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Loving a church that doesn’t love you

Before the United Methodist Church (UMC) announced a proposal to split the denomination over “fundamental differences” regarding theological beliefs on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, that Friday morning of January 3rd, I was on the phone with the Reverend Joel B. Guillemette, pastor of Sudbury UMC. Guillemette and I were finalizing plans for me to come out to preach and celebrate with the church its upcoming 15th anniversary as a Reconciling Congregation in March. UMC Reconciling Congregations welcome people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations. In his letter inviting me he wrote the following:

“Given the proximity of this year’s observance to the next UMC General Conference vote re: LGBTQ legislation in May 2020, it is important to us to invite a preacher who will encourage us during a tumultuous time in our relationship with our global connection and, to be honest, in our congregation’s own internal connections.”

Just minutes after our phone call ended, my smartphone flashed the news. I let out a long sigh of despair.

LGBTQ inclusion in the policy and practices of UMC has been a long contentious and exhausting battle- both nationally and globally. The proposed schism to be voted on in May at General Conference in Minneapolis will divide the nation’s third-largest denomination worldwide. While the current UMC will allow LGBTQ marriages and clergy, the impending split will create a new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination, allowing outright discrimination and denunciation of LGBTQ people in the name of God.

“The best means to resolve our differences, allowing each part of the Church to remain true to its theological understanding, while recognizing the dignity, equality, integrity, and respect of every person,” the proposal, “PROTOCOL OF RECONCILIATION & GRACE THROUGH SEPARATION” stated.

Truth be told, the UMC has always been contradictory in its policies concerning LGBTQ worshippers. While it states that we have and are of the same sacred worth as heterosexuals, and that it’s committed to the ministry of all people regardless of gender identities and sexual orientations, the church views queer sexualities as sinful. The Book of Discipline states that sexuality is “God’s good gift to all persons” and that people are “fully human only when their sexuality is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church and society.” However, this rule does not apply to LGBTQs.

Since the church’s conservative and liberal wings merged in 1968 to become the UMC, it has implemented stricter positions against us. In 1972, for example, UMC delegates inserted in The Book of Discipline that as a church body, “We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In the hopes of avoiding a schism, the Council of Bishops in 2018 recommended the One Church Plan that would grant individual ministers and regional church bodies the decision to ordain LGBTQs as clergy and to perform LGBTQ weddings. It was hoped that such a decision on a church-by-church and regional basis would reflect the diversity as well as affirm the different churches and cultures throughout the global body of UMC.

The One Church Plan, however, was one of three proposed plans by the UMC’s Commission on a Way Forward. The One Church Plan would excise the offensive language targeted at LGBTQs from the Book of Discipline and replace it with compassionate and up-to-date wording about human sexuality in support of its mission. The One Church Plan was voted down in 2019. The others include the Traditionalist Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan, both exclusionary to LGBTQ parishioners.

Many UMC members will point a finger to its African churches as the sole reason for the new “traditionalist Methodist” denomination. However, the U.S. conservative wings-the Wesleyan Covenant Association and the Good News movement-had been preparing to leave before the traditionalists won by a narrow vote in 2019.

The schism in the UMC, sadly, mirrors today’s ongoing battle among religious conservatives. A movement for some time now has been afoot in state legislatures across the country to disenfranchise LGBTQ Americans. These bills called “Religious Freedom Restoration Acts” are a backlash to the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide in 2015.

For example, the case that had many of us LGBTQ Americans on pins and needles was “Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission”. In 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jack Phillips, the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple-Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig-on the grounds of religious freedom. I was hoping the case would render once and for all a cease-and-desist order; thus, resolving the God versus Gay rights dispute for those who want to codify discrimination against us under the guise of religious freedom.

As a nation, we’re at crossroads on many issues. It’s a shame when a church cannot bring us together.

About the Author
Rev. Irene Monroe is an ordained minister. She does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH an NPR station, that is now a podcast, and a weekly Friday commentator on New England Channel NEWS. Monroe is the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail, Guided Walking Tour of Beacon Hill: Boston’s Black Women Abolitionists. She is a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist in cities across the country and in the U.K, Ireland, Canada. She writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows, Cambridge Chronicle, and Opinion pieces for the Boston Globe.

Monroe stated that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American, queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist she tries to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news she aims to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.” Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College Research Library on the history of women in America. Click here to visit her website.

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