Some 200 United Methodist clergy of the church's Northern Illinois Conference have pledged to bless same-sex unions in violation of the church's policy on the matter, doing so despite the risk of suspension or defrocking.
The Northern Illinois clergy's declaration comes fast on the heels of a Wisconsin pastor, the Rev. Amy DeLong of Osceola, being found guilty of overseeing a 2009 lesbian union in a church trial last week. She was also found not guilty of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual." DeLong was punished with a 20-day suspension, a sentence that she said will not dissuade her from continuing to officiate same-sex unions.
Earlier in the month, the clergy took their initial vote to end discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and announced they would send petitions to that effect to next year's global gathering, according to the Windy City Times. Methodist clergy in other states, including Minnesota, New York and the New England region, according to the Boston Globe, have also taken similar actions in recent weeks.
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, pro-LGBT United Methodist clergy in Northern Illinois were emboldened by the state's recent passage of civil union legislation, as well as DeLong's trial, the latest in a series of punishments for church clergy blessing gay and lesbian relationships.
"Unfortunately the church has lost its prophetic voice on this issue," the Rev. Gregory Gross, a deacon, told the Tribune. "Our civil society has taken the lead. Now the church is trying to catch up."
The conference's bishop, Hee-Soo Jung, earlier in the month applauded the Illinois legislature and Governor Pat Quinn for approving the civil union legislation and called for "patience, respect, grace and a willingness to struggle together as we hold one another in prayer and community" as the church goes forward in reconciling clear divisions on the matter within their ranks.
The United Methodist Church is the largest U.S. mainline denomination and the nation's second largest Protestant church, ranking behind only the Southern Baptist Convention. The last time the church took up the matter of approving same-sex unions in 2008, it was voted down 501-417. The issue is expected to be back on the table in next year's international conference, which will be held in Tampa, Fla.