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The United Methodist Church and Homosexuality

Decisions by church conferences
and courts from 1972 to 1996

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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 are often considered at that conference. 1

bullet1972: They passed a motion which added the following statement to the denomination's "Social Principles" document. This followed a four year study into homosexuality:

"Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are person of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. Further we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured, although we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

The final phrase "although...teaching" was added to the statement after a floor debate. This motion has since been reaffirmed in subsequent conferences. In 1992, it was passed again with a vote of 75% in favor.

bullet1976: They adopted reports which stopped any funding of gay/lesbian support groups with church money. 2
 
bullet1980: A motion was proposed to add the phrase "no self-avowed practicing homosexual therefore shall be ordained or appointed in The United Methodist Church" to Paragraph 404 of the Book. It failed to pass.
 
bullet1984: They passed a "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness" statement (Paragraph 402.2) which stated:

"Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."

Shortly after the UMC statement, the New York Conference passed a resolution stating:  "We deeply regret our denomination's continued oppression of homosexual persons ... We look forward to the day when the church will accept gay and lesbian persons into full fellowship."

bullet1988: The General Conference created a "Committee to Study Homosexuality" to present a report to the General Council on Ministries. They established a list of categories for committee membership, in order that it be truly inclusive. In a curious move, gays, lesbians and bisexuals were not allowed to join the committee.
 
bullet1992: The (presumably 100% heterosexual) committee was able to reach a consensus on four items:
bulletThe 7 references to homosexuality in the Bible represent ancient culture and not the will of God. They cannot be taken as definitive.

bulletHomosexuality is a normal human sexual variant, which can be healthy and whole.

bulletCovenantal, committed, and monogamous homosexual relationships should be affirmed.

bulletThese conclusions are supported by God's grace, which is visible in the life of lesbian and gay Christians.

A majority report recommended:

"The present state of knowledge and insight in the biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological, and sociological fields does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly maintain the condemnation of all homosexual practice."

A minority report recommended:

"The present state of knowledge and insight in the biblical, theological, ethical, biological, psychological, and sociological fields does not provide a satisfactory basis upon which the church can responsibly alter its previously held position that we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching."

[Emphasis by us]

The committee recommended that Paragraph 72 of the Social Principles be augmented to include:

G) Rights of Homosexual Persons. Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to support those rights and liberties for homosexual persons. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting their rightful claims in same-sex relationships where they have: shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships which involve shared contributions, responsibilities, and liabilities, and equal protection before the law. Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians.

The homosexual report was "received" by the General Conference, but was not approved. 3 As a result, Appendix G was not included. 

They did modify their Book of Discipline to state that:

"We insist that all persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured."

They further emphasized that Methodists "are committed to support [basic human rights and civil liberties] for homosexual persons." It also recognizes that claims of gays and lesbians to "equal protection before the law" is a issue of simple justice. However, they did not appear to include the human right to marry the person to whom one is committed for life, or the right to be considered for ordination in the UMC.

Also in 1992, the UMC Commission on Christian Unity and Inter-religious Concerns opened its membership to all members, including gays and lesbians. The UMC Judicial Council later ruled that the Commission's action was constitutional.

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bullet1996: The 1996 General Conference was held during the week of APR-15. They voted 553 to 321 to add to the Book of Discipline's "Social Principles" section a statement saying "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."  

At the conference, 11 active and 4 retired Bishops (out of the total of 130 bishops worldwide) circulated a "In All Things Charity" letter calling for equal rights for homosexuals, including the right to be eligible for ordination as pastors. "Clergy from across the United States added their names to the statement, which now [1998-JAN] has been endorsed by approximately 1,300 United Methodist clergy." 4 The letter reads, in part:

"We the undersigned bishops wish to affirm the commitment made at our consecration to the vows to uphold the Discipline of the church. However, we must confess the pain we feel over our personal convictions that are contradicted by the proscriptions in the Discipline against gay and lesbian persons within our church and within our ordained and diaconal ministers. Those sections are Paragraphs 71F (last paragraph); 402.2; 906.12; and footnote, p. 205."

"We believe it is time to break the silence and state where we are on this issue that is hurting and silencing countless faithful Christians. We will continue our responsibility to order and discipline of the church but urge our United Methodist churches to open the doors in gracious hospitality to all our brothers and sisters in the faith."

This time, the vote on the "incompatibility" clause passed with only a 60% majority.

On 1996-MAY-9, Transforming Congregations formally expressed concern about the statement of the 15 bishops. They feel that such a stance by liberal Bishops will adversely "influence our ability to do transforming ministry with those who are struggling and overcoming homosexual behavior and desire." They urged the Council of Bishops to not "undermine our ministries through your words and actions."

It took almost two decades before it became obvious to many conservative religious and social conservatives that a person cannot change their sexual orientation in adulthood. The most obvious indication of this was the closing of the largest conservative Christian group dedicated to making gays into ex-gays: Exodus International during mid-2013.

The conference passed the following resolution about homosexuals in the military:

"Basis: The United States of America, a nation built on equal rights, has denied the right of homosexuals to actively serve their country while being honest about who they are. The United Methodist Church needs to be an advocate for equal civil rights for all marginalized groups, including homosexuals.

Conclusion: The U.S. military should not exclude persons from service solely on the basis of sexual orientation." (Book of Resolutions . Page 112)

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This topic continues in the next essay

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Related essay:

bulletIs compromise possible, or is schism inevitable?

References:

  1. David W. Perkins, "United Methodist Church policy regarding 'Homosexuality'," Archived copy at: http://web.archive.org/
  2. The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 1992, Paragraph 906.12, Page 450
  3. "The Church Studies Homosexuality," Cokesbury, Nashville, TN; (1994) Page 19.
  4. Jimmy Creech, "Response to the Judicial Charge", 1998-JAN-26 is at: http://www.iwgonline.org/docs/creech.html

Copyright 1997 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2014-AUG-21

Author: B.A. Robinson
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