The United Methodist Church and Homosexuality
More comments at their 2012 conference.
Introduction to the
More comments by delegates at the 2012 Conference:
At the 2012 Conference a suggestions were made to formally recognize a split within the denomination on matters relating to sexual orientation. Although such a split is obvious within the church, all attempts to recognize them were voted down.
Kasap Owan Tshibang, a delegate from 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-gender sexual behavior causes people to lose any possibility of salvation so that they will automatically spend eternity in the torture chambers of Hell.
A biblical passage that emphasizes this is located at 1 Corinthians 6:9. Paul wrote that some people will not inherit
the Kingdom of God (heaven). Unfortunately, interpretations of the passage differ, and there is no concensus on exactly what group(s) Paul thinks will lose their inherentance.
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 was scheduled for 2016-MAY, in four years.
Webmaster's comments on the 2012 conference: (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, who are members of the first generation of Americans in which the majority have a family member or friend who is a member of the LGBT community. On the other hand, their decision will retain many elderly members who otherwise might have considered leaving the denomination over the homosexual issues. There is a financial aspect involved in the conflict, as older members tend to donate more to their congregation than younger members.
A chasm is forming in the denomination between the membership in North America and those 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 four normal, natural, unchosen, unchangeable, and morally neutral sexual orientations: heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, and asexual. The latter retain traditional beliefs about human sexuality.
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.
Status of beliefs about homosexuality in the UMC when its 2016 General Conference began:
The 2012 Conference's unresolved conflict over the LGBT community remained active . Basically, conservative elements at the 2016 conference wanted to retain the existing condemnation of all same-gender sexual behavior in the Book of Discipline -- the UMC's governing document on rules and beliefs. More liberal elements wanted to modify the Book of Discipline to at least indicate reality: that the denomination is profoundly divided on the topic.
The conflict has probably intensified during the previous four years since the previous conference.
During mid-2015, The U.S. Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage across all 50 states, one District, and four out of five Territories. The only exception has been American Samoa, a territory where most of the population are considered American Residents, not American Citizens. Thus the High Court ruling does not necessarily apply there. A number of other predominately Christian countries around the world have also legalized same-sex marriages in recent years.
Later during the summer of 2015, the Episcopal Church (USA) became the third major mainline denomination in the U.S. to accept marriage equality. 2
During 2016-JAN, Rev. Cynthia Meyer, a UMC minister, delivered her first sermon of the year and revealed that she is a lesbian and supports acceptance of the LGBT community within the denomination. 2
- Over 100 UMC clergy and clergy candidates have come "out of the closet" and revealed that they were gay.
During 2016-APR, the Rev. Val Rosenquist and Bishop Melvin Talbert officiated at the wedding of a gay couple, John Romano and Jim Wilborne, in violation of the Book of Discipline. 2
There was a feeling by many delegates that it was of vital interest to resolve the conflict quickly in order to prevent a schism within the Church. The Council of Bishops made an unusual move. Just before the Conference was to start debate on "the issue", The Council recommended that further debate on the modification of the Book of Discipline be postponed, and this this responsibility be transferred to a special commission to be organized by the Council.
Heather Hahn & Sam Hodges, writing for the United Methodist News, said:
"The bishops asked for the body’s permission to name a special commission that would closely examine every paragraph in the Book of Discipline related to human sexuality, and possibly recommend some revisions. The commission would represent the different regions of a denomination on four continents as well as the varied perspectives of the church." 3
Bishop Bruce Ough, the president of the Council of Bishops said:
"We accept our role as spiritual leaders to lead The United Methodist Church in a ‘pause for prayer’ — to step back from attempts at legislative solutions and to intentionally seek God's will for the future. ... We share with you a deep commitment to the unity of the church in Christ our Lord. ... Within the church, we are called to work and pray for more Christ-like unity with each other rather than separation from one another. This is the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21-23.”
George Howard, a delegate from the West Ohio Conference, filed a motion for the delegates to accept the bishops' recommendations. He said:
"Our church is struggling, and there are voices all around the edges -- just a variety of voices. What I’m afraid of is that if we don’t pause and allow the [Holy] Spirit to fill the space, then we will fracture."
This motion was passed by a narrow margin of 428 to 405. At least temporarily, the Conference pulled back from a likely Church schism. 3
Webmaster's comment (bias alert):
For years, there has been a very serious conservative/liberal split in the United Methodist Church about its response to its members who are sexually active with same-sex partners. There is another split "waiting in the wings" over transgender persons; it has yet to be fully engaged. Similar splits are seen developing in other mainline Christian denominations.
My belief is that there are three main reason why the conflict over homosexuality within the UMC remains unresolved:
1. The Church is split over interpretations of the Bible's "clobber passages" that have been extensively used to attack the LGBT community. Two examples are:
Conservatives generally interpret the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 as forbidding all same-gender sexual behavior. Some liberals interpret the same chapter as condemning men attempting to rape male angels because it is the ultimate act of anti-social behavior and/or because it involved bestiality. (Note that humans and angels are of different species.)
The story in Romans 1 involves former Christians who reverted to Paganism and engaged in a sexual orgy. Conservatives interpret the passage as forbidding all same-gender sexual behavior whether by women or men. Some liberals interpret the same chapter as forbidding sexual behavior by persons with a heterosexual orientation with members of the same gender. The reason is that such activity violates their basic nature. That is, the passage condemns same-gender sexual behavior by two persons with a heterosexual orientation, as well as condemning opposite-gender sexual behavior by two persons with a homosexual orientation.
The story in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in which a group of individuals lose their inheritance of the Kingdom of God. That is, they would end up in Hell after death. Unfortunately, the original Greek in which the passages was written, is not clear about which specific group is involved.
Unfortunately, there appears to be little dialogue within the UMC to resolve this difference of opinion.
Many religious liberals believe that the Bible accepts all monogamous, faithful, committed sexual relationships.
This topic continues with a further discussion of activities at the 2016 UMC General Conference
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
Billy Hallowell, " 'The Church Might Divide': Nation’s Third Largest Faith Group Makes Key Decision in Bitter Battle Over Gay Marriage," The Blaze, 2016-MAY-19, at: http://www.theblaze.com/
Heather Hahn & Sam Hodges, "GC2016 puts hold on sexuality debate," United Methodist News, 2016-MAY-18, at: http://www.umc.org/
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Last update: 2018-MAY-17
Author: B.A. Robinson