from “Anthem”, by Leonard Cohen

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Hopefully, this blog will become a forum for compassionate responses to the seemingly unending feud within the United Methodist Church around the issues of homosexuality.

As life would have it, I now have a “front row seat” to this strange, tragic drama.

On July 8, 2013 I received a registered letter from my bishop.
He wrote that he had “received a written, signed formal complaint” against me.

The complaint is based on a sentence I had written in a previous letter, widely circulated, but addressed to Bishop Webb, in which I state -

“I have officiated at several weddings
 for brothers and sisters
who are lesbian or gay.”

The bishop’s letter to me continued,

“Engaging in this practice is in contradiction
to the 2012 Book of Discipline
paragraph, 2702”

And so, this blog intends to share, report, and reflect something of my own journey as I grapple with the structures of the United Methodist Church. I hope it will be as helpful for those of you who log on here, as I expect it will be cathartic for me to write here.

On August 1, 2013, I travel to Syracuse to meet with Bishop Webb and the one who submitted a charge against me at 2:00 pm. The purpose of our meeting will be to discover if a course of reconciliation can be found.

If no resolution can be found, Bishop Webb will either dismiss the charge or submit the case to the next level of judicial authority.

I am as ready and prepared as I can be for our initial meeting next week.

I will tell you (on this blog) what happens then. As long as my case is relevant, I will continue to report about it with as much transparency as possible.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

One more thing.

Some have suggested that my ventures with Bishop Webb and the Rev. Richard Barton (who brought the complaint) are reminiscent of the battle between David and Goliath.

I suppose they mean to cast me in the role of David, the underdog.
 (I don't think I have to tell you who gets to play Goliath!)

I believe they are trying to say -

                      "Stay strong. Trust God.  Don't be afraid.
                       Speak truth to power until the powerful fall.
                       You never know what God can do, . . . and so on"
I truly appreciate their support.
They mean well.

Yet, they miss the deeper truth.
My real adversary is not one of the others in the room.
We are all on the same side - all of us seeking justice,
                all of us seeking God's direction.

Our struggle is truly not with each other, but rather with Goliath itself - those spiritual forces of evil which rule over all of us, undermine the authority of God's Spirit, and create havoc in our midst - 

                and when it comes to understanding homosexuality,
   those dark powers condemn our beloved community
           to a perpetual state of duplicity,
                helplessness, and fear.

Regardless what happens with Webb, Barton, Heiss and company, until we find a way to end Goliath's reign in our hearts and the hearts of our beloved community, Goliath will continue to undo us.


  1. Other than offering friendly support, I'm wondering how else I can help. I'm sure there are other folks who feel the same. If the charges do not get dismissed, Steve's supporters may need to start a grassroots movement to offer help. Is there anything already in the works? I guess we should await the next update from the meeting before we start organizing. - elly

  2. Though it seems you have equality, justice, and now even public sentiment on your side, I'm sure this can not be an easy time. Through it all, I hope you take great pride; not just for your tightly held belief of what is right, but for putting it on the line to defend those beliefs. History will no doubt be kind to you and those who have so vigilantly supported the cause. Best wishes on this journey, we love you.

  3. Steve, our thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for your courage and honesty.

  4. Steve, I support you performing these weddings. My local church has many members, from other denominations, who joined our UMC because their old churches routinely preached on the "abomination" of the gay community, where we are instructed to be tolerant and loving. I also think our next step is to change our policy on marriage.

    However, you will need Bishop Webb on your side to effect any kind of change, and he is a faithful, humble man with many years of superior service in the York District of what is now the Susquehanna Conference. Your choice to publicly confront him with your actions against the Book of Discipline was pretty aggressive. When did you start performing these ceremonies? I think Bishop Park was with you until the end of July/early August 2012? But you addressed Bishop Webb, so your decision to marry these couples (again, in my opinion deserving couples) must have been made within the past 12 months...

    I wish you wouldn't refer to him as "Webb" in your closing paragraph. Our brothers and sisters spent 5 days at the Northeast Jurisdictional Conference in WV vetting Episcopacy candidates, and decided Rev. Webb was worthy of the title "Bishop". He was subsequently assigned to your Conference and Bishop Park was assigned to Susquehanna's. You should try to make Bishop Webb an ally, instead of ambushing him...he is a very wise man. I don't know the minister who brought charges, and I'm happy about that, but I do know Bishop Webb. If you have a plan to change the status quo, he will listen with an open mind. He is your Bishop as voted on by delegates from a regional conference, and he deserves your respect although he is new to you and forced to mediate your agenda in his first year as Bishop.

