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United Methodist leadership recommends deferral of LGBT decisions

More than 160 demonstrators greeted delegates with a silent protest for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church as they arrived on May 18, 2016, at the Oregon Convention Center for the United Methodist General Conference. Some held crosses draped in stoles from the Shower of Stoles project, each representing the life of an LGBT person in ministry. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) In an effort to stave off a schism in one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations, United Methodist Church leaders are recommending a deferral of decisions on whether to accept LGBT clergy and allow same-sex marriage.

Bishop Bruce Ough, president of its Council of Bishops, said the church is considering convening a special session of its General Conference in 2018 or 2019 to discuss LGBT issues, which have roiled the worldwide denomination for years.

He made the announcement Wednesday (May 18), more than midway through this year’s quadrennial meeting.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough reads a statement about sexuality and the church from the denomination's Council of Bishops on May 18, 2016, at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, courtesy of UMNS

Bishop Bruce R. Ough reads a statement about sexuality and the church from the denomination’s Council of Bishops on May 18, 2016, at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, courtesy of UMNS

“We recommend the General Conference defer all votes regarding human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special commission named by the Council of Bishops,” he said.

The recommendation came as the General Conference was set to discuss legislation regarding human sexuality later Wednesday, amid growing tension and demonstrations over the church’s positions on the inclusion of its LGBT members.

The Rev. Katie Z. Dawson of Iowa said she was torn between the people insisting “it’s time” for inclusion, and the many in her subcommittee on Faith and Order who want to hold off.

“It’s life and death, and yet we’re not ready, and I’m just caught in that tension,” she said.

More than 160 demonstrators had greeted delegates with a silent protest lining the sidewalk outside the Oregon Convention Center. Some held signs saying “It’s Time” and “Why exclude us?” and “Self-avowed practicing queer clergy”; others, wooden crosses draped in stoles representing LGBT people in ministry.

On Tuesday, the sound of demonstrators singing the hymn “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” their hands tied together with the colorful stoles LGBT supporters have worn throughout the conference, nearly drowned out a motion by the Rev. Mark Holland asking bishops for direction on how to move forward on the issue of human sexuality.

More than 160 demonstrators greeted delegates with a silent protest for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church as they arrived on May 18, 2016, at the Oregon Convention Center for the United Methodist General Conference. Some held crosses draped in stoles from the Shower of Stoles project, each representing the life an LGBT person in ministry. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

More than 160 demonstrators greeted delegates with a silent protest for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church as they arrived on May 18, 2016, at the Oregon Convention Center for the United Methodist General Conference. Some held crosses draped in stoles from the Shower of Stoles project, each representing the life of an LGBT person in ministry. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

Ough had addressed delegates earlier in the day, demurring on rumors bishops would call for a special session of the General Conference in two years to consider a reorganization or breakup of the denomination over the issue.

The church has some 12 million members worldwide, including more than 7 million in the U.S., and is experiencing its greatest growth in countries, particularly in Africa, that are theologically conservative on LGBT issues.

“I think now more than ever we need the leader of our spiritual and temporal leaders to move into holy conferencing and model for this body how a divided body moves forward for the good,” Holland said.

The Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia opposed the motion, saying, “I would like for us to follow the rules and not compromise the integrity of the General Conference.”

The motion asking for the bishops’ direction had passed 428-364. Many of the bishops were notably absent from the last plenary session of the day, and Ough noted the resulting statement was not unanimously endorsed by the Council of Bishops and is not binding.

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

13 Comments

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  • Punting won’t help the anti-gay faction of the sect. The longer marriage equality and gay rights is in the mainstream, the less acceptable bigotry against them becomes to the rank and file. Time is not on their side.

  • God’s word is clear and we shouldn’t even consider going against it, no matter what society says. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If it was sin then, it is sin now. Homosexuality like every other sin should not be celebrated and accepted, but repented of and forsaken. That is God’s perfect way and should also be the way of any church that claims to be His. No debate necessary.

  • ” God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If it was sin then, it is sin now. ”

    If that was the case, you would not be speaking out of turn without a male elder figure giving you permission. Rape would be punishable by paying a fine to a woman’s father or spouse.

    But then again when does rational examination or logical consistency have anything to do with religious belief? You will just spout off whatever empty aphorisms are bandied about to support a position of “God says I am right and everyone else must do as I say”.

    Using religion as an excuse to treat people as less than human is not a productive or moral use of such things. It is merely a reprehensible gloss on personal bigotry.

  • I agree with you, except for one thing. Like Bishop Ough said, it might be “2019” before they get around to doing any action. Which means **three…long…years** of everything you mentioned, instead of merely two long years. Other than that, your assessment is spot on.

    The Methodists, like America itself, are in deep deep trouble. It’s really NOT clear that a catastrophic Divine Judgment on our churches and our nation, can be avoided anymore.

  • “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If it was sin then, it is sin now.”

    If that’s true, then I assume the inverse is true: ‘If it was NOT a sin then, it is NOT a sin now.’

    So, for example, slavery was not a sin in the Bible, which means that the Southern Baptists were correct in supporting slavery. God only presented a few guidelines to keep slavery respectable.

  • Hard to know when you people are kidding, and when you,re serious.

    The murder of millions of native Americans brought no divine judgment, just a rise in property values.

    The enslavement of Africans and their removal to more salubrious climes brought no divine judgment, just a few hundred years of struggle to get them recognized as fully human beings.

    Our numerous wars of choice, especially Shrub’s ventures, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions, and the rise of terrorism into a world force, brought no divine judgment, but did keep the price of oil down.

    But two guys getting married? that will get the Eternal Knickers into a throughly uncomfortable twist.

  • We’re in agreement here. More wishy washy stuff indicating the dithering vapidity of the highly paid religious class.

  • People like YOU are why folks are leaving the church by the thousands. How much blood from lost souls are on YOUR hands? Yours, specifically? YOU are responsible for turning them away with hateful words such as the ones you have posted here.

  • Then, I certainly hope you have your head covered at all times. And WHY are you speaking in public?? I’m guessing your name, Stacie, indicates you are a female. #fromtheBibletoo

  • any Christian worth his salt would treat homosexual people with respect,and compassion, it all boils down to one thing-do you believe that Gods word condemns homosexual acts as sinful,and harmful to the eternal souls of those who partake in them,

  • I believe that Joe Bauer is a “Poe Troll”. He is following “Poe’s Law” that an extremist position is indistinguishable from parody.

  • Do you stone your children when they misbehave? That was part of “God’s law,” too. If we did that today, we’d end up in prison for murder. Christ instituted the “Law of Love,” which is far superior to the Law of Moses. Why is that so hard to understand?

  • This is what cowardice looks like. We are called to obey the word of God. Not pray about it, not have meetings, not appoint special commissions, about it, obey it. The UMC has clearly jettisoned the Bible as their final word on faith and practice and are therefore doing cartwheels trying to please the world while not losing what’s left of their church. In the end it won’t work. Their lamp stand is in the process of being removed.

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