The United Methodist Church (UMC) & homosexuality
Activity by various UMC groups and
From year 2006 until 2012.
The United Methodist Student
Development Conference approved a series of resolutions urging their
denomination to be more tolerant and inclusive towards
homosexuals. They passed 14 resolutions on the topic. One criticized a
church court for its decision to deprive "lay people of their rights."
That court decison upheld the right of a minister in Virginia to withhold church
membership from a man because he is a homosexual. The resolution passed by a vote of
199 to 28. 1
See the developments at the 2008 General Conference where the Church affirmed that homosexual behavior is incompatible with Christian teaching.
The highest church court in the UMC ruled that active and retired clergy cannot perform same-sex marriages or even civil unions. Loving committed same-sex couples are to be considered as roommates, and their children as illegitimate. The ruling was in response to more than 80 retired UMC clergy from Northern California who said that they would conduct SSM marriage ceremonies for active clergy who are unable to perform them.
A workshop called "Raising children who are gay" was held at the United Methodist Women Assembly on APR-30. Leaders were Marlene Crowder, Parents Reconciling Network member, and Sue Laurie, former Outreach Coordinator for Reconciling Ministries Network. The description of the workshop states:
"However you feel about homosexuality, having a 'gay' child presents some very real challenges in our communities. From bullying issues to healthy sexuality to how the parent feels, this workshop explores these challenges and provides suggestions for communities and churches services to help."
2011-MAY: A United Methodist Church regional conference approved SSM resolution: The annual Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church narrowly passed a resolution to allow clergy to perform civil union and marriage ceremonies for loving committed same-sex couples. The resolution sponsors, members of Washington's Foundry United Methodist Church, didn't expect it to be approved. Rev. Dean Snyder commented: "We presented the resolution as an occasion to have a conversation. Frankly, I didn’t think it would pass. This is very exciting, very moving." The resolution will have no effect initially. However it will now pass on to the Church's national conference in 2012-APR in Tampa, FL. 2
2011-JUN-01: Rev. Bruce Robbins, pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis read a statement titled: "Equality for All in Christian Marriage" to the Minnesota Annual Conference. In it, Bruce commits to marry loving, committed same-sex couples. By the end of the day, 40 Methodist clergy had cosigned the statement. By JUN-03, the total reached 70. According to the Christian Post, the statement says in part:
"We joyfully affirm that we will offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage. ... We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by Spirit and conscience to act. We thank the many United Methodists who have already called for full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church. ... We repent that it has taken us so long to act. ... We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the Church to the world, and we are complicity [sic]. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of the United Methodist Church in prayer."
The United Methodist News Service reported that Bishop Sally Dyck said that supporting the principle of same-sex unions by signing a statement did not break any church rules. However, if a member of the UMC clergy actually officiated at a same-sex wedding ceremony, it would be a chargeable offense in a church court. 3
2012-APR: Every four years, almost 1,000 delegates assemble for the Church's General Conference. The UMC is a world wide denomination. About 60% of the delegates come from U.S., while about 40% are from other countries. This year's conference was held in Tampa, FL. The UMC's membership in the U.S. is about 7.8 million, whereas membership in other countries is about 4.4 million. Notable membership growth has ocurred in Africa and the Philippines where homosexual behavior is often criminalized by the government and homosexuals are despised by the general population.
U.S. Methodist congregations have generally been losing members for decades. Many American conservatives within the UMC claim that other Christian denominations that continue to maintain traditional beliefs are growing in membership. The LGBT community and liberals in the denomination generally claim that the only way to attract and hold young members is to adopt the policies of other mainline denominations like the Episcopal Church, USA; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and the Presbyterian Church, USA. Those denominations have taken a more inclusive stance towards sexual minorities, and a more liberal approach to human sexuality generally.
Many UMC clergy are conflicted between the denomination's Book of Discipline which has stated since 1972 that homosexual behavior is "incompatible with Christian teaching," and their knowledge of sexual orientation gathered from their own studies and personal experience with LGBT members. The church allows gay lesbian and bisexual clergy as long as they remain sexually inactive with persons of the same-sex. The church does not allow same-sex couples to be married in its facilities and does not allow its clergy to marry same-sex couples elsewhere. For a minister to do either can result in a church trial and perhaps expulsion from the denomination. About 1,200 active and retired UMC clergy have pledged to marry same-sex couples in spite of church regulations. 4
The four-decade battle for an incusive approach towards the LGBT community will continue until at least the 2020 General Conference. Two motions were defeated by about a 60 to 40% vote at the 2012 Conference:
- One would have recognized the reality within the UMC: that the demonimation is divided on matters relating to sexual orientation, but wish to remain together as a church. Although this situation is universally recognized, the delegates refused to acknowledge it.
The other would have removed the statement from the denomination's Book of Discipline that same-gender sexual behavior is incompatible with Christian teaching.
According to the New York Times:
"Several Americans begged delegates to 'hear the pain' of gay church members. Moments later, a delegate from Africa said in Swahili that saying that a homosexual person was created by God was like saying 'that God created me to live with animals.' The translator apologized while rendering the remarks into English.
The Rev. Troy Plummer, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates full inclusion of gay people, said in an interview: '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'." 5
The first step to fix a problem is often to acknowledge that a problem exists. The denomination is apparently unable to take that step.
