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The United Methodist Church, with an estimated 10.4 million members, has current policies that are strongly against the LGBTQ community. However, many church leaders, including local pastors, welcome gays and lesbians as church members and support their basic human rights.
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 12.5 million members worldwide, with 7 million of those members in the 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.
The global 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 and Central Conferences for outside the U.S.
The church’s 2016 Book of Discipline recognizes the “sacred worth” of all persons but also states that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and bans financial support of LGBTQ-based groups.
Following the 2012 General Conference, many LGBTQ 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.
At the 2016 General Conference, delegates voted to defer action on LGBTQ issues pending further study, and the denomination then created the Commission on a Way Forward to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality. At a special conference in February 2019, convened specifically to address divisions over LGBTQ issue, delegates approved the "Traditionalist Plan" which affirmed the denomination's teaching on homosexuality. It also hardens the denomination’s approach to rulebreakers. It closes loopholes that conservatives believed had allowed some LGBTQ people to be ordained as clergy and some bishops to avoid enforcing the rules. It enacts new across-the-board standards for punishing ministers who perform same-sex weddings: a minimum one-year suspension without pay for the first wedding, and permanent removal from ministry for the second.
But the Traditional Plan has another hurdle to clear. Delegates voted to send it to the Judicial Council, which is like the denomination's supreme court, for a review of its constitutionality under church law. The Judicial Council’s next regular session is scheduled for late April 2019.
ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY
The United Methodist Church does not recognize or celebrate same-sex marriages. 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.” The denomination’s official policy include support of laws that define marriage as a union of one man and one woman. In February 2019, the denomination reaffirmed its ban on marriage equality at their 2019 special conference.
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.
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.”
Currently, "self-avowed, practicing" gay, lesbian and bisexual 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, lesbian and bisexual 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 LGBTQ people seeking ordination—an action that goes directly against church law.
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.
Women have been ordained in The Methodist Church since 1956.
The United Methodist Church
Council on Finance & Administration
P.O. Box 340029
Nashville, TN 37203-0029