By Kathy L. Gilbert, UMNS-
The United Methodist Church declares “the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Book of Discipline bars openly gay or lesbian people who are not celibate from being ordained or becoming bishops. The church’s lawbook prohibits officiating at or participating in same-sex weddings and annual conferences cannot fund LGBTQ programs or events.
But this summer, The New York conference ordained four openly gay clergy. The California-Nevada and California-Pacific conferences endorsed two openly gay clergy as bishop candidates, and the Rocky Mountain Conference passed a resolution that sexual orientation and gender identity should not be a bar to election to the episcopacy. The North Central Jurisdiction also considered an openly gay clergyman as a bishop candidate.
The New England Conference was the first to approve a resolution titled “Action of Non-Conformity with the General Conference of The United Methodist Church,” which stated the conference would not comply with provisions of the denomination’s lawbook that discriminate against LGBTQ persons. That conference was followed by the Desert Southwest, California-Pacific and Pacific-Northwest conferences, which passed similar ‘non-conformity’ resolutions.
The California-Nevada Conference passed an “aspirational resolution” calling for the Book of Discipline not to be followed as it relates to items concerning LGBTQIA persons and ceasing judicial processes in matters related to prohibitions against LGBTQIA persons. LGBTQIA stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual.
In Iowa, the Rev. Anna Blaedel came out as gay and three clergymen immediately filed a complaint against her.
Support for special commission. Many conferences offered words of encouragement and prayers for the Council of Bishop’s “An Offering For A Way Forward” as it starts the process of appointing a special commission to deal with all the portions of church law dealing with LBGTQ people.
Bishop Mike Lowry, Fort Worth Episcopal area, stated the bishop’s special commission was not an invitation to violate the Book of Discipline.
The United Methodist Church in Estonia passed a resolution that “human sexuality belongs only within the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Bishops in the U.S. Southeast denounced as “divisive and disruptive” the public refusal by some conferences to conform with church restrictions related to LGBTQ individuals. “We recognize the pain felt both by those advocating for and those opposing change,” the Southeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops said in a pastoral letter. “We also view the acts of nonconformity as a violation of our covenant and as divisive and disruptive.”
The college released the letter the evening of July 12, the eve before United Methodist bishop elections began. “We wanted to assure the Southeastern Jurisdiction that we understand the tension in the church, but we also wanted to give them the confidence in our leadership as we uphold the vows we made at our consecration (as bishops),” Nashville Area Bishop William T. McAllily told United Methodist News Service.
The South Georgia Conference passed a motion asking their resident bishop not receive any clergy who have publicly stated their intent to disregard the current language of the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.
The Rev. Robert Beckum, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus, South Georgia, proposed the resolution to the conference to “close a loophole” allowing bishops to transfer United Methodist clergy from one annual conference to another. “It is most unfortunate that we have bishops, annual conferences, and conference boards of ordained ministry choosing to flagrantly disregard our Disciplinary Covenant while expressing concern for our historic connection and the unity of The United Methodist Church,” Beckum said.
Conference boards of ordained ministry. The Oregon-Idaho conference board of ordained ministry joined Northern Illinois, Baltimore-Washington, Pacific Northwest, and New York to consider all candidates for ministry without regard for their sexual orientations and gender identities. And the Oregon-Idaho clergy session voted during annual conference to affirm the board of ordained ministry’s action.
Membership in RCRC. Oregon-Idaho, New England, New York, California-Nevada, and the Pacific-Northwest conferences supported the work of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and voted to join the coalition. California-Nevada joined both the national coalition and the the California Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Rocky Mountain Conference passed a resolution affirming its membership in the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
General Conference withdrew membership from the national organization that advocates for women’s reproductive health and abortion in May.
Fossil fuel divestment. The New York and Pacific Northwest Conferences and the Northwest United Methodist Foundation will divest from fossil fuels following decisions at their annual conference meetings in June. Pacific Northwest also adopted a Statement of Lament on General Conference 2016’s Affirmation of Fossil Fuel Investments, which was submitted to the Western Jurisdictional Conference 2016.
Celebrations. Conferences paused to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the ordination of clergywomen in The United Methodist Church and 20th anniversary of the ordination of Deacons.
Many celebrated their contributions to the Imagine No Malaria campaign, which has raised more than $68 million to end malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa where one child dies from malaria every two minutes.
Kathy Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.