From time to time, the Café publishes Letters to the Editor from our readers. The opinions expressed are the author’s own and are not an expression of the collective opinion of the Café content team. Before submitting an editorial, please check out our Submissions page for guidelines.
by Frank Brookhart, Deirdre Good, David Simmons
Long-standing fractures in the United Methodist Church (UMC) were exposed at the Special Conference held in St. Louis in February of 2019. The Conference passed a set of legislation that is widely held to be an attempt to force LGBTQIA+ persons and their allies out of the UMC. While it passed by a narrow margin of worldwide delegates, an estimated two-thirds of the delegates from the church in the United States voted against the so-called “Traditional Plan.” Indeed, the UMC in much of the USA is known for its efforts towards full-inclusion – including thousands of openly welcoming congregations, a sizeable minority of LGBTQIA+ clergy, and a variety of intentionally Queer church plants.
“It’s time for freedom!” Professor Traci West of Drew University Theological School proclaimed as a keynote speaker at Our Movement Forward Summit, May 17-18, 2019, highlighting POC+Q+T (Persons of Color, Queer, and Transgender) voices in the UMC. Her cry is resonating from Washington State to Washington DC. As the implications of the Special Conference have started to be understood, queer UMC members and their allies have won a series of startling victories in their Annual Conferences (Annual Conferences are roughly equivalent to dioceses in the Episcopal Church).
Members of the June 2019 Minnesota Annual Conference adopted 491-86 a vision for Minnesota that commits to the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church. The vision declares, “we are called to be faithful to the example of Jesus’ ministry to and with all persons,” and expresses a commitment to center marginalized voices, vowing to affirm each clergyperson’s prayerful discernment about whether to officiate at same-sex weddings. Separately, members adopted 446-108 a resolution formally recognizing that the Traditional Plan approved at the 2019 Special Session of General Conference “does great harm to the witness of The United Methodist Church.”
At the June 2019 New England Annual Conference, Bishop Devadhar declared at the outset, “We invite all to the table, because holy communion is a means of grace, and we want to extend that means of grace to all…all means all.” More than 1,500 laity in the New England Conference and others signed a statement denouncing the “harmful results of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference and commit(ing) ourselves to a reborn Wesleyan movement, firm in its full affirmation of LGBTQIA+ persons.”
The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC published a statement of values in March of 2019 that states in part, “We believe that God calls and gifts LGBTQI persons for ministry just as God does other people, and we are committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in the Church today. We also believe pastors and churches should be free to bless those who commit their lives to one another without restriction.” Similar statements and votes have been written and passed in many of the Annual Conferences within the United States as they met earlier this summer.
While some online commentators in the Episcopal Church have referred to the UMC as “homophobic” or “hateful,” the UMC is a diverse church that is engaged in a struggle not dissimilar to ours. If the Anglican Communion’s authority was more globalized like that of the UMC, our denomination would likely be in a similar legislative situation. The LGBTQIA+ Community in the UMC is in a time of crisis, and they need the support of their Christian siblings in the Episcopal Church. Are there ways that we Episcopalians can affirm the visions and ministries of these UMC annual conferences? Can we help our Methodist siblings witness to and sharing of Jesus’ proclamation of God’s love for the world while showing those, whose vision is narrower, a more faithful way?
The Right Rev. C. Franklin Brookhart, D.Min., co-editor of That They May Be One?: The Episcopal United Methodist Dialogue (2014, Seabury Books); Canon Dr. Deirdre Good, Co-Chair of Episcopal UMC Dialogue Committee; The Rev. David Simmons, President, EDEIO.