Methodists opt for ‘new way of being’ on LGBT issues amid fears of rift

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The United Methodist Church has delayed a final decision on its LGBT policies – amid fears of a rift.

The denomination currently bans LGBT ministers from serving openly, and also bans same-sex weddings.

However, it has faced pressure to change  the regressive rules, and had been set to rule whether to keep its existing teachings in place this week.

Earlier this month, a group of 111 United Methodist Church clergy came out in a letter to senior church officials, identifying themselves as LGBT.

The issue was set to come to a head at the UMC quadrennial conference in Portland this week – but delegates voted by 428-to-405 to set up a commission and avoid a direct decision.

The church resolved: “We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer the entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.

“We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional and global contexts.”

The church said: “We believe that our unity is found in Jesus Christ; it is not something we achieve but something we receive as a gift from God.

“We understand that part of our role as bishops is to lead the church toward new behaviours, a new way of being and new forms and structures which allow a unity of our mission of ‘making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world’ while allowing for differing expressions as a global church.

“Developing such new forms will require a concerted effort by all of us, and we your bishops commit ourselves to lead this effort. We ask you, as a General Conference, to affirm your own commitment to maintaining and strengthening the unity of the church.

“We will coordinate this work with the various efforts already underway to develop global structures and a new General Book of Discipline for our church.”

Rev Frank Schaefer, a pastor who was controversially defrocked for officiating his son’s same-sex wedding, said: “I count this decision as a victory for the LGBTQ cause, though our division is not yet reconciled.

“There is much work to be done on our way toward full inclusion of our LGBTQ members in the United Methodist Church.

“It’s a small step in the right direction that gives me hope and strength. I hope that our bishops will take their mandate very seriously and will be able to lead us toward reconciliation and unity.”