United Methodist Church to address LGBTQ divisions

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Photo by Dan Donovan, courtesy of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.

Elisa White

In February, the United Methodist Church (UMC) will hold a Called Session of General Conference to decide what to do regarding church doctrine on homosexuality. 

The UMC has debated this issue over the last decade. Right now, the UMC’s governing document, The Book of Discipline, prohibits the ordination of LGBTQ people and prohibits UMC clergy from performing same-sex weddings. 

Heading into the conference, the progressive half of the church calls for a change in the Book towards LGBTQ-inclusive language. The conservative half, believing the Book’s current language falls in line with biblical principles, wants the Book to stay the same. The church is split nearly 50/50 on this issue, yet for many United Methodists, the number one concern is staying united, at any cost. 

In 2016, the Council of Bishops, the UMC’s highest leadership, announced a Called Session and proposed The Commission on a Way Forward. Since then, the 32 members of this Commission have worked to propose different plans for the future of the UMC by consulting theologians and other faith communities that have dealt with similar issues regarding human sexuality. 

In May of 2018, the Commission released its official report. It recommended the “One Church Plan,” which would keep the church, for all intents and purposes, intact. Its finer points indicate that LGBTQ persons could be ordained (for the most part), individual pastors could choose whether or not they perform same-sex weddings, and the United Methodist Church could stay united. 

The UMC’s highest leadership endorsed this plan. Last May, the Council of Bishops released a report and said, “The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of the mission… while fulfilling the vision of a global and multicultural church.” Due to strong support from church leadership, The One Church Plan is predicted to pass at the General Conference. 

As a United Methodist pastor’s daughter, my family has a lot to gain from the UMC staying together. For one, my family’s livelihood depends on my dad’s job. Both of my younger brothers will enter college soon, making job security for my dad critical. Even more, my dad feels called to preach. We all want him to be able to continue to answer that call for as long as God allows. 

My family has everything to gain from unity. However, I think that a total split is needed for the United Methodist Church to continue to fulfill its mission: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” 

The idea of “unity for unity’s sake” is unprecedented, compared to other denominations that have faced similar issues. In the early 1970s, the mainline Presbyterian Church faced a divide between conservative and progressive theology and split down those lines. In 2008, the Episcopal Church faced the same situation, with a conservative sect breaking into a new denomination. 

Outrage and fear from fellow United Methodists over the possibility of a split seems, to me, baseless. Division has happened before; it can happen again.

Not only would a split follow suit of other Protestant denominations, but it would prove healthier in the end. The UMC doesn’t only stand divided on the issue of human sexuality. LGBTQ issues are only a fraction of the fight between the progressive and conservative sides of the UMC. The theology of the two bases is impossible to reconcile at this point. Forced unity won’t mend the gaps; it will just hide them for a short time. 

If the United Methodist Church wants a future, it needs to consider a split. Without one, it will become a church united in name—but so divided in belief it will be incapable of living out its stated mission. 

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