Methodists Move Toward LGBT Inclusion

In my article last month about the historic vote by Presbyterians to endorse the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers, I issued a challenge to the Methodist Church, the last mainstream denomination holding out on full acceptance of LGBT people. It seems there were already Methodists taking up the challenge to make their denomination more welcoming.

Just days after the Presbyterians moved to approve gay and lesbian clergy, the Washington Post reported that “the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church narrowly approved a groundbreaking same-sex marriage resolution.”

The resolution, passed at the church’s annual local conference, would amend the church’s Book of Discipline to allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages and ceremonies in member churches in jurisdictions where legislatures already have approved gay marriage laws, such as the District.

The measure was not expected to pass by its sponsor, Washington’s Foundry United Methodist. The pastor there, Rev. Dean Synder, said the resolution was presented “as an occasion to have a conversation. This is very exciting, very moving.”

The resolution must pass muster at the denomination’s General Conference next April in Tampa. Back in 2008, the General Conference rejected an attempt to remove a line from the Book of Discipline that calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The move in Washington was followed closely by 70 Methodist ministers in Minnesota vowing to marry same-sex couples seeking the church’s blessing. At present, the denomination forbids its clergy to preside over same-sex weddings, even in states where it is legal, or for its buildings to be used for such ceremonies. Ministers in violation could be de-frocked.

The move by the ministers comes as Minnesota voters prepare to vote next year on a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in the state as being only between one man and one woman. The statement was brought to the UMC’s annual state denominational conference last month by Rev. Bruce Robbins, pastor of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. The statement gives a nod to the other denominations who are ahead of them:

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.

Neither measure goes as far as approving LGBT people for ordination, but the question remains: could this coming UMC General Conference be the tipping point for the Methodists as it was the Presbyterians’ last denominational gathering? A lot has changed since 2008, with more people becoming accepting of LGBT people and marriage equality. Remember, back in 2009, the Presbyterian proposal to allow gay and lesbian clergy was defeated in the Presbyteries—with narrower margins than the two previous votes, until this year, when the margin finally favored gay and lesbian clergy. If these latest moves do not prove to be the ultimate tipping point for the Methodists, then we may well be witnessing the beginning of a trajectory toward inclusion similar to the Presbyterian journey.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)