Gay couple files complaint with Winston-Salem church over failure to marry

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A gay couple at Green Street United Methodist Church has filed a complaint with their bishop charging that their pastor violated church discipline by refusing to preside at a marriage ceremony for them — despite the denomination’s rules that forbid same-sex marriages.

Green Street church planned a press conference Wednesday night to announce the filing of the complaint, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

(Bruce Chapman/Journal) (From left) Scott Chappell, and Kenny Barner watch as the Rev. Kelly Carpenter,Pastor of Green Street United Methodist Church, addresses the crowd during a press conference at the sanctuary of Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Barner and Chappell have filed a formal complaint against Rev. Carpenter for violating the Discipline of the United Methodist Church by refusing to preside over the two men's marriage ceremony.

(Bruce Chapman/Journal)
(From left) Scott Chappell, and Kenny Barner watch as the Rev. Kelly Carpenter,Pastor of Green Street United Methodist Church, addresses the crowd during a press conference at the sanctuary of Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. Barner and Chappell have filed a formal complaint against Rev. Carpenter for violating the Discipline of the United Methodist Church by refusing to preside over the two men’s marriage ceremony.

The church made headlines in 2013 when it announced that it would not conduct marriages for heterosexual couples until the denomination allows pastors to conduct same-sex marriages.

According to the church, Green Street members Kenny Barner and Scott Chappell, describing themselves as a gay couple who have been together for nine years, filed the complaint against their pastor, the Rev. Kelly P. Carpenter.

The complaint was filed with Bishop Larry Goodpaster, who leads the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, of which Green Street is a member.

The two men are charging Carpenter with violating a church discipline that calls on pastors to “be in ministry with all people,” and also are complaining against what they are calling “gender discrimination.”

Carpenter said recently that he believes gay couples should be able to get married in the United Methodist Church, but went on to say that Goodpaster had “made it clear he will enforce the discipline” against same-sex marriage in the church.

In a news release, Green Street church officials said that the denomination’s Book of Discipline calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and forbids the ordaining of “self avowing and practicing homosexuals.”

The United Methodist Church has been divided in recent years over the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. A United Methodist pastor in Pennsylvania was defrocked in 2013 for performing a same-sex marriage ceremony, and later reinstated.

The Rev. Michael Rich, communications manager for the Western North Carolina Conference, said that Goodpaster received the complaint before going to a council of Methodist bishops earlier this month.

“He has initiated a supervisory response,” Rich said. “Because this is a personnel matter, this will have to be done in a confidential manner. Until this process has run its course there will not be a public statement by the bishop.”

The bishop will follow set procedures for handling the complaint, Rich said.

“As the process continues, if there was anything out of line that the pastor had done it could lead to a trial or to further things,” Rich said, emphasizing that such actions, if they occurred at all, would be “at the farthest end” of the process.

Rich said no clergy in the conference has attempted to preside at a same-sex wedding, nor have any church members complained about a pastor for failing to perform them.