As United Methodist Church Empties Out, PBS Celebrates LGBTQ vs. ‘Heteronormativity’

News & Politics

The latest example of taxpayer-supported celebration of the gender alphabet came on Friday’s PBS NewsHour. Anchor Geoff Bennett set the scene of a Christian denomination in crisis.

Geoff Bennett: We turn now to a seismic shift within the United Methodist Church. It recently voted to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages….In late April, hundreds of delegates from around the world gathered in Charlotte, the first such meeting since 2019….They voted overwhelmingly to end the church’s bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

Bennett ran down the evolution of the church’s teachings on gay matters, including most recently a 1996 prohibition on churches officiating gay marriages, but explained the rules weren’t always enforced, resulting in conservative branches leaving the denomination, even before this year’s vote to end the church’s gay bans: “By 2022, the United Methodists had 5.4 million members in the U.S., less than half their peak in the 1960s. The recent departures have seen that number drop even further.”

But after laying out those grim facts, Bennett didn’t grill his guest, Rev. Valerie Jackson, about the mass exodus from the denomination. He certainly didn’t invite an opposing religious conservative voice into the debate. There was no debate about the import of LGBTQ acceptance in the churches. Instead he asked about how lifting the bans in 2019 had “resonated with her” personally.

No surprise, given the NewsHour’s documented 90% favoritism toward the “alphabet movement” of gender self-expression.

Jackson, lead pastor of a United Methodist church in Denver, appeared remotely, clad in a rainbow scarf and basking in the latest LGTBQ triumph within the religious hierarchy, complete with calling straight couples “heteronormative” and other flaky comments.

Rev. Valerie Jackson’s response was rambling and odd.

Rev. Jackson: I didn’t think I was really feeling the oppression of the rule until it was lifted. And then, once it was lifted, I became aware of how much I embodied that oppression. And it surprised me that, on the last day of the conference, I so freely danced. And I don’t do that. I don’t do that in public anyway. I danced freely by myself in the middle of the assembly hall on the last day of general conference. It was beautiful.

There was a single, gently phrased rebuttal to the culturally leftist happy talk:

Bennett: What do you say, Reverend Jackson, to those conservative Methodists who argue that the church is now buying into the culture, that the Bible hasn’t changed, but the church has changed? What’s your reaction to that?

Jackson: The church is changing, and thank God. The church is becoming aware of who God is, in comparison to who writers throughout generations have said about God and who those religious leaders that have been dear to us throughout the generations have also declared that God is….

When Bennett asked what the move meant “for the future of the United Methodist Church” Jackson replied with the thought of LGBTQ couples holding hands in church, “just like those who are heteronormative,” and looked forward to “a church where all people will get to thrive in love, life and liberation.” So much for that old-time religion.

This “religious left” segment was brought to you in part by Cunard.

A transcript is available, click “Expand.”

PBS NewsHour

5/17/24

7:21:57 p.m. (ET)

Geoff Bennett: We turn now to a seismic shift within the United Methodist Church. It recently voted to lift bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages. I spoke to a Methodist pastor about these changes, but, first, a bit of background.

Woman: And the results should now appear on the screen.

Geoff Bennett: It was described as the most consequential meeting of the United Methodist Church in more than half-a-century. In late April, hundreds of delegates from around the world gathered in Charlotte, the first such meeting since 2019.

Woman: The affirmative has it, and the motion is adopted.

Geoff Bennett: They voted overwhelmingly to end the church’s bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

Bishop Tracy Malone, Council of Bishops President, United Methodist Church: And these decisions that have been made over these last few days is a testimony that we are claiming that we are a church where everyone belongs. We are a church with open hearts, open minds and open doors.

Geoff Bennett: In 1972, the Methodists adopted language that “the practice of homosexuality was incompatible with Christian teaching.” In 1984, they banned clergy who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”

And, in 1996, the church prohibited clergy from officiating same-sex marriages.

Man: We will not leave this church of Jesus Christ.

