United Methodists Start to Change Their Long-standing Anti-LGBTQ Policies

On Tuesday, United Methodist delegates made significant changes to their policies on sexuality. They voted to reverse a series of policies that were against LGBTQ individuals, without any debate.

The delegates decided to remove the requirement for strict punishments for performing same-sex marriages and to eliminate the rules that prohibited LGBTQ individuals from becoming ministers and prevented funding for ministries that support the LGBTQ community.

The vote, which took place during the United Methodist Church’s legislative General Conference, removes some of the restrictions on LGBTQ-affirming policies related to ordination, marriage, and funding.

Later this week, there will be votes on the main parts of the bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage in church law and policy. These votes may lead to more debate. However, the majority of votes on Tuesday show the overall mood of the General Conference. The agreement was so strong that these items were included in the legislative “consent calendar,” which is usually used for uncontroversial measures.

The actions are a result of a significant split in what used to be the third-largest religious group in the United States. Between 2019 and 2023, around 25% of congregations in the United States decided to leave. The majority of these were conservative churches who were disappointed that the denomination was not enforcing its long-standing bans on LGBTQ individuals. Many conservative delegates, who used to be the majority in previous general conferences and had consistently supported these bans for many years, are not present. As a result, progressive delegates are acting swiftly to overturn these policies.

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These actions could also cause some international churches to leave, especially in Africa. In Africa, there are more conservative beliefs about sex and same-sex activity is considered a crime in some countries.

The United Methodist Church still has a rule that prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” into ministry. This rule has been in place for many years and will be voted on later this week.

However, on Tuesday, the General Conference voted to remove a ban that prevented church officials from considering someone for ordination if they fit that category. The decision allowed bishops to ordain LGBTQ individuals as clergy or consecrate them as bishops without any restrictions.

The 2019 General Conference imposed mandatory penalties on clergy who perform same-sex wedding or union ceremonies. However, these penalties have now been removed. The church has temporarily stopped any disciplinary actions against clergy who have violated rules related to LGBTQ issues. Furthermore, the General Conference made progress in openly affirming LGBTQ individuals.

The repeal removed a long-standing prohibition on any United Methodist organization using funds to support the acceptance of homosexuality. The previous ban also prohibited funding any effort to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. It specifically supported funding for responses to the anti-HIV epidemic. But now, the confusing language of the previous rule has been changed to prohibit funding for any action that rejects or openly discriminates against LGBTQIA+ individuals.

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“Today is a very freeing day for United Methodists who are actively supporting LGBTQ people,” said Reverend David Meredith, the board chair for the Reconciling Ministries Network. This group has been advocating for LGBTQ inclusion in the church for a long time.

According to Jan Lawrence, the executive director of the network, this general conference is more positive compared to previous ones that were filled with disagreements. “Yes, there will be things that we don’t agree on.” However, the intense hostility that we witnessed in 2019 is completely absent now.

Another change in the rules was to include LGBTQ people, along with other demographic groups, when making appointments to church boards and entities. This was done to promote diversity.

The General Conference is a meeting where the United Methodist Church makes decisions. It is the first meeting since 2019 and has a lot of delegates who support progressive ideas. This is because many conservative congregations left the church in the United States after it stopped enforcing its rules against same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination.

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