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Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church, with an estimated 10.4 million members, has current policies that are strongly against the LGBT community. However, many church leaders, including local pastors, welcome gays and lesbians as church members and support their basic human rights. The denomination prohibits ministers from blessing same-sex unions and condemns gay sex. It also officially excludes noncelibate gay and lesbian people from ordination, though this rule has been the subject of recent controversy.

Transgender clergy stand in an awkward and precarious position as there is no specific stance stated in the Book of Discipline, which is the instrument for setting forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which United Methodists govern themselves.

Rights for Gays and Lesbians

Regarding the denomination’s particular stance on homosexuality, the 2012 Book of Discipline states:

“The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.  We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

The church has officially denounced homophobia and heterosexism and is committed to their eradication.  The denomination explicitly states that gays and lesbians are of equal sacred worth as heterosexuals and should be welcomed into United Methodist families and congregations.

Likewise, the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC, which seeks to relate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the members of the Church and to the persons and structures of the communities and world in which they live,  encouraged the repeal of the U.S. military policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." You can read the United Methodist resolution on this at “‘Military Service Regardless of Sexual Orientation'” (Faith in Action, Nov. 19, 2010).

The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-making body, General Conference, stated that the U.S. military should not exclude persons from service solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. General Conference has called this policy “discriminatory, unethical and regrettable.”

The United Methodist Church also supports “certain basic human rights and civil liberties” for gays and lesbians, including some limited recognition of same-sex relationships. For example, the 2008 Book of Discipline states:

“Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation. We see a clear issue of simple justice in protecting the rightful claims where people have shared material resources, pensions, guardian relationships, mutual powers of attorney, and other such lawful claims typically attendant to contractual relationships that 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 all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.”

However, the denomination’s top court declined to reconsider Judicial Council Decision 1032 at the end of October 2010. Decision 1032 states that a United Methodist pastor has the right to determine local church membership, even if the decision is based on the person’s sexual orientation.

Sexual Relations

The 2008 Book of Discipline frames the UMC’s beliefs about human sexuality, “Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.”

Blessing of Same-Sex Unions

The church forbids United Methodist ministers from performing weddings or commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples even in states where it is legal or for its buildings to be used for such ceremonies. Ministers in violation could be defrocked, but some United Methodist ministers have publicly performed them, despite the church’s regulations. For example, in 2013, church officials defrocked Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor from central Pennsylvania who officiated his son's gay wedding in Massachusetts.

At the 2012 General Conference, the policy forbidding the blessing of same-sex unions was challenged but upheld. The conference delegates also upheld church’s official doctrine declaring support for “laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

In 2012, the General Conference reaffirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman by stating:

We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Additionally, the UMC’s Judicial Council ruled in 2009 that church law prohibits clergy from performing same-sex marriages or commitment ceremonies. Thus, the denomination does not sanction civil union ceremonies or weddings conducted by UMC ministers or in UMC churches, despite appeals from some regional congregations and clergy that it does so.

In 2011, some 70 United Methodist ministers in Minnesota announced that they're willing to marry gay couples. They signed a statement at Minnesota's Annual United Methodist Clergy Conference, saying they would "offer the grace of the Church's blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage." 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.

Ordination of Gay and Lesbian Ministers

The UMC’s official doctrine bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from the clergy.

“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

"Self-avowed practicing homosexual" is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.

In March 2004, an openly lesbian pastor in Seattle, the Rev. Karen Dammann, was acquitted on charges of violating church law. Her trial and acquittal stirred up furor among UMC leaders on both sides of the issue. In May 2004, the Judicial Council declared that bishops could not appoint ministers who had been found to be “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” The court also said that it did not have the authority to reverse Dammann’s acquittal.

In December 2004, in a church court trial in Pennsylvania, the jury voted to remove the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud from the ministry. Stroud had come out to her congregation more than a year earlier, saying that she lived in a “covenant relationship” with her same-sex partner. The trial verdict was overturned on appeal, but the original verdict was reinstated by the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church in October 2005.