    I do pray for you that there is a reconciliation/resolution on August 1st. You are a pioneer in an important issue. I have many friends who will head to Syracuse to support you, but I will be stuck home praying constantly that progress will be made, and some personalities will be subdued. I will pray you get a positive outcome, or the chance to explore and develop the gay marriage issue further. You are speaking for a new demographic of Christians who haven't felt particularly welcomed anywhere. Wishing you well...

  5. Steve,

    You have my complete and total support. My father would be proud of you for not only the steps that you are taking; but more importantly, the way in which you are focusing on justice and not blaming others. You are a living example of my favorite quote...

    "The time is always right, to do what is right."
    - Martin Luther King, Jr.


  6. Thanks for your thoughtful words, Steve, particularly for the re-casting of the matter.

    In my view, the Spirit of God is using this matter as a long workshop on Grace for the UMC, one where we will need, more than ever, to get closer to our Wesleyan roots.

    The issue is not the disagreement, but rather the way we have chosen to engage it, which involves demonizing on both sides and (very important) exclusionary law-making from the side which holds legislative power in the church.

    We are hostage to a power/principality that cleverly uses our best intentions to be faithfuyl to effectively keep us from Grace and Love, which are, of course, above the law.

    While some pray for the time when we all come to an agreement on this matter, my prayer is that, instead, we come to a time where Grace and Love prevail over our very temporary beliefs (an honest reading Church HIstory is very useful here).

    This will need that we stop legislating against each other. While we all have much to learn and grow, the side that holds legislative power at this time holds a powerful key to unleash Grace by letting go of the element of arrogance that tarnishes their faithfulness. This would involve a Jesus-like emptying (kenosis) of power and privilege. I suspect that if the tables were turned, the same would be true for the opposing side.

    Right now, conversations around this matter in the UMC cannot be considered a dialogue, unless one understands the interaction between an unarmed person and a person with a deadly weapon a dialogue.

    Jorge Lockward

  7. Steve, I write this as a brother pastor, one whose heart is with yours. Through the past 52 years since my ordination the issues of justice and mercy have met me bridging each of the 9 appointments. Civil Rights, Women's Equality, Vietnam, Economic issues, Environmental, and Gender Justice. My last parish was the Reconciling Community of Riverside UMC, Elmira.

    Each took a turn and I believed needed a prophetic/pastoral word and witness. I am not one to judge how effective I was, but I knew in my heart I needed to do something. I learned some lessons along the way, which might have to be the subject of a book, or library.

    Here are a few, some mentioned by those in this Blog. Having just read the Autobiography of Nelson Mandela... "Mandela's Way- 15 Lessons on Life, Love and Courage", I see his wisdom useful to your situation.

    One, don't presume who is a friend and who is an opponent ... often they are one in the same. Resist, a temptation of casting others in a camp which suggesting firm opposites, good and evil, black and white. In this life there is truth and falsehood, goodness and evil, and one that we must fight for or against. There is something however about the analogy of David and Goliath which says to me:"Whoa, caution here"

    Two, Namaste... see how the divine in the other meets the divine in you. There is no room nor a place for a demon here.

    Three, language and respect are qualities with great power in our arsenal of dialogue and conferencing. Don't allow a careless word or expression (such as Webb) suggest less than the high regard and honor you afford others, including the Bishop.

    Four, do not forget the long term nature of the struggle, and the price which is often required. Attend to your spiritual core.

    Five, Do not forget your sense of humor, laugh, even at yourself,from time to time.

    Final Do not resist the Nudge of the Spirit Holy. Be not afraid of being creative, and trust your head, your heart and even your butt.

    Don't forget, there more hearts and souls out here than you are aware of, praying in your support.

    Pastor Don Hoff- Retired UMC

  8. I offer my moral support, but I think the core issue here is how much the UMC charge is a "representative democracy" and how much latitude be given to ministers in doing what they feel personally is right in the eyes of god.

    If a minister has strong personal convictions but then an annual conference meeting resolves something 180 degrees from those convictions, what next? There is a broader context to this concern.