United Methodist Church is still struggling for LGBT inclusion

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Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe
The One Church plan is inclusive

The United Methodist Church is still in need of prayer when it comes to full inclusion of its LGBT parishioners. In the hopes of avoiding a schism, the Council of Bishops recently recommended the One Church Plan. It would grant individual ministers and regional church bodies the decision to ordain LGBTs as clergy and to perform LGBT weddings. It is believed that such a decision on a Church-by-Church and regional basis would reflect the diversity as well as affirm the different churches and cultures throughout the global body of UMC.

However, the One Church Plan is one of three very different proposed plans by the UMC’s Commission on a way forward. The others include the Traditionalist plan and the Connectional Conference plan, both exclusionary to LGBT parishioners.

The One Church Plan would excise (remove) the offensive and controversial language targeted at LGBTs from the Book of Discipline, and replace it with a more compassion, accurate, up-to-date, and contextualized language about human sexuality in support of the mission and all its parishioners.

The UMC continues to be contradictory in its policies concerning LGBT worshippers. The Church’s contentious views were showcased at the 2016 meeting of global delegates.

For example, the UMC states that we have, and are, of the same sacred worth as heterosexuals. And the Church is committed to the ministry of all people regardless of gender identities and sexual orientations. However, the church also views queer sexualities as sinful. The Book of Discipline states that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons” and that people are “fully human only when their sexuality is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the Church, and society.”

However, this rule is not applicable to LGBTs.

Since the church’s conservative and liberal wings merged in 1968 to become the UMC, it has implemented stricter positions against LGBTs. In 1972, for example, UMC delegates inserted in The Book of Discipline that as a Church body, “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In 1984, the delegates barred from its general conference clerics who were “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” And in 1996, the UMC gave the ecclesiastical order that prohibited “ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions.” It was affirmed by the Methodists’ high court in 1998. The Church also maintains its policy requiring heterosexual clerics to remain faithful in their marriages, and for both unmarried heterosexual and LGBT clerics to be celibate.

The One Church Plan would uphold the religious freedom and safeguard those clerics and conferences unwilling to ordain or marry LGBTs because of their theological convictions. This is an ongoing contentious battle among religious conservatives that many LGBTs contest discriminates. The “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission,” is one such case. The Supreme Court  argued the parameters of one’s right to practice their religion and their right to express themselves freely that’s enshrined in the First Amendment just this month.

In 2016 over 100 United Methodist Church ministers and faith leaders came out 

At a General Conference in 2016 in Portland the struggle to move the UMCs moral compass against its anti-LGBT policies was courageously demonstrated. Over 100 United Methodist Church ministers and faith leaders came out to their churches. The UMC’s history of struggle on this issue clearly illustrates the defiant will for LGBT inclusion.

For example, in 2013, the Reverend Frank Schaefer, pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Pennsylvania, was forced to stand trial for officiating his son’s 2007 same-sex nuptials. “I love him so much and didn’t want to deny him that joy. I had to follow my heart,” Schaefer told the New York Daily News.

The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church, however, wanted to drill home to Schaefer, and his allies, that he — irrespective of familial love or Christian belief — blatantly and willfully violated the church’s law book. The Book of Discipline, prohibits same-sex marriages.

Since June 2011, more than 100 Methodist ministers in New England have pledged to marry LGBT couples. This is in defiance of the denomination’s ban on same-sex unions. Approximately one out of nine Methodist clerics signed a statement pledging to open their churches to LGBT couples. “We repent that it has taken us so long to act… We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the church to the world, and we are [complicit],’’ said the statement.

Knowing where Methodist clerics in New England stand on same-sex marriages, Schaefer officiated his son’s nuptials in Massachusetts.

The UMC is struggling to find its moral compass

While it is clear that the UMC is not in lockstep with the changing societal tide toward LGBT acceptance, it is also not in lockstep with its own more progressive arm of “reconciling and inclusive” congregations. Union United Methodist Church, a predominately African American congregation located in Boston’s South End — once the epicenter of the city’s LGBT community — is one of them. And it is the one institution least expected to be lauded among LGBT people of African descent because of the Black Church’s notorious history of homophobia. But UUMC is a movement, and when its pastor came out, it was an example of full inclusion as a welcoming church body.

I hope the One Church Plan will be the solution to a roiling church body. In 2018 to still be fighting for LGBT full inclusion puts the UMC in question rather than its LGBT parishioners.

Rev. Irene Monroe
Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached via email at revimonroe@me.com.