Longstanding policies banning same-sex marriages and LGBT clergy members are up for debate during a meeting of the top Methodist policy making body.
Autumn Allison, Nashville Tennessean
ST. LOUIS — The top policymaking body of the United Methodist Church voted to reinforce the global denomination’s bans on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy instead of lift them.
From Sunday to Tuesday, 864 lay and clergy delegates gathered in St. Louis for a specially called session of the General Conference to debate human sexuality and try to find a way forward together.
The rule book for the more than 12 million member church says homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Although a majority of delegates upheld the church’s current teachings, Methodists remain deeply divided on these matters.
The church’s decades-old conflict on human sexuality and how to interpret what the Bible says about it continued this week inside The Dome at America’s Center. It remains to be seen if the outcome of that debate will prompt some members and churches to leave.
Here are three takeaways from the big denominational meeting:
Judicial review of the Traditional Plan
The delegates approved a conservative measure known as the Traditional Plan that strengthened the church’s prohibitions on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination as well as same-sex marriage. The plan passed in a 438-384 vote.
Mark Tooley, the president of the conservative Institute on Religion & Democracy, called it a historic moment in a post he shared on Twitter.
“Transitioning from liberal Mainline to global orthodox, our great church has future,” Tooley said.
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 had already ruled pieces of the Traditional Plan as unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the delegates sent them an amended version for consideration.
“There will be pieces that already are constitutional, there are pieces that are already unconstitutional,” said the Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of the General Conference. “And we have other pieces that they will be reviewing after the body did some work. Right now, we will not hear the final disposition of all those pieces until we hear the results.”
United Methodists meet again in 2020
The passage of the Traditional Plan is seen as a setback for those pushing for inclusion of LGBT people in the church.
It also has emotionally pained LGBT Methodists and their straight allies.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Holland, the executive director of Mainstream UMC, acknowledged that in a Tuesday night letter posted to his organization’s website. He encouraged Methodists to reach out to LGBT people in the wake of this decision.
“No way around it, this hurts. My heart breaks for all the LGBTQ persons in our connection. These are the ones who live the discrimination every day,” he said. “Please reach out to the LGBTQ persons around you. At the end of the day, this was not about legislation, or tactics, or votes. This is about our people and my heart is broken for my people.”
Mainstream UMC wanted the more progressive One Church Plan to pass. It would have lifted the bans on LGBT clergy and same-sex marriage while protecting those who did not agree with the marriages.
But supporters of inclusion like Mainstream UMC say they are not giving up. Reconciling Ministries Network released a statement Tuesday night to that effect.
“We continue our pursuit of a church that loves as Jesus loves,” the statement said. “We will gather soon to determine the next steps in our continued advocacy for LGBTQIA+ people in The UMC. There may be a “traditional” (divisive) plan, but by no means is our work abandoned.”
There is a good chance human sexuality in the church will come up again next year.
The General Conference meets again in 2020 for its regularly scheduled quadrennial meeting. The top policymaking body of the church will gather next in Minneapolis.
Communicating and ministering to the people in the pews
But the 2019 special session is over and that means Methodist leaders will be relaying what happened in St. Louis to the people in their church pews and ministering to them in this fraught time.
Bishop Bill McAlilly, who leads the church in much of Tennessee as well as western Kentucky, started that work Tuesday night from St. Louis with a video message to the United Methodists in his region. He acknowledged the range of emotions as well as the pain that the passage of the Traditional Plan has caused some.
“My first reminder today as your chief pastor is to love one another. Some of your neighbors, some of your church members are hurting because of this decision,” McAlilly said. “It’ll take time for all of us to understand how these decisions will affect us at the grassroots, how they will affect the future of the United Methodist Church.”
He made an appeal to those who may be thinking of leaving.
“I ask you to allow us the opportunity before you or your church make any decisions regarding your relationships with the United Methodist Church to be in conversation with you,” McAlilly said.
Follow Holly Meyer on Twitter @HollyAMeyer.
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