United Methodist Church’s “Way Forward” Erases LGBTQI People

by Dr . Dorothee Benz

Last Wednesday the executive committee of The United Methodist Church Council of Bishops announced that they had sent out invitations to the people they hoped would constitute the special commission formed at General Conference to discuss the vexing issue of whether and how the church will continue to discriminate against LGBTQI people.

Lots of people have already pointed out that the commission is inexcusably skewed towards institutional power.

The commission will include eight bishops, 13 additional clergy, and only eight lay people.

This is rightly seen as a slap in the face of lay people, who, after all, constitute the vast majority of the church; who keep it afloat with their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness; and most importantly, who do not have to fear reprisals when speaking truth to power in the church, and who do not have personal economic interest in the status quo.

A commission dominated by bishops is a recipe for more of the same cowardice, equivocation, and institutional self-preservation that has characterized the Council.

But there is an even more fundamental problem here. This commission, typically euphemistically named “Commission on the Way Forward,” was constituted expressly and solely to deal with the issue of how The United Methodist Church treats LGBTQI people.

Yet, once again, LGBTQI people are not even mentioned by name.

This is not an auspicious beginning, to say the least, for a body that will consider whether the existing anti-queer hate language calling us “incompatible with Christian teaching” should be removed from the Book of Discipline; whether LGBTQI people called by God to ordained ministry will continue to be rejected by the church, forced to wound themselves by staying closeted or face threats, complaints, charges, and trials if they are honest; whether faithful LGBTQI United Methodists will continue to be denied ministry when they seek to have their covenantal relationships blessed by their pastors; whether, when those pastors offer such ministry, they will continue to face threats, complaints, charges, and trials; whether clergy will continue to have the right to deny membership to LGBTQI people; and whether the church continues to bar church funds from being used to defend our human rights.

The fact that the Council has never described these rules and restrictions against us as discrimination, which is plainly what they are, is a problem.

Just as troubling is that the bishops don’t think it’s important to indicate whether they have invited any LGBTQI people to join the commission. Their press release speaks of creating a commission “representative of our global connection and theological diversity,” but somehow representation of the class of people whose status in the church is being debated does not warrant mention.

We are not named, our oppression is not acknowledged, and our voice is not sought.

At the very outset of a process that is supposed to move the church “forward,” what we have here instead is a continuation of 44 years of being legislated about but never negotiated with.

Conservatives in the church feign bewilderment about why queer people and their allies have chosen to live in open defiance of The UMC’s codified system of discrimination, though I and many others have explained it to them many times: institutional channels of changes are foreclosed to us.

There is no other way to address the injustice of our continued exclusion. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously explained, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.”

Speaking of conservatives, they gathered last week today under the mantle of the new Wesleyan Covenant Association, where they planned to issue an ultimatum to the church. Regarding the commission, it preemptively rules out negotiation over the status of LGBTQI people in the church: “A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the ‘local option’ around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.”

So before we even get started, the bishops have erased LGBTQI people from visibility and voice in the commission discussing our fate, and the conservatives have announced that they will refuse to consider alternatives to the current discriminatory and punitive rules.

This is not a “way forward.”

This is the road we’ve already trod for half a century. Queer family, you know what you need to do.

Originally published by Reconciling Ministries Network; Photo via flickr user UMWomen

Comments (6)

Marion LOgan, D.D.

The United Church of Canada
The United Church of Canada went through this 15 years ago – lost only a few members when we became “Affirming” and gained many new, wonderful LGBTQI members. Our recently appointed Moderator is openly … Hurrah for us! We pray for the United Methodists… I know many UMW members.

Frankie Trice

Thank you for this article.
Thank you for this article. I was wandering about the United Methodist Church’s stand on LGBTQI issues since I left the gay community. I was baptized eons ago in a United Methodist Church and now that I am finding my way in Christianity again, I was wondering if they were a possible option for me. The closest church to my house is United Methodist. I did the pray away the gay thing, but it didn’t work. I am still gay. I would not want to involve myself with people that are still fighting that battle. Guess I will look for an open congregation elsewhere now. Again, thanks for the information here. It is very educational.

Susan Haller

I am curious, are any of the
I am curious, are any of the “clergy” deacons?

Rev. Henry Schwarzmann

Grow UP UMC …… Jesus is
Grow UP UMC …… Jesus is about inclusion

Judi Day

So, before the beginning of
So, before the beginning of this proposed, and now preposterous, process….there is a one-sided and flat-out demand?! As parent(s) of a gay adult in professional lay ministry in the UMC, and in support of Bishop Oliveto and all who are demeaned or excluded, I (we) find this very offensive, divisive, and arrogant.

anne wood

I have a question that I hope
I have a question that I hope you can clear up for me without hostility. How is it different for a lgbt person to practice celibacy than a divorced person? As a divorcee wRaho will not remarry, I have accepted the requirement of celibacy, and believe it enhances my lay ministry. There are other straights who for various reasons will never marry, and they too practice celibacy. Why should lgbt feel that they are different?
Also, I have been told that the UMC has two gay bishops who are content within church rules. I do not know names.
Another thing that troubles me is that there is sometimes harsh language directed toward folks like me, who have no objection to any sexual identity, but still believe that marriage is between one man and one woman, and accept that. What we might miss in a marital relationships pales in comparison to the extra blessing bestowed for obedience.
So my singleness has proven to be a blessing in disguise.
I think Paul spoke to that. And Jesus was single.
Can someone answer my questions in a non-angry way, please?

Comments are closed.