2012-Summer: At least 15 UMC annual (regional) conferences discussed gay rights and same-sex marriages within the denomination. Examples are:
During February, Washington State becane the seventh state in the U.S. to pass a law legalizing gay marriages. The law was placed on hold pending a referendum in November. The UMC web site stated that United Methodists from Washington State and the northern panhandle of Idaho met during June and:
"... approved a resolution to address 'a lack of congruence between the denomination's hardened stance against homosexuality and its historic affirmations of the rights for all people.'
The Rev. Sandy Brown, pastor at Seattle First United Methodist Church, said the church's stance is 'wrong, stupid and evil'."
- During June, at the Iowa Conference, over 500 delegates signed a "Do No Harm" covenant.
Iowa Conference delegates wearing "Do no harm" shirts.
The covenant criticized the church's 2012 General Conference for violating John Wesley's first General Rule by failing to acknowledge that members are divided on same-sex marriage.
Also during June, members of the Minnesota Annual Conference approved a resolution that opposed a proposed amendment to the Minnesota state constitution limiting marriage to one woman and one man. Voters will consider the amendment in November. 10
2013-MAY: Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree is a United Methodist minister as well as a Professor Emeritus of Ethics and a former Dean of Yale Divinity School (YDS). Several conservative UMC ministers in New York State have filed charges against him in church court for fulfilling a request from his son to officiate at his marriage. Normally conducting a marriage ceremony would not be a "crime" within the denomination. However this case is an exception because his son has a homosexual orientation and married his partner who is also a male. Same-sex marriage is legal and routine in the state.
Patrick Evans was the Interim Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians -- a group trying to make the denomination more accepting of the LGBT community. He complemented Rev. Dr. Ogletree:
"I was blessed to have been Tom Ogletree’s colleague at YDS for several years. He is a minister of great integrity and pastoral sensitivity, and is providing important pastoral care as are thousands of other clergy who are willing to risk church trials for the sake of their understanding of the gospel. They are prophetic heroes."
Mediation failed, and so the region's bishop -- Mardin D. McLee -- was compelled by church law to pass the matter to the church court. 6
The New York Times reported:
"While he would not be the first United Methodist minister to face discipline for performing a same-sex wedding, he could well be the one with the highest profile. He is a retired dean of Yale Divinity School, a veteran of the nation’s civil rights struggles and a scholar of the very type of ethical issues he is now confronting.
'Sometimes, when what is officially the law is wrong, you try to get the law changed,' Dr. Ogletree, a native of Birmingham, Ala., said in a courtly Southern drawl over a recent lunch at Yale, where he remains an emeritus professor of theological ethics. 'But if you can’t, you break it.'
For Dr. Ogletree, the issues are not just academic. He has fully accepted, he said, that two of his five children are gay. His daughter married her partner in Massachusetts, in a non-Methodist ceremony. So when his son asked him last year to officiate at the wedding, he said yes.
The wedding of Thomas Rimbey Ogletree and Nicholas W. Haddad, held on Oct. 20, 2012, at the Yale Club in New York, incorporated readings from Scripture and the Massachusetts court decision legalizing same-sex marriages. A wedding announcement in The New York Times prompted several conservative Methodist ministers to file a complaint against Dr. Ogletree with the local bishop…
'He does the right thing because he believes in doing the right thing,' Mr. Ogletree said of his father. 'And then, if there is any question about that, he is willing to stand up and place a claim for that in a public way'." 7
Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree wrote:
"I contend that same sex unions and marriages are fully compatible with Christian teachings, and that we have an obligation to incorporate these understandings into United Methodist practices, even though such efforts are presently in conflict with the church’s existing judicial standards. For the sake of justice, therefore, I was obliged to commit an act of ecclesial disobedience, even though I now face judicial charges for acting in faithful devotion to our church’s inclusive vision." 8
PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly featured Rev. Dr. Ogletree on their 2013-SEP-20 episode. 9 (8 minute video)
More developments in Rev. Dr. Obletree's trial
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Welcome to G.U.M. Research," at: http://www.gumresearch.net/
Daniel Blake, "Local United Methodist Church Conference OKs Same-Sex Unions," The Christian Post, 2011-JUN-01, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
Elena Garcia, "70 Methodist Clergy Agree to Wed Gay Couples," The Christian Post, 2011-JUN-03, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
Daniel Burke, "At General Conference, Methodists To Debate Gay Clergy And Same-Sex Unions," Huffington Post, 2013-APR-25, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
Laurie Goodstein, "Methodists Keep Stricture on Homosexuality," New York Times, 2012-MAY-03, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
"United Methodist Minister Charged for Officiating at Son’s Wedding," More Light Presbyterians, 2013-MAY-06, at: http://www.mlp.org/
Sharon Otterman, "Caught in Methodism’s Split Over Same-Sex Marriage," New York Times, 2013-MAY-05, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
Thomas Ogletree, "Ogletree: Change UM church law regarding homosexuality," The United Methodist Reporter, 2013-MAY-20, at: http://www.unitedmethodistreporter.com/
"Methodist Gay Marriage," Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, 2013-SEP-20, at: http://www.pbs.org/
"Conferences reject church's stance on gays," United Methodist Church, undated, at: http://www.umc.org/
Copyright © 2006 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on
Last update: 2013-SEP-25
Author: B.A. Robinson