The wall against LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church has begun to come down. This June—following the recent disaster of May when our once-every-four-years General Conference, meeting in Portland, Oregon, kicked the can down the road regarding being an inclusive denomination and the conservative, orthodox delegates won every issue—several Annual Conferences started taking the wall apart, stone by stone.
June is the season of “Annual Conferences” in the United Methodist Church. These gatherings of clergy and lay delegates from every local congregation in a region (for example Florida or Virginia or New England or the Pacific Northwest) come together for the major function of ordaining new ministers, celebrate retirements, set the clergy appointments for the year, establish goals for the Conference and other church-family stuff.
Starting in New England, and spreading to three of the corners of our country (of course—skipping the Southeast corner where we live), six Annual Conferences voted to ignore the portions of our rules book (we call it The Book of Discipline—abbreviated BOD) which PROHIBITS ministry to and with LGBTQ persons and the people who love them. These prohibitions against ordaining and appointing LGBTQ ministers and against allowing local churches to perform and celebrate same-gender weddings, and against allowing Conferences to spend church funds on LGBTQ ministries and mandating “church trials” against clergy who violate these prohibitions—all these Annual Conferences voted “Non-Conformity” with the action of General Conference and the UMC on all LGBTQ matters.
The six Annual Conferences (New England, Desert Southwest, California-Pacific, California-Nevada, Oregon-Idaho, and the Pacific Northwest) have taken the remarkable stance of intentionally violating our Methodist rules, calling them out as causing injury and harm and therefore unbiblical and not to be followed. Three other Annual Conferences voted to no longer inquire about a ministry candidate’s sexual practices or gender preference (Baltimore-Washington, New York, Northern Illinois). The groundswell of inclusiveness continued on with regions nominating three LGBTQ clergypersons (among the 127 clergy officially announcing their “coming out” as ordained UMC ministers during General Conference) for election as Bishops in the UMC (these elections occur every four years, coming soon in July—stayed tune about this).
Currently LGBTQ persons cannot be ordained as clergy or appointed to serve churches or in other official church positions (in the UMC, so electing any of these clergy as a Bishop, would certainly be against the rules of the church). And church trials may be underway against many of these 127 clergy and others—a new trial against a clergywoman who, in January, introduced her long-time spouse to her congregation was announced as imminent just a couple days ago in the Great Plains Annual Conference (Nebraska/Kansas).
While, progress was being made in some circles, such was not evident at the Florida Annual Conference meeting last week in Orlando. Yes, while prayers and candles and vigils and spoken words against the hate-filled violence of Orlando were certainly present, official actions spoke otherwise. The outgoing Florida Conference Lay Leader publicly admonished all the inclusive actions and activities and protests (like offering Holy Communion to any persons turned away from the UMC) during our recent 2016 General Conference by progressive Methodists like Reconciling Ministries Network and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (St John’s on the Lake belongs to both national organizations), likening them as unbiblical and anti-Methodist. Later in the Conference, efforts to add a LGBTQ lay women into the Conference leadership role was voted down 417-425, demonstrating the divisions and splits within our own Florida Conference. (So, now we are not even allowing “lay” LGBTQ persons from being in church leadership???)
One national MFSA leader, responding to the criticism of some persons to all of these actions as progressive United Methodists, maybe sums it up best: “I’ve seen some characterizations of these actions as tactics to pressure the church to change. While I hope they will have that effect, I think the main thing that is happening is that these Conferences are saying, ‘This is how we must live in order to do ministry in our context.’ The General Conference didn’t give us permission to do that, but our life depends on doing it.”
This is Biblical Obedience; this is loving and living with a God of Grace and practicing the Second Greatest Commandment—Love your neighbor! This is following JESUS—the ultimate “non-conformist”! ALL means ALL!!!