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The United Methodist Church and Homosexuality

Decisions by church conferences
and courts from the year 2000 to 2009

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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Every four years, a General Conference of Methodist churches from around the world is held. Modifications of their Book of Discipline are often considered at that conference.

 
bulletYear 2000: The General Conference was held from MAY-2 to 12 in Cleveland OH. Ironically, the conference theme was: "We Who Are Many Are One Body." Attitudes towards equal rights for gays and lesbians seem to have hardened. Two weeks previously, charges were laid against Melfin Talbert, a bishop in California. He said that policies in local Methodist churches that foster "inclusiveness and justice" take priority over national church law.

On MAY-8, a resolution was rejected 705 to 210 that would have required a loyalty oath of any minister assigned to a congregation: "I do not believe that homosexuality is God's perfect will for any person. I will not practice it. I will not promote it. I will not allow its promotion to be encouraged under my authority."

The delegates passed a resolution reaffirming their belief that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian teaching (the vote was 628 to 337). A compromise proposal to replace this statement with one stating that: "Many consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Others believe it acceptable when practiced in a context of human covenantal faithfulness," was defeated 585 to 376. This is a 61% majority. A demonstration in support of equal rights for gays which had been peaceful, started singing the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome," and marched onto the stage. Randy Miller of San Francisco asked and was granted permission to address the delegates. He said:

"We have broken covenant because this church has broken covenant with us. We were baptized in this church, and grew up in your Sunday schools [only to be excluded as gay and lesbian adults.] The covenant is already broken. We take it as an act of conscience to be forcibly removed from here."

About 27 demonstrators were peacefully arrested, including two bishops and at least three ministers. Some delegates and visitors chanted "Shame! Shame!"

Two other resolutions were passed. These repeated decisions of earlier conferences: that sexually active gays and lesbians cannot be ordained (640-317), and that UMC ministers may not conduct "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual union." (646 - 294) This is a majority of 69%, compared with a majority of 63% on a similar resolution at the 1996 convention.  A proposal to modify the language so that violations would not be prosecuted was rejected. 5

Rev. Mel White, director of Soulforce an ecumenical gay-straight alliance said: "We think the Holy Spirit has left the United Methodist Church as a denomination. God is for justice, and when you exclude people from a congregation, God goes out the door with the outcasts." 

Some UMC members are suggesting a schism in the denomination. Rev. James Heidenger, editor of the conservative Good News magazine commented: "Is an amicable departure a better option than continuing to tear away at the fabric of our denomination?...We are pained at their pain, and we don't want to be unloving in our response. But I'm not sure I see a middle ground here."

bullet2004: The General Conference was scheduled for APR-27 to MAY-7 in Pittsburgh, PA.
bulletThe race question: On APR-30, the delegates to the Conference noted that African-Americans "were part of the church when Methodism began, but often have been denied full participation because of racism....Delegates confessed to the sin of racism in the denomination." Bishop Charlene Kammerer of Charlotte NC delivered a sermon which thanked the generations of black Methodists who stayed in an institution that excluded them. "For all those faithful, courageous black Methodists who stayed in an inhospitable place and abusive church, we say 'Thank you, God.' Those of us in the white majority confess that we have sinned against you and against God who made us all one family. We have excluded you from our sanctuaries, schools, colleges, our public domains, our neighborhoods, our homes and, worst of all, our hearts. For that, we are truly sorry." 6 If current trends continue and an increasing percentage of the public accepts homosexuality as a normal and natural sexual orientation, it is likely that similar apologies will appear in a future Conference, directed to gays and lesbians.
 
bulletAcceptance of homosexuality: One representative each from the South Carolina and Mississippi Annual Conferences submitted a petition to prohibit the funding of any group which promotes the acceptance of homosexuality. The Financial Administration committee voted to recommend the petition by the narrowest margin possible: 37 for, 36 against, 21 abstentions. The petition added a new section 19 to the existing paragraph 611 of the 2000 Book of Discipline:
"19.To ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.  The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures.  This restriction shall not limit the Church's ministry in response to the HIV epidemic, nor shall it preclude funding for dialogs or educational events where the Church's official position is fairly and equally represented."
On 2004-MAY-01, delegates voted in favor of the petition by 497 to 418. 7
 
bullet2006: The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church passed nine petitions related to homosexuality. Victoria Rebeck, communications director for the Conference said: "The biggest news is that we had a good, respectful discussion of these very emotional issues and people really listened to each other." The closest vote was a real squeaker: 358 to 356. It involved a petition to change the definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two adult persons," and to delete a sentence supporting laws that define marriage as between a man and woman. The resolutions will be passed on to the 2008 General Conference.

