Questions Remain After Bishops Address United Methodist Church's Anti-LGBTQI Policies

As spirit-filled protests and demonstrations of support for LGBTQI people fill the halls of the United Methodist Church's General Conference in Portland, the Council of Bishops that serves the denomination has put forward a historic proposal that will be considered by the gathered delegates before the Conference ends on May 20.

The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline currently bans same-sex marriages and non-celibate gay clergy.

In addition, a 1972 motion declares that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching." Changes to the denomination's Book of Discipline are considered every four years by delegates from around the world at General Conference. In 2012, proposed changes to these anti-LGBTQI policies were voted down by the gathered delegates.  

In anticipation of this year's gathering, 111 United Methodist clergy and faith leaders came out as LGBTQI to their denomination, writing a courageous "love letter" to their church that spoke of their call to serve in ministry and their commitment to remaining in covenant with their denomination.

Three days later, 500 LGBTQI Christian leaders from contexts across the United States and the world published a letter of solidarity, offering support for their Methodist siblings as well as prayers for inclusion and justice within the United Methodist Church. Four days later, 1,500 United Methodist clergy and 1,100 religious leaders from across faith traditions pledged support as allies for their LGBTQI colleagues in ministry. 

Now, nearly 5,000 United Methodist lay members have also pledged support for LGBTQI clergy serving in their denomination. 

Tension has grown since the 2012 General Conference as LGBTQI people have come out to their faith communities and shared their stories of pain, exclusion, and spiritual harm at the hands of the United Methodist Church. Allies to LGBTQI people have risked their ordination credentials by performing same-sex marriages. In 2013, Rev. Frank Schaefer was convicted and defrocked by the denomination for officiating the wedding of his son, Tim, to his same-sex partner.

In an unprecedented move, the delegates gathered at this year's General Conference sought guidance from the Council of Bishops, a body of clergy that is elected to serve as spiritual leaders for the denomination. The Council of Bishops attend and preside over General Conference, "but [they] do not vote and cannot speak without permission from the delegates."

In response to rumors of splits within the denomination, today's statement from the Council of Bishops calls for unity that would allow a "variety of expressions to co-exist in one church."

The bishops also suggest that delegates "defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality."

The statement mentions but stops short of suggesting measures to protect LGBTQ people and allies from discipline during the proposed process of discernment.

In addition, LGBTQI people and allies continue to push leaders and delegates at General Conference to remember that the debates at hand are not about an issue, but rather, are about the people who are most impacted by the denomination's anti-LGBTQI policies.

Advocate Dorothee Benz responds

While today's statement from the Council of Bishops suggests that the United Methodist Church is hearing the stories and experiences of LGBTQI people, it remains unclear whether delegates will overturn their denomination's exclusionary policies before the end of this year's General Conference.

UPDATE (5/19/16): Delegates voted in favor of the Bishops' proposal to create a commission to examine the Book of Discipline's stance on "human sexuality." The timeline of the commission's report remains unclear. Read Reconciling Ministries Network's statement in response. 

Photo via Reconciling Ministries Network

Comments (6)

Continuous prayers rising for justice and grace for ALL of Godde's people, not just for some.

We are judging others as God has not given us authority to do, Jesus walked among all people, accepted them, and chastised those who thought they were above others, for whatever reason. We do not belong in anyone's bedroom but our own, and it's not our place to discuss whether another's love is pure. We are acting self-righteous and foolish and will turn our youth, who can see as Jesus did, against the church.

I want to thank Believe Outloud for their coverage of our General Conference and for all your prayers and support!!! Please keep the prayers and good thoughts coming.

I think our problem is we are looking into the Book of Discipline and not into The Holy Bible. God's Word is final. From he beginning to the end of the Bible LGBTQ lifestyles are sinful! If we teach our children that this is acceptable behavior, we are taking them from God's Word, and woe to those who do so. God loves, but He is not a patsy. He is Yahweh, and should be revered and awed by all.

Hi Susan-
I agree with looking at the Holy Bible and not following the work of mankind who create "guidelines". However, the Holy Bible does not state that LGBTQ lifestyles or committed same sex relationships are sinful. The word Homosexuality didn't exist in the Bible and was made up and put in the Bible in the 1800s. Contextually, it was written during Greco- Roman times when pedastry, orgy, and temple prostitution was rampant, self-seeking lust and temple idolatry and violating gender roles (male= masculine, powerful) female=property, submissive). Keep in mind, historically- interpretation of the Bible has been used in many ways to to enslave Native Americans, discriminate against African Americans, and restrict women from voting/ leadership. We have evolved to know those teachings are no longer healthy and valid today. That's why its called the Living Word. We are not teaching children that LGBTQ lifestyles are sinful, but that all humans are created in God's image and therefore it is reflected in a diverse group of people. There is scientific evidence that 1 in 1,000 people are intersex, and many people who identify as LGBTQ say they were born that way or knew early in life. Look at what Jesus says about the eunuchs (they were considered outcasts in society because they weren't really male or female). Eunuchs were not only castrated men, but effeminate men and men who refused to have sex to procreate with females- (Matthew 19:11-12 "Jesus replied...For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made by others- and there are those who chose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom...) What is sinful is chastising and shaming God's children who feel they were born perfectly in God's image as they are- LGBTQ or heterosexual.

I think that rather than just "kicking the can down the road," that the plan here is to let the inertia make change happen. The problem the United Methodist Church has, of course, is that unlike our Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran, etc. Brothers and sisters, the UMC has a strong minority of fundamentalists led by the sleazy political preachers of the deceptively-labeled "Renewal" movement. Generally their influence is confined to particular suburban churches and the cult within the UMC of Walk to Emmaus. But that ain't no cheap meat. They are backed by megadonors and actively pursuing their agenda of hate. The best thing for us would be if they all left the UMC. They don't want to do this because it would deprive them of the joy they receive in denying rights to LGTBQIs and to women they deem as not as good as themselves. However, if they left, youth in their fundamentalist churches would be less likely to fund a sympathetic ear from those of us in the UMC who affirm them. It's a conundrum.

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