A Just Resolution
has been achieved in the complaint against the Rev. Dr. Larry Sonner. It was announced by Bishop Julius C. Trimble in a Pastoral Letter on January 29, 2015
. “This Just Resolution,” he said, “is an attempt to honor our disciplinary process, maintain accountability, and seek a deeper, more prayerful, listening to each other and, most of all, to God.”
A formal complaint was filed by the Appointive Cabinet - the Superintendents of the Iowa Conference - after Dr. Sonner disclosed that he officiated at a same-gender wedding. The ceremony took place on October 18, 2014 in West Des Moines and was not conducted in a United Methodist church. Dr. Sonner reported his action to Bishop Trimble a week after the wedding and the Cabinet’s filing of the formal complaint followed on November 11, 2014.
In his Pastoral Letter of November 20, 2014
, Bishop Trimble noted that a formal complaint against a clergyperson, when accused of violating the sacred trust of The United Methodist Church, results in that person’s membership of his or her ministerial office being subject to review. "This review that begins with the bishop...shall have as its primary purpose a Just Resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Christ." (2012 Book of Discipline
, ¶ 363) In that Letter the Bishop asked Iowa’s United Methodists to consider “What does it mean for us to fully claim our identities as followers of Jesus Christ during this prolonged season of disagreement regarding same-gender weddings, biblical interpretation, and what constitutes full inclusion?” He also invited people to join him in “a season of prayer as the supervisory response to Rev. Sonner’s action is directed toward a Just Resolution.”
Over the course of the intervening months Dr. Sonner, joined by his representative, Rev. Bill Cotton met with Bishop Trimble, Assistant to the Bishop for Administration Rev. Bill Poland, and the members of the Appointive Cabinet. The steps of the Administrative Fair Process, as outlined in the 2012 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church
were followed. “This review shall have as its primary purpose,” according to the Discipline
, “a Just Resolution of any violations of this sacred trust (ordination and membership in an Annual Conference) and hope that God’s work of justice, reconciliation and healing maybe realized in the body of Christ.” The Discipline
continues, describing a Just Resolution as “one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bring healing to all the parties.” (¶ 363.1)
To achieve a Just Resolution the supervisory process may include mediation to reach “an agreement satisfactory to all parties.” Bishop Trimble noted, in his January 29, 2015 Pastoral Letter, “We are blessed to have leadership trained in Christian mediation in our Conference, including members of the current Appointive Cabinet.” The statement of the Just Resolution added, “The Appointive Cabinet willingly entered into a process of discernment that is an adaption of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s Mediation Process.” The statement continues, “Together we, the Appointive Cabinet and the Rev. Dr. Larry W. Sonner commit ourselves to a processes where persons can feel safe, valued, and heard.”
In the Just Resolution document all the involved parties said, “we are not of the same mind on the matter of human sexuality.” There is a recognition that “United Methodists as a diverse people continue to strive for consensus in understanding the gospel. In our diversity, we are held together by a shared inheritance and a common desire to participate in the creative and redemptive activity of God.” (¶105.4 – Our Theological Task)
The Appointive Cabinet and Dr. Sonner made a joint commitment “to work together toward perfection in our study, leadership and engagement on the issue of human sexuality.”
The Just Resolution includes the following:
- Rev. Dr. Larry Sonner has been blessed to be a blessing throughout his long tenure as a United Methodist pastor. The Appointive Cabinet recognizes that Rev. Sonner conducted a same-gender wedding out of his moral, ethical, and theological convictions and that he believes withholding marriage, as part of the full ministry of the church is wrong. As an Appointive Cabinet we continue to affirm Dr. Sonner as a beloved child of God;
- Dr. Sonner has expressed his understanding of the harm that has been inflicted by the church upon the LGBTQ community by not allowing the marriages of same-sex couples. Dr. Sonner will be available for holy conversations with persons who are not in agreement with his action of officiating at a same-gender wedding ceremony in order to understand the feelings of those who do not hold his theological position on human sexuality.
- As a result of these holy conversations Dr. Sonner will articulate in written form and in a fair manner the hurt that was inflicted upon those who hold that the Book of Discipline expresses a faithful reading of scripture when he officiated at a wedding of a same-gender couple. This written form will include his own understanding of the harm that has been inflicted by the church upon LGBTQ community by not allowing the marriages of same-sex couples. The goal is the awareness that the grace of God in Jesus Christ can be faithfully held in opposing beliefs on the matter of same-gender marriage.
- The Appointive Cabinet will offer their time and presence to a group, such as Do No Harm, who will facilitate safe ways for them to hear from out LGBTQ persons in general and clergypersons in particular as to:
- What it is like being a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or queer person;
- How being such a person feels in the United Methodist Church and in this Conference; and
- How they experience harm from the Church.
- The Appointive Cabinet encourages Dr. Sonner to join others who seek to change The Book of Discipline by the method described in Our Theological Task, a method of faithful and passionate patience and forbearance through our ways of amending and revising our shared covenant as expressed in The Book of Discipline.
- Dr. Sonner agrees to meet on a regular basis with his Conference Superintendent concerning his progress on the requests listed above.
“One of the early prayers and initial responses to the formal complaint was that we would be “perfected in Christ love
” and engage, rather than ignore, the difficulties the current conflict between what is prohibited in our Book of Discipline
and what is legal and celebrated in Iowa,” Bishop Trimble wrote in his January 2015 Pastoral Letter. “The reactions to same-gender marriages and relationships and the serious subject of covenant accountability to church polity remind me, “he added, “of a Nigerian proverb: “Children of the same mother do not always agree!
The Bishop observed, “When I was consecrated Bishop, I promised to work to uphold the unity of the Church. I believe that unity has, as its foundation, our love of God and neighbor. I also believe we can have unity of heart and not necessarily all be of one mind.”
The Just Resolution of the formal complaint against Dr. Sonner “is an attempt to honor our disciplinary process, maintain accountability, and seek a deeper, more prayerful, listening to each other and, most of all, to God,” Bishop Trimble wrote, and “while this Just Resolution is a response to a specific complaint, it recognizes the division of our church on the issue of human sexuality.” He concluded, “I also believe we can have unity of heart and not necessarily all be of one mind.”