Gay clergy and same-sex marriage may be allowed at United Methodist Churches thanks to a proposal drafted by the Connectional Table, a respected international body of clergy members and lay people in the church. On Tuesday, the committee affirmed the proposal to remove church legislation that punishes clergy for being “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” or officiating gay weddings, the United Methodist Church News Service reported.
This was not a formal vote; the committee will reconvene in May, when the proposal will be held to an actual vote. If passed, clergy members would not face punishment, church trials or be defrocked if they officiated same-sex weddings or came out as gay.
“We’ve tried to allow some exercise of conscience, to allow for varying beliefs, to allow for varying practices within different contexts,” the Rev. Kennetha J. Bigham-Tsai, who serves on the Connectional Table’s legislative writing team, said in a statement. She describes the proposal as a “third way” between the two majority opinions on the issue. One calls for no changes to be made to church doctrine while the other pushes for the removal of all negative references to the LGBT community in church books.
This was the reality for United Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked in November 2013 and reinstated last October after officiating the wedding of his gay son. While the church reversed its decision on technical grounds, rather than those related to its position on homosexuality, church leaders saw the reversal as a signal toward full inclusion of its LGBT members.
On Thursday, Schaefer told International Business Times he thinks there’s a “good chance” the Connectional Table’s resolution will be adopted later this year. However, it remains a small step until the church completely removes its negative language on homosexuality.
“It gave me as well as the LGBTQ community hope that something is moving with the denomination,” Schaefer said, pointing to the fact that the Connectional Table is an international body that gauges global movements within the denomination. However, the proposal “should only be viewed as a first small step toward granting full rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” he said.
The United Methodist Church welcomes LGBT members, though according to its Book of Discipline, same-sex marriages are "incompatible with Christian teaching." LGBT people who are “self-avowed” and “practicing” homosexuality also are forbidden from being ordained. Homosexuality has been debated by church leaders for more than four decades. Some pastors have pushed for a schism within the church, which boasts 12 million members worldwide, over the issue, while others have encouraged reform on church law.
Schaefer isn’t the only Methodist pastor to question the church’s stance. Last October, 36 ministers from the United Methodist Church blessed a same-sex wedding in Philadelphia to show support for Schaefer's actions. In January, a Methodist minister from Alabama told his 560-member congregation that homosexuality is not a sin.
“Sin is based on choice, when we choose to defy God's will. How you're made, that's not a choice. It's like being short or tall. If it's not volitional, it's not a sin," the Rev. Wade Griffith of Liberty Crossings United Methodist Church in Birmingham told AL.com.
Every four years the church holds a General Conference to revise church law, adopt resolutions and approve plans and budgets. The next conference will be held in Portland, Oregon, on May 10, 2016. Supporters hope the church will reform its stance on the LGBT community then.
“If the United Methodist Church wants to survive, if it wants to stay relevant in the Western world, our aim at General Conference 2016 ought to be to strike out of our law book the discriminatory laws and harmful language toward our LGBTQ community,” Schaefer said. “We cannot for compromise's sake stand on the side of injustice and discrimination -- it is immoral and against the teachings of Christ.”