Recent wrangling among Episcopalians over the ordination of a gay bishop has reignited debate about the proper place for gays within the church. But well before this latest controversy, there was the story of Jimmy Creech, a minister in the United Methodist Church who was stripped of his credentials of ordination after celebrating the holy union of two men.
That was in 1999, and although Creech is no longer an ordained minister, he hasn’t stopped fighting against what he calls “bigotry disguised as religious truth.”
As director of community service for the furniture manufacturer Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Creech is responsible for managing the company’s charitable giving, which includes providing corporate sponsorship to organizations such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. While Creech earns his living through Mitchell Gold, the position has also afforded him the time to found and serve as volunteer executive director for Faith In America (FIA), a nonprofit organization that works to eliminate religious-based bigotry against gay, lesbian, bisexual , and transgender (GLBT) people.
Creech started FIA in December 2005. Since then, he has launched a media campaign designed to promote acceptance of GLBT people and to educate Americans about how religious-based discrimination has been targeted at other minority groups in the past. So far, the campaign has appeared in seven cities across the country.
Although Creech has always cared about social justice, for many years he was, he says, a homophobe. At Duke Divinity School, he involved himself with the major issues of the day, protesting Vietnam and supporting civil rights. But it wasn’t until 1984, when he was a pastor in North Carolina, that he began to accept GLBT people.
The change came after a member of his congregation revealed to Creech that he was gay. “Because of his integrity and dignity and strong moral character, I had to rethink my attitude,” Creech says. After doing biblical and historical research, Creech concluded that the church’s views on homosexuality were bigoted and wrong. “For the church to have integrity and truly be able to speak about God’s unconditional love, it had to purge itself of bigotry.”
Starting in 1987, Creech began publicly challenging church teachings on homosexuality. Three years later, he celebrated a same-gender union for the first time and, over the next decade, performed a dozen more. (These were religious, not legal, proceedings. In most states, same-sex marriage and civil unions are not recognized by law, and at the time no states recognized either.) In 1996, however, the United Methodist Church passed legislation preventing its clergy from conducting same-sex unions (no policy had existed on the matter before). Creech informed his bishop that he would conduct unions regardless. The next year, while senior pastor at a church in Omaha, he celebrated the union of two women.
Creech was charged with violating the “Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church.” In the church trial that followed, he was acquitted. The next year he stood trial again, for celebrating the union of two men in Chapel Hill. This time, the jury found against him, and Creech’s credentials were taken away.
Out of a job, Creech accepted invitations to speak around the country and started working part-time at Whole Foods Market in Raleigh. He accepted the Mitchell Gold position in fall 2005, handling its charitable-giving programs during the week and working on the media campaign over weekends.
This year, FIA’s media campaign is spreading, with plans to move into four new states, including Iowa and New Hampshire. Creech, who lives with his wife in Raleigh and has two grown children, says he has no regrets about his past. He didn’t want to be ordained, Creech says, “just so I could say I was ordained.” He says that what he is doing now is the way he can contribute most to the institution he served for so long.
Jimmy Creech, M.Div. '70
Working to eliminate bigotry
April 1, 2007