Methodists look to change church's LGBT policies


Thanks for taking the time to write the summary!


Sadly, you knew this was coming when the Methodist church started allowing female pastors. The Methodist church does a lot of good around the country, specifically the Holston Conference.

Some UMC churches have already been having LGBTQ-friendly services, so this vote this month seems like a mere formality at this point.

Prayers all around.


I think this is an issue that every church will have to deal with. How they deal with it depends on the tradition. But at least the conversation is being had. I think it’s inevitable.

Is denominationalism an obviously bad thing according to (most) Protestants?

My Methodist pastor told our congregation, which is known as one of the most conservative Methodist congregations in this part of the country, that no matter what decisions are made nationally, we will continue to remain who we are —traditional/conservative. He also said to pray for wisdom and guidance for leadership.


The problem is that a conservative congregation likely has to pay fees to their diocese, and the National denomination. Those who join the congregation may go on national mailing lists, receive national publications, and be encouraged to identify with the denomination positions, youth movements, etc.

When members go away to college, or move to another city, they link up with pastors, and laity, who mostly follow the national trends. The more they have (rightly!) found your congregation to be trustworthy, the more trust they, especially the younger ones, will put in the UMC ministry they find.
Prayers are definitely in order.


As with any discussion about a noncatholic Christian group it is difficult to use a generic name like “Methodist”, “Baptist”, Presbyterian" and the like. The United Methodist Church discussed here is only one of several groups using the name Methodist. The Free Methodist church (smaller than United) has called homosexuality a sin, from a review of their website today.

So not all Methodists feel the same about this issue. I know no one is saying they are here. Just thought I would point that out.


I’ve been following this fairly closely, partly because the local UMC is the only non-Evangelical Fundamentalist church for miles around.

The “One Church Plan” would be a decidedly mixed victory for liberals because the decision would be made at the district level, meaning that in a conservative area, all UMC churches would be closed to same-sex marriage.

Regardless of what happens it’s likely the infighting will continue.


It wouldn’t be a mixed victory, but a step to total victory. It would be comparable to allowing gay marriage but for now only 3 months out of the year. The whole denomination in effect concedes gay marriage is possible, though for now we are delaying it in the South and parts of the Midwest.

All the young people in Alabama will know California does it. There won’t be infighting" but a gradual retreat.


Just curious what the Catholic position is on these issues that Methodists are dealing with now. How is it similar? How is it different? Is there a strong debate within Catholicism on this subject or has it been decisively handled?


Methodists are motley.


Only God knows what will finally happen, but the “One Church Plan” is generally considered the most likely outcome, and liberals don’t see it as a victory. Many UMC churches are in the very conservative South, so the upshot would be that many, perhaps most, churches would still not allow same-sex marriage.

Also all the conservatives are not old nor are all the liberals young, so disagreements could go on for many years yet.

Further, the question is not so much whether same-sex marriage is ontologically possible, as Methodists don’t often think that way. It’s more whether it’s allowed by the Bible, and by the Methodist way of seeing religion. Literal interpretations of the Bible versus modern critical methods come into play here, so the divisions cut very deep into the church and its teachings.


A helpful clarification here. Thanks.


It would be a defeat for conservatives, ultimately, since they have to choose to either leave the denomination entirely or accommodate themselves to church sanctioned sin in other parts of the UMC. In addition, many conservatives realize that this is a slippery slope, knowing that what begins as optional will one day become mandatory.


Under the “One Church Plan” the banning of same-sex marriage would be quite as much an option as allowing it. So if one takes this theory literally, it could just as easily be a slippery slope to a mandatory ban of same-sex marriage. And since more churches will probably be in districts banning it, any slope to same-sex marriage likely won’t be very slippery.


Except that the denominational machinery is stacked with people sympathetic to the pro-homosexual agenda. Look at the ordination of Oliveto as a bishop, despite being an open lesbian in clear violation of the Book of Discipline. This is already happening when church law clearly states that homosexual relationships are incompatible with Christianity. A “local option” would just empower and embolden the liberal wing of the church further.

