Cap's Corner: Where do LGBT people belong in the church?

by Cap McIlnay

In recent weeks, I have been asked to address a widely-discussed issue affecting many Methodist churches in the U.S. This week, I decided to use this column for that purpose.

The United Methodist Church as a whole is at an impasse with many of its pastors and church members across the nation in regards to the question of human sexuality. Yes, this is about LGBT people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender). The question is: where do LGBT people belong in the church?

Throughout history, the Church has believed that that active non-heterosexual relationships were sinful. Church history often shows the very ugly persecution of anyone found to be living outside of the “normal” heterosexual relationships, and even the mental experts called homosexuality a mental illness. But back in the early 1970s, being gay was no longer considered a mental illness. This brought a great deal of confusion to the Church at large, and I hope you can understand the struggle on both sides of the issue. We still are trying to work through this.

The United Methodist Church has a governing body called the General Conference that meets once every four years. At their meetings, the delegates, which represent clergy and church members, address many issues. Their decisions are written in a book we call The Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline is our agreed-upon governing document that all United Methodist preachers must take a vow to follow. Of course, there will always be some things in there that any given preacher or church member will not fully agree with, but the preacher does make a promise to follow it to the best of his ability.

Here are some things that are in our Book of Discipline about this question:

Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence.

We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self.

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all.

We seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us.

Since the early 1970s, there has been a “push” to change the wording in the Book of Discipline, accept those who are in a non-heterosexual relationship, and not to identify this lifestyle as a sin. Every four years it has come up, and every four years it has been voted down. Of course, over the past 20 years, support for this change has gained momentum, especially in the media and in Hollywood.

After our General Conference in 2016, many pastors and church members in certain areas of our country decided to appoint non-heterosexual pastors that were actively involved in sexual relationships, and they even elected to the position of bishop a woman who is married to another woman. However, this is in violation of the Book of Discipline and therefore against the vows that these pastors took. Instead of making a rash decision, the Council of Bishops established a new committee to investigate whether there is something else that can be done without splitting the church. This group came up with three different plans, and a special General Conference was ordered to take place in February of 2019. That’s next month.

The first plan is supported by the church’s more progressive brothers and sisters, and this plan changes the Book of Discipline to accept fully the LGBT outlook. This would more than likely cause a split, with the more traditional, conservative, and evangelical churches leaving The United Methodist Church.

The second plan is supported by the more traditional, conservative, and evangelical brothers and sisters. This plan would not change the Book of Discipline, except to hold accountable those who break their vows. This would more than likely cause the more liberal and progressive churches to leave The United Methodist Church.

The third plan gives each church, pastor, and area (Annual Conference) the ability to decide on their own what they want to do. This would mean we would have some United Methodist Churches that accepted non-heterosexual persons as clergy and allowed them to participate in such marriages. This is the middle ground, but it is less likely to be accepted by either side. This could lead to a split, with both sides leaving The United Methodist Church.

And then there is the real possibility that nothing will be decided and they will push the decision back to the General Conference of 2020.

To say the least, we are in a pickle. We certainly need all Christians to be praying for us. I hope this helps you understand what is going on within the third largest protestant church in America. If you have any questions, you certainly can come by my church office and talk to me. You can find the church’s information on this page.