Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church: Part 2

Following the 1972 General Conference at which the issue of homosexuality was first raised, groups of people on all sides of the debate began organizing. In 1975, Wheadon United Methodist Church in Evanston, Illinois hosted the first gathering of the United Methodist Gay Caucus, a group that would later become the organization known today as Affirmation. Making connections with other groups across the nation seeking to repeal the incompatibility clause, they initiated plans for a witness event at the coming 1976 General Conference.

At the same time, Rev. Harvey Chinn published a series of articles in the United Methodist Reporter that portrayed homosexuality as a mental illness and argued for maintaining the incompatibility clause. Leading up to the 1976 General Conference, Chinn, along with other prominent leaders in the conservative movement began to talk of possible schism, citing differences over the issue of homosexuality as the leading cause.

It is interesting to note that despite the General Conference’s legislation of 1972 that declared the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching, activity within the denomination made it clear that the debate was far from over. In fact, the deep concern on the part of conservatives to enforce and strengthen the 1972 statement, suggests that the general tone of the denomination leaned toward removing the incompatibility clause.

At the 1976 General Conference in Oregon the debate began to heat up fueled by the flurry of anti-gay rhetoric in select denominational publications. Both a motion to include an explicit welcome of all people regardless of sexual orientations and a motion to initiate a Church wide study on human sexuality were defeated. While advocates for full inclusion understood these petitions as a small step toward the denomination’s “willingness to continue in dialogue,” opponents argued that a welcome of all people would lead the Church down a slippery slope toward ruin.

Albert Outler, renowned Wesleyan scholar and theologian, argued against an explicit welcome for “all persons regardless of sexual orientation into the fellowship and membership of the United Methodist Church,” accusing gay and lesbian people of promiscuity. Reminding the body that the Church “stipulate[s] against homosexual marriage,” Outler went on to state that a welcome of GLBT persons would create an “irreversible disaster in the United Methodist Church” of “antinomian” support for “moral decadence.”[1]

While efforts to strengthen the language around homosexuality from “we do not condone” to “we condemn” failed to pass, the language around same-sex marriage was changed from not “recommending” same-sex marriage, to “not recognizing” same-sex marriage. In addition, the first of several restrictions on full participation of GLBT persons was introduced, instructing the Council on Finance and Administration to “ensure that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any “gay” caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality” (¶906.13). This was one of three reports focusing on church funding. The first ordered "that no agency shall give United Methodist funds to any 'gay' organization or use any such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality." The second mandated "the use of resources and funds by boards and agencies only in support of programs consistent with the Social Principles of the Church” and the third prohibited "funds for projects favoring homosexual practices."[2]

Despite the hostility toward gay and lesbian persons exhibited through much of the rhetoric from the floor, the denomination was not concerned about restricting the rights and privileges of faithful gay and lesbian persons in the Church. At this point in the history of the Church, the ordination of gay and lesbian persons was recognized and affirmed by the denomination. Efforts to oppose gay and lesbian clergy failed at both the Judicial Council and General Conference.

In 1979 the Judicial Council ruled in decision #462 that nothing in the Discipline of the Church allowed conferences to bar persons from ordained ministry simply because they were homosexual as long as they were in good standing with the conference. The following year at the 1980 General Conference, the Church affirmed the right of annual conferences to determine the fitness of individuals for ministry and openly rejected prohibitions of gay and lesbian persons for ordination, instead stating that "the United Methodist Church has moved away from prohibitions of specific acts, for such prohibitions can be endless. We affirm our trust in the covenant community and the process by which we ordain ministers."

It was not until 1984, after the founding of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative think tank that works in mainline denominations to promote a right wing political agenda, that the Church instituted a restriction on the ordination of gay and lesbian persons.


[1] Floyd, p. 9.

[2] Soulforce, “History of Policies on Homosexuality in the United Methodist Church,” http://www.soulforce.org/article/69

9 comments:

Becca said...

Tiffany, thanks so much for posting and maintaining this blog. It's a breath of fresh air and a much-needed challenge about both our denomination's strengths and weaknesses and our call to work for God's justice.

