Metro Weekly

United Methodist Church Lifts 40-Year Ban on LGBTQ Clergy

The United Methodist Church's steps toward LGBTQ inclusion may prompt its more conservative congregations to disaffiliate from the religion.

Illustration by Todd Franson

The United Methodist Church has repealed its 40-year-old ban on LGBTQ clergy after delegates voted to scuttle the rule prohibiting “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained or appointed as ministers.

Delegates at the church’s General Conference, held in Charlotte, North Carolina, voted 692-51, without debate, to repeal the restriction.

The overwhelming vote margin contrasts significantly with past General Conferences — including the most recent one, five years ago — which had left the ban intact, along with penalties for churches that perform or recognize same-sex marriages.

However, more conservative congregations who voted for the ban have left the denomination in recent years. Three years ago, conservative bishops and interest groups proposed a plan to disaffiliate from the larger church and form a separate, more “traditionalist” Global Methodist Church taking a harder line on social issues, including same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.

In total, 7,600 congregations — constituting one-quarter of all U.S.-based congregations — have severed ties with the church.

As a result, the overall church has moved toward embracing more progressive positions on various issues, including LGBTQ inclusion. 

The consensus on repealing the ban on LGBTQ clergy was so overwhelming that it was rolled into a “consent calendar,” a package of normally non-controversial measures.

The change doesn’t mandate or affirm LGBTQ clergy — it simply no longer forbids LGBTQ people from joining he priesthood.

The change appears like it will only apply to U.S.-based churches, as United Methodist bodies in other countries, including those in Africa, have the right to impose their own rules for their respective regions, reports The Associated Press.

The repeal of the ban will take effect immediately upon the conclusion of the General Conference on Friday, May 3.

Delegates also approved a measure forbidding district superintendents who oversee various regions from penalizing clergy who either perform — or even refrain from performing — same-sex weddings.

Superintendents will also be prohibited from forbidding a church from hosting a same-sex wedding, or requiring it to host same-sex nuptials.

Delegates are expected to vote soon on proposals to replace the church’s official Social Principles, adopted in 1972, with a new document that no longer calls the “practice of homosexuality … incompatible with Christian teaching” and will now define marriage as between “two people of faith,” rather than a man and a woman.

Following the vote to repeal the ban on clergy, applause broke out in parts of the convention hall as pro-LGBTQ advocates celebrated and embraced each other, with some even crying, according to the Methodist Church’s news service

“I did tear up this morning at the announcement of the vote because it was just a huge relief to see justice had been done after so many years,” Matt Patrick, co-pastor at the University United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, told CNN, even as he noted that the church has farther to go in terms of inclusion. “There’s just been a lot of pain in order to get us to this place.”

“It seemed like such a simple vote, but it carried so much weight and power, as 50 years of restricting the Holy Spirit’s call on people’s lives has been lifted,” Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly lesbian bishop in the United Methodist Church, told the AP. 

The vote may prompt some international churches, including those in Africa, to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church due to African societies’ conservative social values and various countries’ laws criminalizing homosexuality. Last week, the General Conference approved the departure of some churches in the former Soviet Union over similar ideological stances.

Last week, the conference also endorsed a regionalization plan that would grant the churches of the United States the same autonomy as other regions of the global church. That change, which requires local ratification, could create a situation where U.S. churches accept LGBTQ clergy and allow same-sex marriages, while other global regions do not.

The United Methodist Church had, until recently, constituted the third-largest denomination in the United States.

But the figure of 5.4 million U.S. members, as estimated in 2022, is expected to drop once the departure of the conservative congregations is taken into account.

The denomination also counts 4.6 million members outside the United States, but that figure may also drop in the future.

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