The United Methodist Church (UMC) had a four day international conference in St. Louis this week revolving around around LGBT issues, specifically: the ordination of openly LGBT clergy and whether or not the denomination should officiate same-sex weddings.
The UMC is the third largest faith group in America, and an international denomination with over 43,000 congregations worldwide (40 percent of their members are outside the United States). There is widespread support within American Methodism for affirming LGBT pastors and weddings.
It was expected that a new policy was be approved which would give churches and districts more autonomy on whether or not they chose to affirm endorsing LGBT ministers and same-sex weddings. The changes failed. The “traditional plan” won, which sides with UMC precedent where the denomination does not endorse LGBT ministers and same-sex marriage
As I consider the vote, a few things come to mind:
- I’m happy that this denomination has officially taken a stance which coincides with Biblical teaching.
- Far too many leaders in the United Methodist Church voted for a position that is against the teachings of scripture. 43% of the vote was against the traditional stance. I’ve heard estimates as high as two-thirds of American Methodist pastors as supporting LGBT affirmation within the denomination.
- I’m not sure what’s really going to actually change. While it’s a good win for Biblical truth in the official position of this denomination, there have already been examples of pastors within the UMC denomination going against their own denomination.
- There’s been heavy speculation that this vote would cause a massive split within the UMC. While it’s likely that some churches will leave, one challenge for a UMC church leaving the UMC is that they don’t own their buildings, and so would have to either buy it from the denomination or find a new place to worship.The UMC’s Council of Bishops had endorsed a plan which would have allowed for individual churches and UMC conferences to decide whether or not to ordain LGBT ministers and perform same-sex weddings. I think a possibility that’s just as plausible as a mass exodus is a denomination that continues to go against the Bible and its own standard. So it again returns to the idea that I don’t know how much things will really change within the UMC. That’s purely my speculation. I know the conference was also attempting to crack down on enforcing rules for those who openly violate the church teachings.
I’ll believe it when I see it.
- I’m thankful for the UMC churches in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world who help keep the American churches in check on this issue. While two-thirds of UMC churches are within the United States, over 40 percent of their members are outside of the US.
- I’ve heard Methodist pastors and seminary professors online talk about how they’re gong to lose the next generation over this. This might provide a convenient excuse, but mainline Protestant denominations are struggling. When you supplant the gospel and Biblical truth for progressivism, it’s self-defeating. It diminishes the role of Christ and the church, and, surprise, surprise, people stop going to your churches. Also, just looking at how it impacts Methodism in America undermines the rapidly growing Methodism in Africa and Asia.
- I’m not suggesting any member of the LGBT community be unwelcome in a church. What I am saying is that churches should not affirm sin. The starting point must always be the gospel. We are not trying to save a person to heterosexuality. That does not save their soul. The gospel must be preached.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens within the UMC. I’m sure there will be much more discussion and debate on this topic.
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Josh Benner has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has served churches in Minnesota and Illinois. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in St. Louis.