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United Methodist Church:

Gay-positve and negative groups 

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Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender and Queer Concerns

They describe themselves as:

"... an independent voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people and our supporters. We are an activist, all-volunteer, not-for-profit organization that challenges The United Methodist Church to be inclusive, and radically speaks out against injustice for LGBTQ people around the world.

Activity overview:

  • 1984: In response to the banning of ordination or appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" by the denomination's General Conference, they organized the Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP).1,2,3

  • 1992: Affirmation played a major role in the 1992 General Conference when it considered the majority report of a study committee on homosexuality. It would have altered the stance of the denomination in a positive, inclusive direction, but was rejected by most of the delegates.

  • 1996: Affirmation again attempted to persuade the church to "Open the Doors" to its LGBT members. The General Conference responded by prohibiting same-sex committment ceremonies and covenants.

  • 2000: The RCP was renamed the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).

Affirmation's mission statement, as adopted in 2005-JAN, is:

"As an independent voice of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer people, Affirmation radically reclaims the compassionate and transforming gospel of Jesus Christ by relentlessly pursuing full inclusion in the Church as we journey with the Spirit in creating God's beloved community."

They have joined with similar movements within the Lutheran, Presbyterian, and United Church of Christ denominations to jointly publish a quarterly called "Open Hands"

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Methodists in New Directions (MIND)

Methodists in New Directions (MIND) is a regional group in New York State/ It was founded in 2006. They describe themselves as:

"... a grassroots organization of United Methodists working to end our denomination’s doctrinal prejudice and institutional discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and committed to living more fully into God’s radical Welcome right now and right here. We are a regional group, organizing on the conference level within the New York Annual Conference (NYAC)  of the United Methodist Church (UMC). 11

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Reconciliations by individual congregations:

St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church in Tucson AZ, First United Methodist of Germantown PA, and other United Methodist churches have conducted multi-year "reconciliations" leading to total acceptance of persons of all sexual orientations as members. James Preston, the National Outreach Coordinator, explains that congregations devote time to "study and discernment" of gay, lesbian and transsexual issues. This involves worship services, discussion groups and other activities. They then vote on whether to become a Reconciling Congregation. As of 1997-JUL, there are 98 such congregations in the United States, including 6 campus ministries. There are 4 Reconciling Conferences. In 1998-FEB, the number had grown to 165 congregations, ministries and agencies. This movement continues to expand, but still represents only about 0.3% of the total number of UMC congregations.

Rev. Dr. Jeanne Knepper is co-coordinator of Affirmation. She founded Shalom Ministries in 1993-JUL within the Metropolitan District of the Oregon-Idaho Conference of the United Methodist Church. This is a ministry which focuses on gays, lesbians, people on the social and economic edge, and those alienated from religion.  She said: "There is not an attempt to form a congregation. I characterize it more as a spiritual MASH unit."

Covenant Relationships Network (CORNET) is a group advocating same-gender covenant services/holy unions in the church. It was formed in 1997 by Rev. Dr. Jeanne Knepper (co-coordinator of Affirmation) and other Methodists. They support the right of United  Methodist clergy to celebrate holy unions between gays and lesbians. CORNET has been gathering signatures for "A Matter of Conscience" statement, which would prohibit the 1996 addition to the Manual of Discipline against holy unions. 4

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Transforming Congregations

These are a group of 40 congregations, as of 1997-OCT. 37 are within the United Methodist Church; one each is from Lutheran, Presbyterian and Uniting Church of Australia denominations. They hold beliefs about homosexuality which are largely opposite to the above. 5,6 They:

bullet Believe that homosexual activity is a sin; they do not mention homosexual orientation in their mission statement.
bullet Believe that the Holy Spirit can "transform the life of the homosexual" (We are unsure whether they mean that the Holy Spirit can convert homosexual into a heterosexual. They may simply mean that the Spirit can help a gay or lesbian accept a life of celibacy.)
bullet Call the Church to repentance and healing for both its homophobic and accommodating responses.
bullet Work towards healing homosexuals and their families.
bullet Wish to integrate all repentant, redeemed persons (presumably those converted to heterosexuality), as full, active, responsible, members of their congregations.

Reparative counseling, which is intended to change a person's sexual orientation is believed by most mental health professional organizations to be ill advised. They recognize that an adult's sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable. Transforming Congregations would agree with the Reconciling Congregation on one point: that the denomination needs to eliminate its homophobic beliefs and practices. Otherwise, they are poles apart.

The group was founded in 1988 by the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. In order to become a Transforming Congregation, a church must hold a series of study sessions. They also are required to develop a program to try to help transform homosexuals into either heterosexuals or celibates.

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The 1999 revolt by the "Sacramento 95"

Shortly before charges were laid by the church against the Rev. Dell, the Rev. Donald Fado of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento CA delivered a fiery sermon, announcing his desire to lead a public gay or lesbian service "as an act of ecclesiastical disobedience". He said "we must demonstrate to the General Conference the folly of the exclusion."  His wish came true.  Jeanne Barnett, 68, and Ellie Charlton, 63, asked to have their long term, lesbian relationship recognized through a church ritual. Jeanne is the lay leader of the regional UMC conference and a retired state unemployment administrator; Ellie serves on the UMC board. The Associated Press referred to their service on 1999-JAN-16 at the Sacramento CA Convention Center as "a civil rights demonstration." 7The ceremony was unusual in two aspects: 

bullet There were 95 UMC minister officiating, (some sources say 68).
bullet The couple are lesbians who have lived together for 14 years. 