Reactions:
bulletBishop Sally Dyck said that delegates approached the issues "as Christians in the best sense of that word - loving and humble, trying to be careful with each other."
bulletThe Rev. Carl Caskey of Northfield, said, "We think the future is with us [in the push for greater acceptance of gays and lesbians]. Many of us are greatly concerned about the direction the (denomination) has taken toward exclusion. We'll keep putting the pressure on."
bulletThe Rev. Phil Strom of Elk River United Methodist Church who believes that  homosexual behavior is inherently sinful said that both sides "feel grief and sadness, because the vote reminds us of how deep this division is, how irreconcilable."
bulletThe Rev. Dan Johnson of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Edina said, "The half-dozen biblical references to homosexuality do not reflect what we understand today about loving relationships. This is an identity, not a sin."
bulletThe Rev. Daren Flinck of Grace United Methodist in Fergus Falls said he "suddenly feels like an alien in my own land." 8
 
bullet 2008: The General Conference was held in late April and early May in Fort Worth, TX. On 2008-MAR-30, the delegates rejected still another motion to delete the denomination's policy that homosexual behavior conflicts with Christian teaching. Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, said: "It was a terrible day. ... American Methodists are ready for change." However,  change appears to have been prevented this time by the votes of international delegates, particularly those from Africa, whose numbers and influence have grown because of the growth of the denomination outside of the U.S.

Faye Short, president of Renewal Network, a group of conservative evangelical UMC women commented: "If that ever changes, it's probably the death knell for the church. I don't think it would hold together."

About 300 people held a protest demonstration that interrupted proceedings for about 15 minutes. Unlike the year 2000 convention when 2,000 civil rights supporters were arrested, this demonstration proceeded peacefully. 9
 

bullet2009-MAY-02: The United Methodist Judicial Council ruled that a clergyperson cannot perform same-sex marriages or civil unions, even if their regional church district or regional annual conference supports such rituals. 10

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Related essay:

 
bulletIs compromise possible, or is schism inevitable?

References:

  1. A very complete analysis of the denomination's policies regarding homosexuality was once found at David W. Perkins' site at: http://www.geocities.com/ Unfortunately, Geocites terminated all of its sites, and this one apparently did not survive.
  2. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 1992, Paragraph 906.12, Page 450
  3. "The Church Studies Homosexuality," Cokesbury, Nashville, TN; (1994) Page 19.
  4. Jimmy Creech, "Response to the Judicial Charge", 1998-JAN-26 is at: http://www.iwgonline.org/docs/creech.html
  5. "Methodists vote anti-gay," PlanetOut, 2000-MAY-11, at: http://www.planetout.com/pno/news/article.html?2000
  6. Linda Bloom, "Daily Wrap-up: Delegates honor black members, mark UMW milestone," United Methodist Church, 2004-APR-30, at: http://umc.org/.
  7. "Prohibit promotion of acceptance of homosexuality," Petition 40255, General Conference, 2004-MAY-4, at: http://www.umc.org/
  8. "United Methodists approve ordaining gay clergy, marriage," Associated Press, 2006-JUN-02, at: http://www.in-forum.com/
  9. "Hundreds protest Methodist church's stance on homosexuality at Fort Worth conference," Dallas Morning News, 2008-MAY-01, at: http://www.generalconference2008.org/
  10. "Methodist court affirms ban on clergy uniting same-sex couples," Associated Press, 2009-MAY-02, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/

Copyright 2000 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2009-MAY-03

Author: B.A. Robinson

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