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The United Methodist Church and Homosexuality

Decisions by the 2012 church conference

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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Background:

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.

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."

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

  • Surveys show that larger numbers of older teens and young adults than usual are leaving Christian churches. A major reason is the church's policies towards science in general and human sexuality in particular. Younger members view the church's stance as much too conservative and exclusionary, and in opposition to their knowledge of human sexuality derived from friendships with the LGBT community.

  • Adults throughout North American are increasingly adopting an accepting attitude towards LGBTs.

  • The Methodist Church in African countries is growing rapidly. The cultures in these countries generally exhibit strongly homophobic beliefs against sexual minorities.


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2012-MAY-02: At the 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 homosexual orientation is chosen by the individual later in life. A logical extension of this belief is that a person can also choose to change ones sexual orientation later in life. 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.

David Braden, the director of development for the Reconciling Ministries Network, which works for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the UMC, said:

"We grieve that the United Methodist Church really had the opportunity to live into inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ and live into its tagline of Open Hearts, Open Doors, Open Minds and extend its welcome to LGBT people and 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, and that is to welcome all people." 2

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2012-MAY-03: At the General Conference:

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 have describe reality: that there was no 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 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 of the existence of the split in a public resolution.

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 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, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network -- a group that promotes the full inclusion of the LGBT community, 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, and we just voted 61 to 39 percent that we can’t tell that truth." 4

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2012-MAY-04: Last day of the General Conference:

The church's policies toward gay and lesbian clergy was to be discussed. However, because of the total lack of any inclusive movement on matters relating to sexual orientation earlier in the conference, Friday's discussions were cancelled.

The next General Conference will be in 2016.

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Some comments by delegates at the Conference:

  • H. Eddie Fox, a delegate from Tennessee said that Bible passages support the exclusionary statements by the denomination. He said:

    "Jesus said so from the beginning of creation -- God made male and female. We must not send confusing messages to those who are part of this church."

  • Rev. Margaret Mallory, chair of the Church and Society subcommittee described the conflict as:

    "... a thorn in the collective side of the church."

  • Rev. James Preston, of Rockford, IL responded to a suggestion that a more inclusive stance of the LGBT community would lead to schism by saying:

    "But we're hemorrhaging already. The church is bleeding today and we just need to be clear on that. ... It is misleading to say people are welcomed, but if you disagree with [the church's perspective] you are not [welcomed] because you will not be acknowledged." 5

  • Faith Geer, a reserve delegate from McCandless, PA said:

    "It seems so simple to agree to disagree. That's all the petitions asked for, and we couldn't accept it."

  • Kasap Owan Tshibang of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said:

    "In African culture it is 'taboo' to speak about sexuality. ... We do not want to be caught up in the issue."

  • Some African delegates were concerned that the church would license "people to go to Hell" if it became more inclusive of the LGBT community. This is an apparent reference to the beliefs of many Christian conservatives that same-sex behavior causes people to lose any possibility of salvation so that they will automatically spend eternity in Hell.

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Webmaster's comment: (bias alert)

We normally simply report events "straight up" without inserting our own opinions. But we would like to make an exception here.

The end result of this General Conference is that the denomination projects an image to the outside world that they hold a unified position that does not really exist:

  • That all same-gender sexual behavior is intrinsically sinful, irrespective of the nature of the relationship.

  • That such behavior is incompatible with Christianity.

In doing so, they will lose many older teens and young adults, but retain many elderly members who otherwise would have left the denomination.

A chasm is forming in the denomination between the membership in North America and that in the rest of the world. The former are gradually accepting the findings of mental health professionals and human sexuality researchers: that adults experience one of three normal, natural, unchosen, unchangeable, and morally neutral sexual orientations: heterosexuality, bisexuality, and homosexuality.

The church in North America is rapidly losing membership. Meanwhile the Church in the rest of the world -- particularly Africa -- is growing rapidly in membership and influence, even as it projects the high levels of homophobia found in their cultures into the UMC. It looks as if the denomination will remain divided on the topic of homosexuality and bisexuality for the foreseeable future.

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Related essay:

bulletIs compromise possible, or is schism inevitable?

References:

  1. The text of Petition 21032 is at: http://calms.umc.org/
  2. Candace Chellew-Hodge, "Methodists Vote to Keep Homosexuality 'Incompatible'," Religion Dispatches, 2012-MAY-03, at: http://www.religiondispatches.org/
  3. Daniel Burke, "Methodists uphold policy that calls homosexuality ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’," Religion News Service, 2012-MAY-03, at: http://www.religionnews.com/
  4. Laurie Goodstein, "Methodists Keep Stricture on Homosexuality," New York Times, 2012-MAY-03, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  5. Ervin Dyer, "United Methodists reaffirm line on gays. Liberal wing loses attempt to make church more inclusive," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2012-MAY-05, at: http://old.post-gazette.com

Copyright 2012 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2013-NOV-29

Author: B.A. Robinson
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