1200 guests turned were present. 67 additional ministers sent letters indicating that they were there in spirit, even though they could not be present in body. The "Sacramento 95" had earlier stated: "We believe  we are acting in the way in which Jesus Christ would act." A personal account of the union service has been placed online by Rev. Jagannath Prakash. 8

The ministers present chanted a blessing: "O God, our maker, we gladly proclaim to the world that Jeanne and Ellie are loving partners together for life." The Rev. Fado commented: "If anyone wants to file charges against us, this is what the charges are for: praying this prayer...In our church, unfortunately, I'm allowed to come into their home and bless their house, bless their car, bless their tractor and even bless  their dog, but I am not allowed to bless them." Rev. Fred Phelps, a Baptist minister, and about a dozen protesters waved flashy signs that read: "Brides of Satan" and "Methodist Fag Church." Three women sang a hymn "God Hates Fags." Hundreds of individuals who support equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians formed a circle to separate the service from the Baptists.

Conservative Methodists, members of the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship, held a protest rally at a nearby Sacramento church. They believe that the ceremony violated both Scripture and Methodist law. In 1999-MAR, Bishop Melvin Talbert referred a complaint against the pastors to church counsel. The logistics of recruiting almost 1200 jury members and conducting 68 or 95 trials proved to be formidable. The California-Nevada Conference decided on 2000-FEB-11 to not try the ministers.

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"Shower of Stoles" Project

In 1995, Martha Juillerat was a Presbyterian minister. She resigned her ordination at a meeting of her fellow pastors in Kansas City, MO. Before resigning, she made a request of other gay or lesbian ministers and ministerial candidates who have been denied ordination, been forced to leave the church, or been required to keep their sexual orientation secret as they remained ministers. She asked them to send her their stole. (A stole is a band of cloth that ministers wear around their necks). She expected perhaps a dozen. She initially received 80 stoles. She hang them around the room where she gave her farewell speech. "It moved people to tears. It made it obvious that we weren't just talking about me. We were talking about hundreds of folks who are denied the opportunity to openly serve their church." 9

Her collection has since grown to a "Shower of Stoles", totaling almost 800 stoles from 13 different denominations. She displays them at annual and regional meetings of various denominations, to promote discussion of the ban on homosexual ordination. She commented: "Seeing the stoles is like seeing the Vietnam Memorial or the AIDS quilt. It helps take this issue out of people's heads and into their hearts. It makes it very real and very human and, to a certain extent, de-politicizes the issue."

Ms. Juillerat felt the call to ministry as a teen. "The church meant the world to me. I made a decision to follow the party line and be single and celibate. I guess what I never anticipated was the terrible oppression of living a double life and of never having anyone to share it." In 1986, she met a woman at a support group for women clergy who would become her partner . They dated in secret. They invited only four friends to their ceremony of holy union. For security, they had to cover the windows of the church. Her partner had a serious bicycle accident in 1993 which nearly killed her. The next day, Ms. Juillerat had to conduct a service without being able to tell anyone about the incident. "After that, we decided we just could not stay hidden anymore. We decided this was a sick way to live...Leaving the ministry was the hardest decision I ever made in my life. I love to preach and I miss it terribly. But it was like the weight of the world was being lifted off our shoulders. For my own sanity and peace of mind, I needed to leave."

She took 340 stoles to a national convention of More Light churches; she took over 300 to the 1996 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA); almost 400 were on hand at the 1997 Assembly. There was no place to hang the display so she asked volunteers to wear them. "It became a way for people to find a voice. I offered the option of people sending them to me anonymously. For those people especially, it was the one opportunity they had of letting the church know that, 'Hey I'm out here.'" Rev. Bill Chadwick, co-pastor of St. Luke Presbyterian Church in St. Paul said: "It was so moving to see all of them. I went around looking at them by myself and just sobbed at the heartbreak of those who had received the same sort of call from God that I did, but were unable to fulfill it."

"...we were able to present a wonderful display at the General Conference (GC) that completely surrounded the AMAR Coalition Resource and Hospitality Room across the street from the Convention Center." During the summer of 2000, they were scheduled to be displayed at nearly one dozen UMC regional conferences and at several UMC congregations. 10

The Shower of Stoles is now a nonprofit organization with a board of directors.

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References:

  1. Temple United Methodist Church has an essay on the denomination's Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP). This program helps individual congregations understand sexual orientation. See: http://www.best.com/~ggould/tumc/rcp.html
  2. Reconciling Congregation Program has a web site at http://www.rcp.org
  3. Affirmation (United Methodists for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender Concerns) is a support group within the denomination. See: http://www.umaffirm.org
  4. Covenant Relationships Network (CORNET) is a group advocating same-gender covenant services/holy unions in the church. See: http://www.umaffirm.org/cornet/
  5. Dorothy Williams, "The Church Studies Homosexuality: Leaders Guide", Cokesbury, Nashville, TN; (1994); Page 47.
  6. Transforming Congregations have a home page at: http://www.messiah.edu/hpages/facstaff/chase/h/
  7. R.N. Ostling, "Religion Today," AP news item, 1999-JAN-14 at: http://dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/ap/ap_us
  8. Jagannath Prakash, "My praise report on the holy union in Sacramento. Praise God!!," at: http://www.allfaith.com/LRMCC/
  9. A very complete analysis of the denomination's policies regarding homosexuality can be found at David W. Perkins' site at: http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/4568/
  10. Martha Juillerat, "Shower of Stoles hits the road with over 200 UM stoles," RCP Flashnet, Reconciling Congregation Program, 2000-JUN-1.
  11. "MIND: Methodists in New Directions: About Us," MIND, 2003, at: http://www.mindny.org/

 

Copyright © 1997 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 1997

Latest update: 2013-NOV-28
Author: B.A. Robinson
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