c. 2000 Religion News Service

A United Methodist investigative committee has decidednot to bring formal charges against 68 clergy who participated in a 1999California same-sex union ceremony for a lesbian couple.

The committee of the California-Nevada Conference of the UnitedMethodist Church decided not to certify the complaint concerning theJan. 16, 1999 union of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton ``as a chargeproper for trial.''

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert released the decision at a news conferenceFeb. 11 in West Sacramento, Calif. If there had been a trialand the ministers had been found guilty, they faced a range ofpunishments, including dismissal from the clergy.

The decision came after what Talbert called ``unprecedented''hearings for three days in early February that included testimony fromscholars, other experts, and participants in the Sacramento ceremony,including the Rev. Donald Fado, the primary officiant.

The committee, which had to determine whether a trial was necessary,``concluded that the answer required a methodology consistent with ourwhole faith rather than one limited by a narrow focus,'' it said in apreamble to its decision.

The committee acknowledged the differences within the regional bodyof the denomination about the role of gays and lesbians in church life.

``We confess that our differences of opinion have resulted indivision and tension among us, testing the depth of our commitment toour mutual covenant,'' it wrote. ``We recognize our calling to affirmone another as persons of sacred worth, and to live out our belief thateach person is valued in the sight of God.''

The committee cited a 1996 addition to the United Methodist SocialPrinciples that ``ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall notbe conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in ourchurches.'' It also noted that the Judicial Council, the denomination'sequivalent to the Supreme Court, had ruled that violating thatprohibition would make clergy ``liable to a charge of disobedience'' tochurch law, outlined in the Book of Discipline.

But the committee also affirmed the ``value of inclusiveness''within the denomination.

Talbert said he has concluded that ``no further steps or actionswill be taken'' regarding the matter.

``While this particular committee decision may appear to have brokencovenant with the Book of Discipline, there is another more basic andfundamental covenant that has precedence over this one narrow focus oflaw,'' he said.

``It is my humble opinion that the decision of this Committee onInvestigation does reflect the long-standing covenant commitments forinclusiveness and justice of the California-Nevada Annual Conference,within the spirit of our long-standing commitment to Jesus Christ as thepeople called United Methodists.''

Talbert acknowledged that tensions are likely to continue regardingthe role of the church concerning homosexuality.

``The dialogue and the struggle will continue,'' he said. ``In fact,we may never reach agreement around this issue. However, agreement isnot a requirement for people of faith to be in covenant as sisters andbrothers.

Our unity is not in agreement on issues; our unity is in JesusChrist.''