Response to the recent vote by the United Methodist Church to uphold its ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Let me start by reiterating that Indiana University strongly supports the rights of all individuals to marry whomever they wish. We strongly oppose any discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation, as the IU Trustees have repeatedly strongly endorsed as IU policy as recently as June 2018 when the University’s Non-discrimination Policy was last updated. IU provides its faculty and staff with employment benefits whether their spouse is same sex or opposite sex, and we provide a welcoming and accepting educational environment to all students. This is a fundamental value of Indiana University which is why we deplore the recent vote by the United Methodist Church on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy.

But it is important to note that IU is NOT in partnership with the United Methodist Church. In 1997 IU consolidated its three existing hospitals with the Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis to create a new entity, now known as IU Health. The Methodist Hospital was in fact owned and operated by Methodist Health Group. The Methodist Health Group is the other “member” along with IU in the entity now known as IU Health.

At the time of the creation of the now IU Health, the then Governor appointed nine individuals, including Trustee Jim Morris, to a Panel to review the proposed consolidation. That Panel issued a report dated December 22, 1995 in which the Panel concluded that the state assets, specifically those represented by the three hospitals owned and operated by IU, could legally be combined with Methodist Hospital, and that the citizens of the State of Indiana would be best served if the combination occurred.

Importantly, the Panel addressed the issue of whether any Church-State issues would arise from the relationship between Methodist Health Group and the United Methodist Church. The report concluded:

“The Panel has been advised by the parties that the Methodist Health Group is a community benefit organization and not a religious institution. Also, per information supplied by the parties, the Methodist Health Group qualifies as a 501(c )(3) corporation because of its mission to deliver quality health care, research and education, not because of its relationship with the Methodist Church.” (Panel report p. 12).

The Report also stated that:

“CHG [Clarian Health Group as IUH was first named] will NOT be operated in a manner that promotes or inhibits any specific religious denomination.” (Panel report p. 15).

Today the three directors of Methodist Health Group are Judge Sarah Evans Barker, Dan Evans, the former CEO of IU Health, and Bishop Trimble of the United Methodist Church. Bishop Trimble wrote a particularly strong statement opposing the United Methodist Church’s decision as exclusionary and it our understanding that all three Methodist Health Group board members opposed the decision.

The fact that IU Health operates independently of the beliefs of the United Methodist Church is demonstrated by IU Health’s own policy on non-discrimination, which states:

“IU Health shall not discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, genetic information, veteran status, national origin, gender identity and/or expression, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law.”  

It is also important to note that the ban on same sex marriage and LGBT clergy is NOT a change in the position on this issue by the United Methodist Church. It is the same as it was when IU Health was formed in 1997. As was noted in a March 29, 2019, article in the Washington Post:

“When the United Methodist Church voted to uphold its ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy last month, Methodist pastors and churchgoers across America were devastated. A majority of American delegates had voted against the plan, though they were outvoted by more conservative delegates from Africa and other continents.”

The reason many believe there has been a change in position by the United Methodist Church is that a number of US based Methodist Churches had begun to ignore the church rules and were performing same sex marriage ceremonies. The vote upheld the long-standing traditional ban on same sex marriages and LGBT clergy and placed sanctions on ministers performing such ceremonies.

While we abhor the outcome of the recent vote by the United Methodist Church, it seems clear that this is not the final vote on this issue. The same Washington Post article which is entitled, “U.S. Methodist Leaders Lay Plans to Resist Vote Against Same Sex Marriage” describes the efforts of many American United Methodist Church leaders to either force a new vote on the issue or potentially, to split from the United Methodist Church altogether to form a new American Methodist Church. Their plans include withholding funds from the international church structure until they force a new vote in May 2020 when church leaders meet again in Minneapolis which will hopefully finally change this repellent policy.