Feb 25 2019

Pastor Mike at Aztec Methodist Church

As I write this, a called session of the United Methodist General Conference (GC) is underway. Its purpose is to deal with the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) stance on homosexuality.

The first discipline of the UMC in 1968 didn’t mention homosexuality at all. In 1972 a paragraph was introduced to our social principles that said in part, “Homosexuals no less than heterosexuals are persons of sacred worth who need the ministry and guidance of the church…Further we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured, though we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” With some changes in wording this has remained UMC policy since then.

In 1992 a paragraph was added to the social principles that said “Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons We are committed to support these rights and liberties for homosexual persons…Moreover, we support efforts to stop violence and other forms of coercion against gays and lesbians.” In the section on ordained ministry the following language was adopted, “Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.” There has been debate over the meaning of “self avowed practicing” But the language has remained in the discipline. 

In 1996 a new paragraph in the social principles defined marriage as being between a man and a woman, and stated, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” In 2004 this paragraph was eliminated, but the prohibition against same-sex marriages was moved to the paragraph on “duties of ordained ministers.” A sentence was added to the paragraph on sexuality: “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”

Over the years each GC has dealt with petitions on this issue: to do away with the prohibitions or to strengthen them. It had also been clear that some jurisdictions were ignoring the ordination ban. It was decided to call the special session to spend more time dealing with this issue. The bishops were asked to make recommendations, an unprecedented move, since bishops do not have a vote at GC.

The bishops appointed a “Commission on a Way Forward”. This commission brought 3 different proposals. The first was to allow each Annual Conference to decide whether or not to ordain homosexuals, and each congregation to decide whether it would allow same sex marriages or accept a homosexual pastor. The second proposal would retain all of the current prohibitions, and encourage anyone who disagreed to leave the church. The third proposal would create three Jurisdictions, no longer based on geography. One would have no prohibitions, one would keep them in force, and one would be somewhere in between. Each annual conference, each church and each pastor would decide which jurisdiction to join. They would be connected by being part of the GC. 

All three proposals would require constitutional amendments. To pass an amendment must receive a 2/3 vote of the delegates at GC and 2/3 of everyone voting in each Annual Conference. So no matter which (if any) of these three proposals might pass the process won’t be over until some time next year at the earliest.

Please keep up your prayers for the UMC.