The Christian movement took a significant step backward this past week. After a three-day international gathering, the United Methodist Church voted to not recognize same gender marriages and, additionally, not allow gay/lesbian people to be ordained.
This was a shock to many because there was hope that the conference would result in inclusion of the LGBT community into the full life and ministry of the Methodist Church. For many years the Methodist Church has been uneven in its position on this question. Many Methodist clergy have performed same gender weddings against ecclesiastical rules, but enforcement of these rules was not universal. Now, apparently, it will be. The punishment for the first “offence” in officiating such a wedding will be the loss of that clergy persons salary for one year. The second “offense” will result in removal from the church entirely.
There is great sadness among many Methodists right now—those gay people who are currently in seminary in this tradition as well as gay parishioners and their supporters who have been working hard to see full inclusion. If full inclusion was not possible, it was hoped that some middle ground could be found. Sadly, the decision left no room for compromise: gay and lesbian lifestyles are simply incompatible with the Christian faith.
What will follow is unclear, but most likely the Methodist Church will split over this issue. It is important that we hold this sister denomination in our prayers, particularly as we head into this Lenten season.
This news also brings to mind that the work of full inclusion for the LGBT community is not complete in our own United Church of Christ. While our General Synod passed the landmark resolution to become an Open and Affirming church back in 1989, unlike in the United Methodist system, this decision was non-binding on local churches. In our system, decisions on the national level are only invitational with regard to the local church. Our own church, of course, accepted this invitation and ultimately voted to become an Open and Affirming Congregation in the UCC. We are very proud of this designation. The reality is, unfortunately, that while we may be in the vanguard we are still among a minority of UCC churches to assume this mantle.
As we progress on our Lenten journey to the cross and to the empty tomb, may we celebrate the progress we have made and recognize the work that yet lies ahead. No church is perfect, but through confession, forgiveness, redemption and the grace of God, we will become the universal church of healing, diversity, love and empowerment of all God’s people that God is calling us to be.
See you in church,