In February, the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted to keep its traditional marriage stance. Last week, the UMC judicial council affirmed several of the measures which had been approved. The judicial council is the high court of the UMC. From their website, it says that they determine “the constitutionality of acts or proposed acts of the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences.”
The result of the February vote was that the UMC would not ordain openly LGBT clergy, nor would they perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. This is something which some regions within the UMC were allowing as the American Methodist churches became more progressive.
While other mainline Protestant denominations had already parted ways with tradition and Biblical teachings on marriage, a significant contingent of Methodist churches located outside of the United States and Europe largely voted for the traditional view of marriage.
In last week’s judicial council decisions, certain aspects of the traditional plan were ruled unconstitutional. Most of the issues were related to enforcement of rules. Christianity Today has a helpful summary of the rulings. In their reporting, they summarizes the key issues that were ruled unconstitutional.
The top court rejected legislation that would have:
- added accountability for bishops who did not enforce the church’s rules;
- required denominational leaders to certify that they would abide by the rules;
- required a board of conduct “examination to ascertain whether an individual is a practicing homosexual.”-Christianity Today
There remains dissent among many American Methodist churches regarding the February vote. The judicial council has allowed an avenue out of the denomination for churches who disagree with the result of the February vote.
The vote could be challenged at the next UMC conference in May of 2020, although insiders don’t believe that there would be support to overturn this year’s vote.
Given the opposition within many American Methodist churches, I still wonder if there will be churches and bishops who openly defy their denomination’s vote. With an easier pathway out, there is also the question of if a mass exodus is inevitable. Were this to happen, this would strengthen the conservative position within the American (and global) UMC. A third possibility is that churches who oppose the measures will continue trying to lobby for approval and agreement to their position.
Time will tell.
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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.