Resources

Stances of Faiths on LGBT Issues: The United Methodist Church

Background

The United Methodist Church (UMC) has its origins in the Methodist movement that was started in the mid 18th century by Anglican priest John Wesley and his brother Charles. The UMC’s current structure was formed in 1968 by the joining of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The United Methodist Church now has over 10 million members worldwide with the majority residing in the United States. The church is founded on three basic principles: (1) Do no harm, avoiding evil of all kinds; (2) Do good, of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all; and (3) Practice "the ordinances of God," engaging in individual and communal spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible reading, worship and the Lord's Supper.

National church structure mirrors the United States government with judicial, executive and legislative branches. The legislative branch—the General Conference—meets every four years to set church policy. Approximately 1,000 delegates (half lay leaders, half clergy) gather to consider revisions to the Book of Resolutions, which makes pronouncements on social issues, and the Book of Discipline, which details church law. Decisions of the General Conference cannot be questioned until they are raised at its next convening. Feeding into the General Conference are Annual and Jurisdictional Conferences focused on immediate concerns within the denomination’s five U.S. jurisdictions.

LGBT Equality

On Inclusion

The church’s Book of Discipline bans discrimination at the congregational level, and recognizes the “sacred worth” of all persons. Current policy states,

“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.”

This policy is reflected in the church’s support of full inclusion for LGBT persons in the armed services and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).

However, church doctrine also states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings and bans financial support of all LGBT-based groups. A call for reform on these issues is being heard from local churches and districts, and is likely to be addressed at the General Conference in 2016.

Following the 2012 General Conference, many LGBT persons and allies continued their efforts for legislative change. Some also adopted practices of ecclesial disobedience—coined “Biblical Obedience” by ally Bishop Melvin Talbert. The practice urges people to “be the church now” and to ignore discriminatory and unjust laws. This effort has seen a dramatic increase in clergy and laity who defy church doctrine in an effort to reclaim the Bible's call for justice and inclusion as it applies to marriage and ordination. Some of these efforts have led to public church trials.

On Marriage Equality

Same sex marriages cannot be celebrated in a United Methodist Church. According to the Book of Discipline: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

Nevertheless, many clergy and individual churches have voted to celebrate weddings despite restrictions set by the General Conference. A national list can be found at www.rmnetwork.org/altarforall.

On Ordination

Currently, "self-avowed, practicing" gay and lesbian persons cannot be ordained in The United Methodist Church. According to the Book of Discipline: "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." Although some regions still raise obstacles, gay and lesbian persons who take a vow of abstinence are eligible for ordination according to church law.

In 2014, both the New England and California-Pacific conferences issued statements that they would not discriminate against LGBT people seeking ordination—an action that goes directly against church law.

Women have been ordained in The Methodist Church since 1956.

On Transgender Inclusion

Transgender ministers have served United Methodist Churches. There is no policy excluding them from ordination. An attempt to deny ordination to transgender persons failed at the General Conference in 2008.

On Employment

The United Methodist Church publicly supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The 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.”

Next Steps

The General Conference of 2016, to be convened in Portland, Oregon, provides an opportunity for significant change in church policy and practice. Delegates in 2012 unsuccessfully challenged the church’s stance on same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination but enormous changes have been enacted on the national and local level since that time. LGBT Methodists and their straight allies have a rare opportunity before them. For further information, and for suggestions on how to get involved, email religion@hrc.org.

Resources for LGBT United Methodists

  • Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns is an organization that challenges The United Methodist Church to be inclusive, and radically speaks out against injustice for LGBTQ people around the world.

  • Methodists in New Directions is a grassroots organization of United Methodists working to end our denomination’s doctrinal prejudice and institutional discrimination against LGBT people and committed to living more fully into God’s radical Welcome right now and right here.

  • The Reconciling Ministries Network is a growing movement of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries, and other groups working for the full participation of all people in The United Methodist Church.

Contact Information

The United Methodist Church
Council on Finance & Administration
P.O. Box 340029
Nashville, TN 37203-0029
Website: www.umc.org

To find a UMC church near you:
http://www.umc.org/find-a-church/search

Last revised: 9/17/2014