The United Methodist Church, the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, is the latest denomination to address the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the church. The denomination will meet in its General Conference April 24-May 4.
Various groups have been working within the United Methodist Church for many years to advocate for policies that are more LGBT-welcoming, including permitting marriage equality and dropping barriers to ordination for LGBT people. The Book of Discipline is considered official law and doctrine for the United Methodist Church. In order to enact more LGBT-welcoming policies, language within the Book of Discipline needs to be removed that says, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The General Conference is held every four years, and this is the only time when changes can be made to the Book of Discipline.
Several factors make denominational change in 2012 a strong possibility. In recent years, similar denominations like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have all enacted policy change to make the denomination more LGBT-inclusive. The movement toward LGBT-inclusion in Christian churches has made it easier for denominations to become more welcoming.
Another factor is the 2011 trial of Rev. Amy DeLong. Her trial for being an out lesbian and for performing a wedding for a lesbian couple shined a spotlight on the church’s discriminatory policies against gay or lesbian clergy and marriage equality.
A third factor is the growing number of United Methodist clergy, lay people, and entire congregations who have already pledged to support marriage equality. Over 1,100 United Methodists from over 15 states have pledged to perform, host, or support the weddings and marriages of gay and lesbian couples. Additionally, groups of retired bishops and African-American clergy have issued statements supporting policy change within the denomination.
At the center of the movement for full inclusion is the Common Witness Coalition. The coalition is made up of the Reconciling Ministries Network, Affirmation, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Black Methodists for Church Renewal, and the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists. Together, the coalition will work for a more inclusive church for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people—always in a broader context that strives for justice around issues of race, gender, global partnerships, peace, stewardship of creation and economic justice.
The Common Witness Coalition has produced a series of videos that has described ‘loving your neighbor,’ whether that loving overcomes barriers of race, sexual orientation, gender identity or other factors that can divide and separate us as people. One video features Rev. David and Deborah Weekley. David came out as a transgender man in 2009, and has continued to serve his congregation and advocate for fuller inclusion of transgender individuals in the life of the denomination.
The purpose of building a coalition around the directive to “Love Your Neighbor” is to emphasize the intersectional approach to denominational welcoming work. The coalition covers a variety of constituencies, including marriage equality, racial justice, transgender inclusion, disability, and poverty. For example, the coalition has issued a statement, decrying the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. In the statement, Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network, said, “Violence, whether it is based on race, sexual orientation or gender identity, is wrong and cannot go unchallenged.”
It is through this coalition work that the Common Witness Coalition hopes to expand their work in making the United Methodist Church open and welcoming to all people. GLAAD is proud to support the work of the Common Witness Coalition. We have placed stories about various marriage initiatives, most recently in Oklahoma. We are also planning to be on the ground at the United Methodist General Conference, supporting the Common Witness Coalition with media support, placing United Methodist Spokespeople, and assisting the communications team. GLAAD encourages journalists to report on the lead up to the United Methodist General Conference, and use spokespeople from the coalition.