A religious watchdog organization says the recent unauthorized ordination ceremony for a lesbian and another woman who champions homosexual rights is evidence of the theological tailspin plaguing the historic United Methodist Church in Maryland.
Last month, a so-called "extraordinary ordination" was held at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Baltimore. Organizers said the ceremony was sponsored by the Church Within A Church Movement, a Methodist group which bills itself as being the "inclusive church" and plants churches with the objective of providing ministry opportunities for "sexual minorities." Annie Britton and Jenna Zirbel were "ordained" on Sunday, October 19. Britton is legally married to her partner in Massachusetts, and Zirbel says she had been denied ordination previously because of her stated support of "gay and lesbian people in the church."
United Methodist Church (UMC) officials noted the ceremony was unauthorized. Mark Tooley with The Institute on Religion & Democracy believes organizers have a clear agenda.
"The Church Within A Church Movement is hoping that they are doing what the church as a whole will be doing in the near future," he contends. "I am more hopeful that the church, having said no, will continue to say no to the acceptance of openly homosexual clergy."
Tooley believes the denomination will eventually have to deal with the issue at its General Conference.
A retired Methodist bishop who participated in the ordination ceremony says those who stand against ordination of homosexuals are misreading scripture. "For too long, " said Bishop Susan Morrison, "selective reading of the Bible has meant that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their supporters have been excluded and punished for their honesty when they reject the 'don't ask, don't tell' practices of the church."