Geoff Bennett: After heated discussions at a conference in 2019, delegates voted to uphold those bans. But in the years that followed, some 7,600 U.S. conservative Methodist congregations located mostly in the South left the church over its lack of enforcement of the anti-LGBTQ policies.

By 2022, the United Methodists had 5.4 million members in the U.S., less than half their peak in the 1960s. The recent departures have seen that number drop even further.

For more on the significance of these changes, I spoke recently with the Reverend Valerie Jackson, the lead pastor at Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver. She joined the Methodist Church from the Baptist Church years ago.

I asked Reverend Jackson how the church lifting its bans has resonated with her.

Rev. Dr. Valerie Jackson, Leader Pastor, Park Hill United Methodist Church: I didn’t think I was really feeling the oppression of the rule until it was lifted.

And then, once it was lifted, I became aware of how much I embodied that oppression. And it surprised me that, on the last day of the conference, I so freely danced. And I don’t do that. I don’t do that in public anyway.

I danced freely by myself in the middle of the assembly hall on the last day of general conference. It was beautiful.

Geoff Bennett: When you say that you were embodying the oppression, help us understand what that means. How did that show up in your life?

Rev. Dr. Valerie Jackson: What that means is, even though I had the privilege of living in a conference, in a region where being LGBTQ was not criminalized, that, somewhere deep within me, I still knew that I was at risk, that my ordination was at risk, that a claim could be filed against me, that I could go to trial.

Somewhere deep within me, I knew that. And so it’s almost like looking over your shoulder unconsciously or subconsciously all day, every day, 365 days a year. That’s a lot of pressure.

Geoff Bennett: Nearly a quarter of the United Methodist Church broke away. What is the impact of that on the church and really on the faith?

Rev. Dr. Valerie Jackson: Well, it’s multilayered, right?

So the impact is grieving the loss of United Methodist siblings. Even though we did not have the same theology or the same values, they were family. And so you grieve the loss of family members. On the other hand, it was liberating because it’s like being in a marriage where you grow apart and you don’t share the same vision for the lives that you have or the future that you’re living into.

And so, when you finally make that courageous decision to separate and go your different ways, it’s freeing, it’s liberating, and it gives the space for people to live into being who they really are.

It’s tiring to code-switch depending on who you’re talking to and who is in the space. Think about the time that it takes for the mind to take in, in seconds who is in the room and what you are allowed to say and what you should not say. And to live like that is so profoundly tiring.

Geoff Bennett: What do you say, Reverend Jackson, to those conservative Methodists who argue that the church is now buying into the culture, that the Bible hasn’t changed, but the church has changed? What’s your reaction to that?

Rev. Dr. Valerie Jackson: The church is changing, and thank God.

The church is becoming aware of who God is, in comparison to who writers throughout generations have said about God and who those religious leaders that have been dear to us throughout the generations have also declared that God is.

I know what it’s like as a former Baptist to be indoctrinated with a particular teaching and to not be able to see anything beyond that teaching. I know what that’s like. I know how difficult it is to break through that. So we are not responsible for the systems that we are born into, but we are accountable and responsible for the decision to remain in those systems.

And so I pray for my siblings, and I pray that they will one day be liberated and set free and come to experience the liberating, unconditional love and grace of God.

Geoff Bennett: Lastly, what does all of this mean for the clergy, for your congregants, and for the future of the United Methodist Church?

Rev. Dr. Valerie Jackson: We are looking forward to preserving a church for the future, for those who are coming behind us that will not have to worry, can they walk through the doors? Will they be loved? Will they be accepted? Will they be seen?

We look forward to leaving a church where those who are in the LGBTQ community can walk into the church holding hands, can sit in the pews in each other’s arms, just like those who are heteronormative? There are so many things about being LGBTQ that we have to give up that those who are heteronormative never have to think about.

So we look forward to a church where all people will get to thrive in love, life and liberation.

Geoff Bennett: The Reverend Dr. Valerie Jackson is lead pastor at Park Hill United Methodist Church in Denver.

Thanks so much for your time and for your insights this evening. We appreciate it.

Rev. Dr. Valerie Jackson: Thank you so much for having me.

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