The Methodist Church struggles with homosexuality
In voting last month to uphold a denominational ban on gay clergy and same-sex weddings, closing doors in the faces of LGBTQ divinity students and devoted church members, ”We as a church have lost our way,” Bishop Hope Morgan Ward told a rally Thursday night.
Ward was invited to speak at the event, called a Sacred Witness Rally for Inclusion, outside the N.C. Conference headquarters in Garner, the administrative center of some 790 United Methodist churches in Eastern North Carolina. More than 150 people gathered as the sun went down. They came together to lament — and begin organizing against — the denomination’s vote at the General Conference in February.
The vote was meant to end a decades-long spiritual struggle within the worldwide church that strives to be a place where members can worship together even when they stridently disagree. The vote upheld language in the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline banning gay clergy and same-sex weddings. Delegates at the General Conference also voted to put forward a plan for non-complying congregations to exit the United Methodist Church, and crafted rules for enforcing the ban among those that stay.
While membership in the United Methodist Church in the U.S. has long been on the decline, the denomination has been growing around the world, especially in Africa. Conservative-leaning delegates from Africa outnumbered liberal-leaning delegates from the U.S. and helped carry the vote.
With elements of the delegates’ decisions awaiting review next month by the Judicial Council, Methodism’s supreme court, congregations mostly have been in a holding pattern, with members continuing to attend services, serve communion, attend choir practice, plan summer Bible School and serve on countless other ministries where they feel called.
The Judicial Council could overturn any part of the General Conference’s decisions if it finds them out of line with the church’s constitution., or it could let the decisions stand.
The tone of speeches at the rally and the response from those in the audience suggested that even if the Judicial Council finds all the actions of the General Conference to be constitutional, some members of North Carolina churches will continue to fight for the full inclusion of LGBTQ members.
In her brief address to the crowd, Ward recited from Psalm 36, “How precious is your steadfast love, Oh God; all people may rest within the shadow of your wings,” and emphasized the word “all.” It captures the spirit of United Methodists at their very best, she said.
At the podium and in the crowd were gay, transgender and straight United Methodists from churches in Raleigh, Durham and as far away as Carolina Beach.
One, Deborah Morgan, a lesbian deacon at Calvary United Methodist Church in Durham, said, “It doesn’t matter what the General Conference says about you. You are a child of God.”
Laurie Hays Coffman, a pastor in the Reconciling United Methodist movement, which welcomes LGBTQ people, was a little more defiant.
The General Conference, Coffman said, “even gave us a gracious exit opportunity if we wanted to walk out the back door any time. I don’t want to walk out the back door, or the front door. I love this church. It has loved me since I was conceived, and I don’t have any plans of letting them force me out.
“I also don’t have any plans of complying with what I believe to be an unjust and inhumane way of being church.”
Local opponents of the General Conference decision have launched an online petition calling on churches to resist the ban and its enforcement measures. The petition had nearly 1,400 signatures by Thursday night.