Appeals committee revives charges against gay United Methodist Church pastor, orders them reheard

INDIANAPOLIS -- A United Methodist Church committee has been ordered to rehear the case against a gay Cincinnati pastor accused by some members of his denomination of being unfit for the ministry due to his marriage to a man.

On Monday, the UMC’s North Central Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals remanded the case against Rev. David Meredith back to the West Ohio Committee on Investigation, which had previously dismissed the two most serious violations Meredith faced – that he lived an “immoral lifestyle” and that as a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” he couldn’t be ordained as a minister.

The ruling comes after an appeals hearing in Indianapolis earlier this month on the West Ohio Committee on Investigation’s decision.

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At the heart of the case is the question of whether Meredith – who has been openly gay during his entire six-year tenure as pastor of the Clifton United Methodist Church – is fit to remain an ordained UMC minister following his 2016 marriage to his long-time partner, Jim Schlachter.

Shortly after their wedding, 11 UMC denomination members sent letters to the bishop of UMC’s West Ohio Conference challenging Meredith’s fitness to remain as pastor, according to RTV6’s sister station WCPO.

READ MORE | A Clifton minister's gay marriage sets up a battle with opponents over his continued ministry

The letters cited a section from the UMC’s Book of Discipline outlining qualifications for ordination which says homosexuality is “incompatible” with Christian teaching:

"While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

Meredith, who was not allowed to speak on his behalf at the Indianapolis hearing, has said the charges against him are being pushed by “mean-spirited literalists.”

In a statement provided to RTV6 Monday, members of Meredith’s Clifton United Methodist Church pushed back on the appeals committee’s decision.

“This ruling is a sad illustration of the juridical lock-box that the Methodist establishment has placed itself in,” said Steve Depoe, chair of Clifton United Methodist’s church council. “The Holy Spirit was not favored during that hearing, nor in the decision. But the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, even for United Methodists. Pastor David Meredith will continue to serve as a faithful pastor for one of the strongest congregations in the West Ohio Conference. Clifton UMC will lead the way forward in the months ahead in Cincinnati, the Ohio Valley region, and beyond.”

Although the appeals committee’s decision once again puts Meredith in jeopardy of losing his ordination as a UMC minister, it also offers a temporary reprieve. As part of its ruling, the committee asked that the case against Meredith not be heard again until after a special meeting of the global United Methodist Church in early 2019 to deal with the question of gay inclusion.

That meeting, which was announced in April 2017, is scheduled to take place from Feb. 23-29, 2019, in St. Louis.

A decision by the UMC to revise its Book of Discipline – which normally happens every four years – to remove or alter the language about homosexuality in its qualifications for ordination could mean the case against Meredith becomes largely moot. If the global church does not act on the language, Meredith will again have to argue why he should not be defrocked.

For his part, Meredith has said he remains hopeful about the ultimate outcome in the case – telling RTV6 after the hearing in Indianapolis that he was going to continue following his calling as a minister for his church.

“I have been in the church for 46 years,” Meredith said. “I wouldn’t have stayed in the United Methodist Church my entire life under the threat of the things that are standing against me if I were not a person of hope. So I am hopeful.”

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