In the UMC, if someone is thought to have violated the order and discipline rules of the church, a complaint can be filed against that person. It then goes before an investigation committee, and if they believe that the complaint is valid, then it is converted into a charge and goes to a trial.
News reports about the ceremony appeared in papers the day after you conducted the ceremony and an official complaint was filed immediately. How did your congregation react?
There was some immediate support. There was also a reaction from some people in the congregation who objected and were very offended. They began a process of retaliation by withholding their contributions to the church. The people in protest had the louder voice in the very beginning. The congregation, by and large, was caught off guard by this reaction, I think, and it took about a month for those who were supportive to overcome the negative impact of the protest.
Were you surprised at your acquittal?
I was. I believed in my responsibility as a pastor to provide support and care to this couple, but I felt that because it was unprecedented and because we don't have trials in the UMC except on very rare occasions, the jury would probably be afraid to acquit me. I thought they would convict me, knowing that I would appeal and go on to a higher court where the decision could be made. Politically, I thought it was going to be hard for them to vote for acquittal.
Have you considered leaving the Methodist church?
I don't think I could help the church change if I left it. It would be convenient for me, perhaps, and easy for me to be a part of a church that was open to all people regardless of sexual orientation and was truly affirming. But to leave is, I think, self-serving at this point.
When did you first become an advocate for gay equality within the Methodist church?
The moment when I woke up and stepped out of the Ice Age into the sunshine was in 1984, when the General Conference voted to prohibit the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals." A man who was a member of the church that I was serving in North Carolina came to me without an appointment and said, "I'm withdrawing my membership in this church, because I can't belong to a church that considers me to be unworthy to be a minister." He didn't necessarily want to be a minister, but if he had, he and others like him could not be. They would be condemned.
Do you have any advice for people who remain frustrated with the Methodist church's position on gay marriage?
Do the right thing, do what has integrity, do what needs to be done, do what is just and fair and compassionate. There will be negative consequences, but your actions will bear the fruit of positive change in the future. I would hope that GLBT persons in all churches would demand to be treated fairly, to be allowed to have full participation. I think the greatest political power that any gay person has is to let it be known that they are gay or lesbian. That facilitates more change than any sermon, any reading, any action anybody else can take.