By Erik Alsgaard
The Board of Ordained Ministry of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, meeting last month, recommended Tara “T.C.” Morrow for commissioning as a Provisional Deacon. Morrow is a woman married to another woman.
The Board is making public what is normally a confidential personnel matter in an effort to be as transparent and open as possible, according to its chair, the Rev. Charles Parker.
Both Parker and the Board are fully aware that the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church states that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve” in the church (¶304.3).
The church further states in ¶2702.1(b) that being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” is a chargeable offense that could result in a clergy person being placed on trial and losing their credentials.
“Two people of the same gender being married or living together is a basis for investigation,” Parker said, “not a basis for a decision,” citing ruling 1263 of the Judicial Council – the church’s version of the United States Supreme Court.
“Self-avowed” is defined by the Book of Discipline (footnote 1 for ¶304.3) where a person has “openly acknowledged to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee on ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.”
In the case of Morrow, he said, “we all know that she is married. We can make assumptions, but we don’t tend to question candidates on their specific sexual practices whether they are hetero or homosexual.” Parker said that he believes the Board is on “solid disciplinary grounds.”
A statement from the Board notes that they, the annual conference, and The United Methodist Church “are not of one mind on the issue of ordination of LGBTQ individuals, and that our Judicial Council has issued multiple rulings regarding ordination and the definition of ‘self-avowed, practicing homosexuals’ that create further ambiguity. We therefore affirm the right and responsibility of all Board members to engage in holy conferencing during deliberations and to vote their conscience following a fair examination of all candidates.”
Parker, who serves as senior pastor at Metropolitan Memorial UMC in Washington, D.C., said that the Board engaged in a process with and for Morrow that sought to rid itself of the denomination’s “unhealthy ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ model,” and create a spirit of openness and honesty in the Board’s deliberations. “We have sought to be faithful to a more Wesleyan model of what it means to be church, in which people of differing opinions can be open and faithful in their process of Holy Conferencing,” Parker said.
In January, Morrow came forward for her Board of Ordained Ministry exam. To get to that point, she first had to be approved by her District Board of Ordained Ministry. Morrow is a member of Foundry UMC on the Greater Washington District and employed by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, based in Washington.
The BWC Board of Ordained Ministry consists of 54 people, both clergy and lay. Members of the Board are appointed by the bishop to serve four-year terms; members may serve no more than two terms. The Board elects its own officers.
As with all candidates, Morrow had to submit a Bible study, a sermon and other written materials. Board members read each candidate’s materials and create a “profile” of each candidate, Parker said. That profile is compiled by a member of the Board.
Morrow’s “profiler” was the Rev. Janet Craswell, chair of the Order of Deacons for the BWC and on staff at Metropolitan Memorial UMC. It is only after the profile is considered that a candidate is invited to the full Board exam, Craswell said, and not every candidate who comes forward is invited for an exam.
During the exam, Parker said, leadership was clear that Morrow was married to another woman. This was an effort, Parker said, to again be “honest and transparent with one another.”
“We didn’t ignore the Book of Discipline,” Parker said. “We had meaty conversations. Our board has differing feelings about homosexuality. What our Board did was a wonderful combination of respecting the authority we have and harkening back to what Wesleyan theological debate looks like.
“People of good faith should be able to differ,” Parker added.
With same-gender marriage a civil right across the country, Parker said the Board knew that one day they would have LGBTQ candidates come forward who were married. With that in mind, and knowing that Morrow was in the candidacy process, the Board brought in JustPeace to facilitate conversations about homosexuality and the Discipline before she arrived. That full-day conversation took place last November.
“That conversation was actually extremely holy,” Parker said, noting that people with differing viewpoints felt heard and acknowledged. “We felt a lot of the Holy Spirit work happening.”
JustPeace, the Center for Mediation and Conflict Transformation of The United Methodist Church, began in May 1999 as an off-shoot of the General Council on Finance and Administration. Based in Washington, it acts as third-party facilitators for resolving conflict.
In order for a candidate to be recommended by BoOM to the full clergy session, that person must receive at least 75 percent of the vote. Parker did not reveal the exact vote in favor of recommendation.
The board’s recommendation will go forward to the clergy executive session meeting on June 1, during the Annual Conference Session. Both Parker and Craswell said that they have never witnessed a clergy executive session turning down a candidate that the Board recommends.
Bishop Marcus Matthews chairs the clergy executive session, but does not have a vote. He can only rule on the suitability of a candidate if a question is raised during the clergy session or during Annual Conference.
“I hope the vote will be favorable,” Parker said. “I hope every clergy member will vote their conscience.”