The United Methodist Church voted today to keep intact its section in the Book of Discipline that call homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and sanctions only heterosexual marriage. New wording would have removed those passages.
The vote came after a debate that became contentious when one African delegate compared homosexuality to bestiality and declared that God would not create humans as gay or lesbian.
During the vote, supporters of the petition to change the Book of Discipline stood at the edges of the convention floor, or the “bar” as the church calls it. As the debate continued, many delegates moved from their seats to join the members on the margins to show their solidarity. In the end the petition failed to pass.
When the conference reconvened after a break, those who supported the petition remained in the hall, singing as business began again. The presiding bishop, Michael Coyner of the Indiana Conference, shut down the meeting, calling the LGBT advocates a “security concern.”
The morning’s vote and actions by the bishop were a disappointment to David Braden, the director of development for the Reconciling Ministries Network, which works for the full inclusion of LGBT people into the UMC:
“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 discrimination 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.”
Even if this petition failed, said Daniel Viana, a Brazilian-born music minister at a small conservative Hispanic UMC in Chicago, the presence of LGBT people and their allies at the convention is a strong witness to just how active the LGBT community already is in the church.
“We’re here already. We’re lay members, we’re music ministers, we’re Sunday School teachers, secretaries and clergy. We are active. We are not a silent group of people sitting in the back row waiting to be recognized. We are working and want this church to move forward. We want to be acknowledged for who we are and be able to celebrate our lives with the people we love in our church.”
The biggest challenge faced by LGBT advocates in the church lies in the international growth of the denomination, especially into parts of the world like Africa, where they remain very conservative on issues of human sexuality — especially homosexuality, where governements like Uganda’s are trying to make it a capital offense just to be gay.
Baden said the Reconciling Ministries Network is working hard to open dialogues with church leaders in countries like Africa to educate them on the realities of being gay or lesbian.
“We’re having deep conversations on human sexuality especially in places where we haven’t always been able to have these conversations. We’re making great strides to build these relationships and have these delicate conversations,” Braden said.
Braden also noted the distinct lack of women’s voices being heard in the hall during the debate over the petition.
“We’re dismayed that the presiding bishop did not recognize more women clergy and lay delegates who were on the floor. We continue to implore the General Conference to recognize voices being represented and those who are left out who are often women and people of color,” he said.
Before the conference ends on Friday, two more LGBT issues will come up: ordination of LGBT clergy, and the blessing of same-sex relationships. Braden, a life-long Methodist, is cautiously optimistic:
“If the trajectory of this morning continues, I’m not hopeful, but anything is possible. Based on United Methodist Church polity, the church could vote positively on these other issues and contradict itself. But, if it doesn’t happen at this General Conference, it will be another one and the UMC will one day include LGBT folks and we’ll be able to advance toward God’s vision of beloved community.”