It is an explicit rebuke to conservatives, because the One Church Plan is built on the assumption that different views on same-sex marriage and relationships are not essential “church dividing” matters and therefore same-sex marriage in one part of the church should be tolerated by other parts of the church. This is the exact opposite to what conservatives believe because one’s views on homosexuality touch directly upon human nature, sin, salvation, the nature of marriage, and the basic meaning of Holy Scripture.


Based on what I’ve read, neither Methodist liberals or conservatives see it quite that way. Unlike Catholics, Methodist laypeople have a great deal of say in the rules of the church. As in the Catholic Church, money speaks very loudly. Most of the money is in the hands of conservatives, who keep their organizations well-funded and powerful.

Liberals are somewhat heartened by the election of Bishop Oliveto because it proves that it can be done. But UMC districts have considerable autonomy in electing their bishops. All it really proves is that in one district liberals are strong enough to elect a lesbian bishop without conservatives overturning it. Yet. No more, no less.

As for the Plan, it is seen as more of a change in church polity than in the nature of marriage. The Book of Discipline is seen not as something infallibly proclaimed but as an instrument made by humans that can be changed by humans. Both sides definitely see the matter as church dividing; it has done little but. Neither side loves the Plan but they see it it as perhaps the only way to keep the church (sort of) together and save a lot of jobs and pensions. In this light I don’t think the conservatives see it as too much of a rebuke.


That’s an amazing simplification. The Book of Discipline constitutes the official law and doctrine of the United Methodist Church. By amending the Discipline to remove any mention of the sinfulness of homosexual relationships, the liberals win. Whether homosexuality is sinful or not becomes a matter of personal and local church preference rather than official doctrine of the whole church. For conservatives, this is about whether the UMC will continue to subordinate itself to the Word of God or will it succumb to the demands of secular culture.

This is what you hear from conservative groups within the UMC, like theWesleyan Covenant Association:

A number of noted UM scholars and clergy have already written essays critiquing the OCP and found it wanting. Some of the best are as follows, and each is well worth reading.

Dr. Kevin Watson says the OCP would have the church adopt “an incoherent theology and practice of marriage” that would be “even worse” than our present state of affairs. Watson, a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, believes allowing annual conferences, local churches, and pastors to adopt different theological and ethical views on sexuality, marriage, and ordination would confuse and harm people. He concludes, “Relativizing United Methodism’s understanding of Christian marriage… will not produce unity and it will result in unacceptable pastoral care for all people created in the image of God.” . . .

And Dr. Scott Kisker, professor of the History of Christianity at United Theological Seminary, fears the plan would only exacerbate present divisions in the church. For Kisker, the General Conference is our “instrument of unity” and the body that defines “what to teach, how to teach, and what do” when it comes to the church’s core theological and ethical teachings. The rites of marriage and the ordination of clergy have required, and still require, the church to teach with one voice on such weighty matters for both its people and its witness to society in general.

We hear a lot about contextuality [in the OCP], as though it were an unquestionable good,” Kisker writes. “This rhetoric tickles contemporary ears, but it has a mixed track record in history. There are legions of examples in the modern era alone where churches have accommodated to the evils of their times and cultures, deforming the gospel. ‘Contextualization’ of the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church allowed for slave holding in the American South beginning in 1808, as well as the acceptance of racist segregation in the name of ‘unity’ for the formation of The Methodist Church in 1939.”


I probably did oversimplify things a bit, but the bottom line is that the Book of Discipline is still seen as something that can be changed by humans, presumably under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the sinfulness of homosexual relationships, this is largely a debate between Biblical literalists and those who accept modern scholarship. For the latter, the issue of whether or not the Bible condemns, or even addresses, this is at most debatable. Both sides are sincere in their beliefs. So both sides want to see the UMC subordinate itself to the Word of God, as they see it.


It is still the official doctrine of the UMC, and by changing the definition of marriage to allow for the possibility of same-sex marriage, the conservatives lose ground. While liberals may not be satisfied with the One Church Plan, it would be a strategic victory for them because at present the conservatives have the Discipline on their side. If the OCP passes, the conservatives lose that advantage and will have to fight conference by conference, church by church to maintain the current teaching.


You’re correct in saying that with the OCP conservatives would lose some ground. But conservatives have numbers and money on their side and are well-equipped to retake it.

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