Prior to 2004, the last time a United Methodist minister had been defrocked because of his or her sexual orientation was in 1987, when a church court in New Hampshire ruled against another out lesbian, the Rev. Rose Mary Denman.

On June 21 - 23, 2011, the United Methodist Church once again wrestled with the issue of homosexuality in a public church trial for the seventh time in 20 years

The Rev. Amy DeLong, an out lesbian clergy member of the Wisconsin Annual Conference, faced two charges of violating church law and the possibility of losing her ministerial credentials. Her trial began June 21 at Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. DeLong was charged with violating the United Methodist Church’s ban on non-celibate, gay clergy and the prohibition against clergy officiating at same-sex unions.

The trial court acquitted her of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" by a vote of 12-1. The same panel unanimously found her guilty of violating the prohibition against conducting ceremonies celebrating same-gender unions.

After seven hours of deliberations, a jury of 13 United Methodist clergy voted 9-4 to suspend the Rev. Amy DeLong from her ministerial functions for 20 days. Part of the penalty required DeLong to use those 20 days for “spiritual discernment” and to work with a committee of church officials on creating a new process for resolving disputes over ministerial violations of church covenant.

The trial came at a time when the denomination's longtime debate over homosexuality was rekindled in advance of the 2012 General Conference. Only the General Conference can change The Book of Discipline.

In February 2011, 36 retired bishops signed A Statement of Counsel to the Church A Statement of Counsel to the Church2011, urging the denomination to end its ban on gay clergy. About 42 percent of the denomination's 85 retired bishops signed the statement. However, neither active nor retired bishops are allowed to vote at General Conference, which meets every four years.

Transgender Issues

In 2007, The Rev. Drew Phoenix spoke at both a closed clergy session and a general plenary session in May during the annual conference meeting at the Wardman Park Hotel in Washington. In his statement to the plenary session, the 48-year-old pastor explained that "last fall, after a lifelong spiritual journey, and years of prayer and discernment, I decided to change my name from Ann Gordon to Drew Phoenix in order to reflect my true gender identity and to honor my spiritual transformation and relationship with God."

The issue of transgender clergy came to the forefront of the denomination in 2007 when Bishop John R. Schol reappointed Phoenix as pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore, MD. The Bishop said the 2004 Book of Discipline did not prevent transgender clergy from serving in an appointment. The denomination’s highest court affirmed that decision, agreeing that gender change is not addressed in the United Methodist constitution.

While church policy does not permit self-avowed practicing gay clergy to be appointed and bans gay unions, it says nothing about transgender clergy.

Phoenix is not the first United Methodist transgender clergy member. In 2002, the Rev. Rebecca A. Steen decided to leave the denomination after controversy over her desire to return to active ministry after gender reassignment. She had sought voluntary leave from the conference in 1999. Prior to that time, Steen, who was then the Rev. Richard A. Zamostny, had served churches in three Maryland communities during a 17-year career.

In Aug. 2009, the Rev. David Weekley started telling the story of his experience as a transgender man, beginning with his own congregation. In an effort to expand the discussion about sexuality and gender throughout the denomination, Weekley came out despite a climate of reluctance to discussing LGBT inclusion in the church.

Resources for LGBT United Methodists

The Reconciling Ministries Network is a coalition of LGBT-inclusive UMC congregations and ministries that offers contact information for LGBT-friendly churches around the United States.

Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns encourages more inclusive policies for LGBT people within the church.

The Methodist Federation for Social Action works to advance social justice policies within the church, including advocacy on behalf of LGBT people.

Film: Incompatible with Christian Teaching is a documentary film directed by Anne Brown, detailing the stories of clergy and laity, and GLBT and straight allies.

http://wipfandstock.com/store/In_from_the_Wilderness_Sherman_Sherman is the link where you can purchase Rev. David Weekley’s book In From the Wilderness (She-R-Man).

Headquarters Location

If you would like to communicate with the United Methodist Church in the United States, here is their mailing address:

United Methodist
Office of Public Information
810 Twelfth St. South
Nashville, TN 37203