|Chicago minister speaks at UT on same-sex marriage
By Annette Bender
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. The Rev. Gregory Dell, a United Methodist minister from Chicago, recently spoke to University of Tennessee students on "The Controversy Over Same- Sex Unions and the Church."
A pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church, Dell told students that he is following his ordination vows by offering the same ministries to all persons, including marriage, regardless of their sexuality. About one-third of Broadway's 220 members are gay or lesbian.
A United Methodist pastor for 32 years, Dell was invited by the university's Issues Committee to address students on Oct. 22. About 250 attended, including four students from the Wesley Foundation.
Edee Vaughan, UT assistant director of student activities, said Dell was invited after she heard him speak two years ago at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Vaughan suggested Dell as one of eight lecturers for the Issue Committee's fall 2002 season.
"The students choose issues that they think are pertinent to campus, and then they vote to bring the speakers in," Vaughan said.
In 1999, Dell was charged with disobedience by the United Methodist Church for officiating at a same-sex ceremony for two members of his congregation. He was suspended for a year, then reappointed to the Chicago church in 2000. Dell told students that a 1996 statement by the denomination, forbidding ministers to conduct same-sex weddings, conflicts with his "commitment to be in ministry to all persons."
"Greg, you go in there and minister to those queers and be sure you take their money and invite them to participate in the church," said Dell, explaining how he interpreted the church's stance. "But you are to refuse that ministry of the church [marriage] to them. You can do it for anyone else, but not for them."
Church officials were aware of Broadway's large gay and lesbian membership when Dell was first appointed there in 1995, he said. In 1996, delegates to the General Conference added to the church's Social Principles (paragraph 65C) the sentence, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
"Most people would say that marriage is an affirmation of a very special relationship of not only love but commitment," Dell told the audience at University Center Auditorium. "The question is, to whom should that be restricted?"
During a question-and-answer session, students queried Dell from varying perspectives. Following one audience member's citation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Dell said, "If I've got to believe every word without interpretation, then I've got to start looking for gay men to kill."
Asking the student to review Leviticus 20:9 "Anyone who curses his mother or father shall be put to death" - Dell added, "I'm going to have to kill two-thirds of you before you leave today."
"This is a dangerous book if it's used to club people," Dell said, holding up the Bible. "It's a wonderful book if it's used as a window to the truth."
Asked by one student why he didn't leave his denomination, Dell said, "I really am a United Methodist. I love the tradition. However, if [the church] should say that no self-avowed homosexual can hold an office, I can't stay in the denomination, because I can't find a loophole."
Dell told audience members early in his presentation that he is married with one grown son, a daughter-in-law and grandchild. He said his church still commemorates samesex unions, using a loophole in which couples exchange vows first without the minister. Later, couples repeat their vows during a worship service.
Commenting on his congregation's demographics, Dell also said that half of students in his confirmation class have heterosexual parents. The other half are adopted children of gay or lesbian parents.
At a reception following his presentation, Dell said the audience was "respectful" and "thoughtful."
The Wesley Foundation announced the Issues Committee program through its Sunday bulletins, according to the Rev. Lauri Jo Whitehead.