Since 1972, the United Methodist Church has had an official stance that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The only other activity we officially declare to be incompatible with Christian teaching, interestingly, is war. Over the years, our “Book of Discipline” (our book of church law which guides us) has been modified to ban “self-avowed practicing” homosexuals from being ordained, to declare that marriage is only between one man and one woman, to ban our clergy from celebrating same sex marriages, and from using official church funds to “promote homosexuality.” At the same time we declare that homosexuals are persons of sacred worth, that God’s grace is available to all.
Two main groups have been working ever since to either maintain our current standards or to change our views. On the one side are those who see homosexuality as sin. LGBT persons are welcome in our churches but they are to remain celibate if single. An unofficial group known as “Transforming Congregations” believes that LGBT persons are in need of God’s healing power in their lives. It would be assumed that some homosexuals would eventually be able to marry someone of the opposite sex.
On the other side is the Reconciling Ministries Network. This group is working for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church. This includes ordination and same gender marriages. Regardless of one’s sexual orientation or identity, all are to be treated fairly and equally.
There are groups and persons who see themselves in the “middle,” with the transforming folks and the reconciling folks being the “extreme” positions in the church. It’s hard sometimes to tell exactly what is meant by “middle” unless it’s a type of “don’t ask, don’t tell” position. People who take this middle position might be fine with LGBT persons joining our churches and being full participants in the local church while at the same time opposing same gender marriages taking place in the context of the church. This is just one example of how a “middle position” might be a reality in the minds of many United Methodists. There are many variations on this concept of “Methodist middle.”
The United Methodist Church has been praying, researching, discussing, fighting, legislating, debating, voting, writing, speaking, ignoring, side-stepping, and what we Methodists like to call “conferencing” on the topic of homosexuality for over 42 years now. What’s next for the United Methodist Church and the LGBT community? Only time will tell.
But a few days ago, 119 United Methodist clergy in Oklahoma signed an open letter publicly declaring their support for marriage equality and full participation of LGBTQ persons in ordained ministry within the church. The letter was published in Oklahoma’s two leading papers, The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World. In 1998, a similar letter was released — with only 10 signers from Oklahoma. That represents more than a twelve-fold increase in support, with more clergy adding their names daily. It’s a great sign that not only is full equality being recognized in our states, but also in our church.
OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF OKLAHOMA
The United Methodist Church’s official teaching is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching while at the same time God’s grace is available to all. We have church laws in place forbidding clergy from performing same gender weddings and forbidding non-celibate LGBT clergy from being ordained. Nevertheless, there are many United Methodist clergy and laity who are not in agreement with our church’s current rules and teachings. Our denomination allows for open discussion of ideas, dissent, and has a process for creating change in our rules. Our denomination’s top legislative body (General Conference) is the only entity that can speak on behalf of the denomination, yet we know many faithful United Methodist Christians wish to see a church fully inclusive of the LGBT community. We respectfully and humbly argue that United Methodists are not of one mind in our understanding of human sexuality and homosexuality. Through our engagement with scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, we have come to affirm the rights and dignity of all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
We celebrate the freedoms coming to the LGBT community in Oklahoma and we pledge our love, affirmation and equal treatment to all persons. We do so as we continue to pray and work for a fully inclusive United Methodist Church.
SCOTT SPENCER is a native Oklahoman and an ordained United Methodist pastor who has served rural churches, campus ministry, suburban churches, and is currently a pastor in Ponca City, OK.
He is a strong supporter of the LGBTQ community.