The United Methodist Church and Homosexuality

Decisions by the United Methodist Church
(UMC) at the 2012 General Conference.

This topic is continued 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 -- which codify's the denomination's laws and beliefs -- are often considered at these conferences.

Currently, Section 161F of the Book states that:

"The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

Note that the Book of Discipline takes care to differentiate between a person's:

  • Sexual orientation: the feelings of sexual attraction by those with a
    • heterosexual orientation only to persons of the opposite sex;
    • homosexual orientation only to persons of the same sex;
    • bisexual orientation to persons of both sexes, although generally not to the same degree; or
    • asexual orientation to neither males nor females.

all of which are considered morally neutral; and:

  • Sexual behavior with persons of the same gender, which the Book condemns, based on their interpretation of a group of passages in the Bible.

The General Conference experienced three major trends that are pulling the United Methodist Church in opposite directions within North America:

  • Surveys show that, during the early 21st century, larger numbers of older teens and young adults than usual are leaving the UMC and other Christian denominations. This is not new. Members in this age range have traditionally left. However, the current exodus involves people who are apparently not returning later in life. Previous generations often returned after having married and perhaps had children.

    A major reason for leaving is the church's policies towards science in general and human sexuality in particular. This is the first generation in which most members know one or more lesbians or gays as a personal friend or close relative, and in which a significant percentage know a transgender person or transsexual. This tends to have a major impact on a person's attitude towards accepting same-gender sexual behavior and accepting persons with a gender identity that is different from their birth-identified gender. Younger members view the church's stance as much too conservative and exclusionary, and in opposition to their knowledge of human sexuality and the Golden Rule. Some consider the church's policies to be bigoted and are reluctant to be associated with such a group.

  • Adults throughout North American are increasingly adopting an accepting attitude towards LGBTs. Support for gay marriage has been increasing steadaly at about 1 or 2 percentage points a year.

  • The Methodist Church in African countries is growing rapidly. The cultures in these countries generally exhibit strongly homophobic beliefs against sexual minorities. Thus, if the UMC holds together, it will probably take many years before a majority within UMC congregations outside of the U.S. will accept persons with a homosexual orientation or a transgender identity.

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2012-MAY-02: Activity at the 2012 General Conference:

Petition 21032 was discussed and rejected by the General Conference. It would have modified Section 161F of the Book of Discipline with the substitution of the following statement:

"We recognize that sexuality is God's good gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others, and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. United Methodists, along with other Christians, have struggled to find principles for applying traditional teachings to contemporary understandings of human sexuality. 
We recognize that sexuality is part of the larger human mystery, to be received and acknowledged in grateful responsibility. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us. We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sexual relationship, with the consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality.  We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and financially responsible.  We call for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for children thus abused.  We believe that the Church family should support all families in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults. We challenge all members of community of faith to commitment, integrity, and fidelity in their sexual relationships." 1

During the debate, a delegate from an African country compared same-gender sexual behavior to bestiality and declared that God would not create humans as gay or lesbian -- implying that a person's sexual orientation is not determined before birth but is a free choice selected by individuals later in life. A logical extension of this belief is that a person can also choose to change ones sexual orientation as an adult. These are widely held beliefs among religious conservatives but are in disagreement with the views of the vast majority of therapists, human sexuality researchers, religious liberals, secularists and the LGBT community itself.

David Braden is the director of development for the Reconciling Ministries Network. This group works for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the UMC. He said:

"We grieve that the United Methodist Church really had the opportunity to live into inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ, [to] ... live into its tag line of "Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds" [to] ... extend its welcome to LGBT people. ... [They,] unfortunately, chose not to do that. We grieve that UMC continues to harm and discriminate against LGBT people. We're already here in the United Methodist Church and we will continue to be that shining light on top of the hill to show the world what it means to be UMC ... that is, to welcome all people." 2

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2012-MAY-03: The General Conference continued:

The almost 1,000 UMC delegates who met at Tampa, FL held a vote on two additional proposals to change the wording of the Book of Discipline relating to sexual orientation. These proposals would simply have describe reality: that there was a lack of consensus within the denomination on this matter.

  • One motion would have altered the Book of Discipline so that it would describe the LGBT community as "... people of sacred worth." It would also admit that the membership of the denomination differs on "... whether homosexual practices (are) contrary to the will of God." It was narrowly rejected by a vote of 54 to 46%. It is ironic that the nearly even split in the vote proves the accuracy of the second proposed change in wording; the denomination is indeed not of one mind. In fact, they are almost evenly split. However, they are not willing to admit, in a public resolution, that they are divided on the question.

  • A second motion would have acknowledged that the denomination had a "... limited understanding" of human sexuality." It also asked that the church "...refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices until the Spirit leads us to new insight." It was rejected by a larger ratio: 61 to 39%.

Protestors favoring equal rights for the LGBT community disrupted the session by singing the hymn "What does the Lord require of you?" When they refused to stop singing, the chairperson closed the session. 3

The Rev. Troy Plummer, the executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, said:

"I’m tired of being compared to beasts in our church. Even if our world understandings differ, it’s just horrendous. That our perspectives differ is the truth. ... We just voted 61 to 39 percent that we can’t tell that truth." 4

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This topic continues in the next essay with activity
at both the 2012 and 2016 UMC conferences.


  1. The text of Petition 21032 is at:
  2. Candace Chellew-Hodge, "Methodists Vote to Keep Homosexuality 'Incompatible'," Religion Dispatches, 2012-MAY-03, at:
  3. Daniel Burke, "Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexuality ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’," Religion News Service, 2012-MAY-03, at:
  4. Laurie Goodstein, "Methodists Keep Stricture on Homosexuality," New York Times, 2012-MAY-03, at:

Copyright © 2012 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2019-DEC-28

Author: B.A. Robinson
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