process to determine whether the Rev. David Meredith will be disciplined, possibly even be defrocked, for marrying his partner while serving as a Methodist minister.
Meredith has led the congregation at Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati as an openly gay man since 2012. The Methodist Church pledged to welcome “all persons, regardless of sexual orientation” more than a decade earlier. Despite that pledge, the church’s “Book of Discipline,” a document that is revised every four years to reflect current realities in society still bans gay people from serving as ministers, Meredith told ABC News. The book was last revised in 2016, just days before Meredith married his longtime partner Jim Schlachter, he said.
Meredith’s sexual orientation had always been a non-issue, he said, but shortly after his wedding, 10 members of the Methodist Church in the Cincinnati area sent letters to Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer of the Ohio West Area of the United Methodist Church, challenging Meredith’s fitness to be a pastor. None of those church members actually belonged to Meredith’s congregation, Meredith said.
The congregants cited that section of the “Book of Discipline” that says “homosexuals” cannot serve as ministers. The section reads, “Self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”
Meredith and his counsel (effectively his attorney for church proceedings) the Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey explained, Meredith had always been “self-avowed,” living as an openly gay man. But prior to his marriage, the church could not prove he “practiced” his homosexuality.
In October 2017, the Committee on Investigation for the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church found Meredith disobeyed church law, but dismissed two of the most serious violations Meredith faced, including charges that he lived an “immoral lifestyle” and that he couldn’t be ordained as a minister, but the Counsel for the Church — effectively the Methodist Church’s prosecutor — appealed that decision, Meredith’s spokesman Nick Federinko explained.
The appeal was heard Friday in Indianapolis by the Committee on Appeals for the church. The committee now has up to 20 days to decide whether the Committee on Investigation made the right decision and Meredith should only be found to have disobeyed church law or whether the Committee should take another look at the more serious charges, including ones that could possibly result in Meredith being defrocked.
“They can take my credentials, but they cannot take away that I am called by God,” Meredith said. “It would break my heart, but it doesn’t change the reality.”
Palmer’s office said he will issue a statement once the Committee on Appeals decides whether they will honor the decision made that Meredith simply disobeyed the church or send his case back for another look — one that could lead to a church trial and the possibility Meredith could be defrocked.
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