Becca Clark

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

Becca,

Glad to see you on the blog! Blessings to you and your ministry! We are praying for you at CWM!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering Tiffany are you an ordained gay pastor? Im confused about whats accepted and whats not, just wondering. To me it shouldnt matter since thats an issue to be taken up between God and the individual but I was just wondering since you do oversee a group that reaches out to those in th GLBT community where this passion came from. Is it personal because youre a part of the group or is it otherwise motivated? Thanks for your response

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

Anonymous,

You are right, it really doesn't matter if those called by God to ministry are gay or straight. Unfortunately, while it might not matter in God's eyes, it does matter in the eyes of the Church.

Currently in the United Methodist Church, "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" are prohibited from ordained ministry. This doesn't mean that there are not LGBT pastors in the church...there are many.

What it means is that those who self-disclose to a district superintendent or a bishop that they have had "genital contact" with a member of the same-sex are either prohibited from being ordained or defrocked (if already ordained).

My passion for ministry with LGBT persons comes from my understanding and commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ which calls us to radical inclusivity, love and justice. The Church's current stance toward LGBT persons is un-Christian. It is my love of the faith and my commitment to the United Methodist Church that fuels my passion and my ministry.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Tiffany for the well-spoken response. I happened across your blog in a search for a church to attend. The things Ive read from you so far intrigue me and hit home with the overarching theology that I believe in for myself. I think to really know what a particular church may be like is to know its pastor, hence my questions for you. I believe the only way the mission of the church will and can be carried out is if in fact its really what the pastor believes in his/her heart. Thanks again for responding. Im still a lil confused as to the specifics about your relationship but perhaps one day thats something we can discuss in person. I read your bio to try to find out but it wasnt so clear. I have lots of questions for you, but I dont particularly think your comment section is the right place for such dialogue. Any suggestions? Ive been wounded in the church and am on a quest to find a place to worship God, have community and participate with others who love him in sharing the good news to everyone. I'll check back again for any suggestions or comments you may have. Oh, what specifically draws you to the methodist church - where does this commitment you mention come from?

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

Dear Anonymous,

Feel free to email me at tsteinwert@yahoo.com to continue the dialogue.

As to my commitment to the UMC, that is a fairly complicated question.

Partially it is rooted in Wesleyan theology (John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement) and its emphasis on grace and social holiness.

Partially it is rooted in the tradition of the Methodist movement that has consistently been engaged in issues of social justice.

Partially it is rooted in the polity of the the church that focuses on lay leadership and itinerant pastoral leadership.

I truly believe that the denomination's current stance on sexuality is inconsistent with the breadth of its history, tradition, witness, ethics and theology. This is the answer to the 300 plus page dissertation I am currently writing!

Anonymous said...

Ah, ha! So Ive somehow tapped into whats at the heart of who you are and what you do. As I stated I have lots of questions and it seems from this brief dialogue that Ive met a pastor worth engaging further in conversation with. Faith has always been important to me and so has equality and justice for all - although Ive never seem to have been able to quite find that amongsts those who name the name of Jesus. But then here's you. I will definitely look forward to speaking with you by email. In the meantime I will throw this question out there to you: Is it possible to join in allegiance with a church who differs with you in theology on matters of justice for all and showing love to one another as Christ has loved each of us? How does this work? I hope my question is clear.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I tried sending you an email at the email address you gave in your comment but it returned to me as undeliverable. is there another address?

Anonymous said...

The decisions of the Judicial Council in 1979 and General Conference in 1980 were in retrospect seen to be mistakes that were subsequently corrected by action of General Conference in 1984. Since that date at every General Conference in which the issue of homosexuality has been addressed substantially, delegates have voted to affirm or strengthen legislation enunciating the current official UMC position. At every General Conference the attending delegate are freely elected by the annual conference which they represent. These delegates vote as they believe the Holy Spirit leads them to vote. To postulate that the votes of these delegates and the subsequent decisions of General Conference reflect the influence of a "right wing political agenda" strains credulity. It makes the baseless assumption that the majority of delegates to General Conference are committed to such an agenda when no evidence of such has been referenced.