Rise & Shine - March 3
Rise & Shine, March 3rd
United Methodists Tighten Ban on Same-Sex Marriage and Gay Clergy
After three days of intense debate at a conference in St. Louis, the vote by church officials and lay members from around the world doubled down on current church policy, which states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote served as a rejection of a push by progressive members and leaders to open the church to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
The delegates were presented with several options during a four-day special session, but picked the “traditional plan,” with 53 percent voting in favor. Other options would have allowed local churches to choose their stance on sexuality or would have split the church into separate denominations. The decision passed in a 53 percent to 47 percent vote. The Traditional Plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly supported the LGBT bans.
Conservatives have left the Episcopal Church over gay rights, Presbyterians have split, and many young evangelicals are leaving their churches over the lack of inclusion of L.G.B.T. people. Meanwhile, the nation is becoming increasingly less Christian, and the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans is growing. As mainline denominations that embrace gay rights continue to decline in membership, conservative Christian institutions are growing in power and financial resources.
The seven million members of the United Methodist Church in the United States often do not fit within easy political categories. Second only to the Southern Baptist Convention in size, the church includes high-profile figures with a range of political beliefs, from Hillary Clinton to Jeff Sessions, the Republican former attorney general. Just over half of Methodists say they are Republican, compared with 35 percent who say they are Democrats. The majority of adherents believe abortion should be legal, and more than half are in favor of stricter regulations to protect the environment.
But the issue of gay rights has proved uniquely divisive in the church, and Tuesday’s vote reflected the growing clout of Methodists from outside the United States. The tightening of enforcement of church law was backed by a coalition of members from African nations, the Philippines and European and American evangelicals.
While membership has steadily declined in the United States over the past 25 years — a trend that is true for most mainline Protestant denominations — it has been growing in Africa. About 30 percent of the church’s members are now from African nations, which typically have conservative Christian views; in many of them, homosexuality is a crime. But in the United States, the vote poses a significant risk for a denomination that struggles to attract young people. United Methodists have one of the oldest religious populations in the country, with a median age of 57.
Some leaders of Methodist seminaries like Duke Divinity School or Candler School of Theology at Emory worry that this week’s move will dissuade young Americans, who increasingly support gay rights, from going into ministry with the church.
“This feels like one generation locking down the church for the next,” said William H. Willimon, a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church and a professor at Duke Divinity School. “That’s a death sentence.”
In recent years, progressive American members, including gays and lesbians, have been hopeful about greater inclusion. 6 in 10 United Methodists in the United States believe homosexuality should be accepted. Some congregations have celebrated same-sex weddings and had gay, lesbian and transgender pastors, at times receiving church approval to do so even though it technically violated church policy. Punishment of those who violated the rules has been uneven, and church trials for the few who were sanctioned have been unpopular.
The new rules would tighten enforcement and increase punishment for violations. The plan prohibits gays and lesbians from becoming clergy and forbids same-sex marriage. It defines homosexuals as people in same-sex marriages or civil unions, and those who “publicly state that they are practicing homosexuals.” Clergy who officiate at same-sex weddings would receive a one-year, unpaid suspension. A second offense would result in removal from the clergy.
The policy would also require groups within the denomination to “certify adherence” to the rule. Those who refuse would be “urged” to leave the United Methodist Church, which would prohibit them from using the denomination’s name or logo.
For many, the church’s slogan, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors,” now feels shattered. Soon after the vote, protests erupted in the center of the arena where the conference had been held. Some delegates began singing church songs and chanting, “We’re queer,” and “This is our church!” At the same time, conservatives celebrated their narrow victory.
What happens next hinges on questions that are not just theological, but financial. For entire congregations to leave, they would most likely need to reach settlement agreements related to the potential transfer of church property, and liabilities related to the church’s $23 billion pension fund.
Major seminaries at universities like Emory and Duke, which have supported their gay, lesbian, and transgender students, risk losing grants and funding from more influential, and conservative, churches.
Methodism has been a major force in American life since before the Revolutionary War, and eventually grew to include a significant African-American membership in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. The denomination has split about a dozen times in its history, notably over slavery and race. Many wonder if the next split in the denomination’s history is immanent.
More on this story can be found at these links:
Reeling from contentious LGBT vote, some Methodists pledge to fight while others mull leaving.The Washington Post
United Methodists tighten ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.The New York Times
We queer clergy begged our fellow Methodists to love us. They voted no.The Washington Post
Prayer for the Unity of the Church (BCP p.818)
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior,
the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the
great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away
all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us
from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body
and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith,
one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all
of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth
and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and
one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord.