Votes at United Methodist conference may pave way for LGBTQ+ clergy, weddings in US: ‘This is God’s vision’

News & Politics

As it normally does every four years, the global United Methodist Church is currently holding a general conference to vote on church matters and policy. However, unlike recent conferences, this year’s delegates have signaled a desire to revamp the church’s policies regarding human sexuality.

This year’s conference is underway in Charlotte, North Carolina. And while there are still several days left in the conference, delegates have already approved measures that will have a major impact on the church.

One of the most significant measures involves regionalization. The measure would give the region of the United States greater autonomy to establish and enforce policies, especially in regard to LGBTQ issues. The regionalization measure passed with 78% of the delegate vote, but it still must be approved by local annual conferences, which are expected to consider it within the next year, NPR reported.

Many United Methodist congregations in other parts of the world, such as Africa and the former Soviet Union, still strongly believe that marriage is a sacred covenant between one man and one woman. However, many of its U.S. churches have moved radically in the other direction, refusing to enforce bans on gay clergy and marriage.

“I celebrate that this is a beginning of a new way of being a worldwide church, where our voices are actually heard, and we can begin to listen to one another in new ways,” said Rev. Deanna Stickley-Minor, the executive director for mission engagement.

Bishop Tracy Smith Malone of Ohio, who celebrated that the vote “decenters the U.S.” and “dismantles colonialism,” was even more exuberant. “I had to contain myself,” she said after the vote to approve the regionalization measure. “We get to be the workers in the vineyard, but this is God’s vision.”

Another vote gave LGBTQ activists even more hope. In a staggering 667-54 vote, the United Methodist General Conference delegates decided to upend rules and policies that favor traditional marriage and heterosexual clergy and that denied funding for gay ministries, the AP reported. Now, church leaders may soon be able to consider openly gay individuals for ordination or positions on church boards.

Later this week, delegates will also vote on whether to change church law and policy to include gay clergy and same-sex weddings. Rev. Tracy Cox, lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in Pittsburgh, is hopeful.

“If you are called by God to be an ordained elder or deacon, no church, no institution should step in that way,” she said earlier this month. “And as far as marriage goes, when somebody falls in love with someone, we need to be able to help them to raise a family or to be a family in the community where they’re going to serve.”

These votes demonstrate a marked shift in United Methodist congregants’ views on sexuality and marriage. Just four years ago, delegates reaffirmed traditional marriage by voting to penalize clergy who performed same-sex weddings.

But in the years since, many congregations — particularly in the U.S., where United Methodist was once one of the largest denominations — broke away, appalled at the progressive direction the church appeared to be headed. This same movement to break away in favor of a more conservative denomination then likely played into the hands of their more liberal counterparts. Without conservative voices — and conservative delegate votes — at the 2024 conference, the progressive measures have sailed through easily.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the church’s website still promotes traditional marriage and family among its social principles. “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman,” the website says.

It also claims that “sexual relations are affirmed only with the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage” and calls the practice of “homosexuality … incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Whether those social principles will change by the end of this week remains to be seen.

The following video provides a brief summary of the conference’s agenda on Tuesday, highlighting a group confession against sexual harassment and a ceremony to affirm dozens of deaconesses and female home missioners:

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