United Methodists Begin to Reverse Longstanding Anti-LGBTQ Policies - Word&Way

United Methodists Begin to Reverse Longstanding Anti-LGBTQ Policies

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — United Methodist delegates began making historic changes in their policies on sexuality on Tuesday — voting without debate to reverse a series of anti-LGBTQ polices.

The delegates voted to delete mandatory penalties for conducting same-sex marriages and to remove their denomination’s bans on considering LGBTQ candidates for ministry and on funding for gay-friendly ministries.

In this April 19, 2019 photo, a gay pride rainbow flag flies along with the U.S. flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

The 667-54 vote, coming during their legislative General Conference, removes some of the scaffolding around the United Methodist Church’s longstanding bans on LGBTQ-affirming policies regarding ordination, marriage, and funding.

Still to come later this week are votes on the core of the bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage in church law and policy, which may draw more debate. However, the large majority achieved by Tuesday’s votes indicate the tenor of the General Conference. The consensus was so overwhelming that these items were rolled into the legislative “consent calendar,” normally reserved for non-controversial measures.

The actions follow a historic schism in what was long the third-largest denomination in the United States. About one-quarter of U.S. congregations left between 2019 and 2023, mostly conservative churches dismayed that the denomination wasn’t enforcing its longstanding LGBTQ bans. With the absence of many conservative delegates, who had been in the solid majority in previous general conferences and had steadily reinforced such bans over the decades, progressive delegates are moving quickly to reverse such policies.

Such actions could also prompt departures of some international churches, particularly in Africa, where more conservative sexual values prevail and where same-sex activity is criminalized in some countries.

United Methodist Church law still bans the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” into ministry — a decades-old rule that will come up for a vote later this week.

However, on Tuesday, the General Conference voted to remove a related ban — on church officials considering someone for ordination who fits that category.

It also removed mandatory penalties — imposed by a 2019 General Conference — on clergy who conduct ceremonies celebrating same-sex weddings or unions.

And it imposed a moratorium on any church judicial processes seeking to discipline any clergy for violating LGBTQ-related rules.

In addition, the General Conference took actions toward being openly LGBTQ-affirming.

It repealed a longstanding ban on any United Methodist entity using funds “to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” That previous ban also forbade the funding of any effort to “reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends” and expressly supported the funding of responses to the anti-HIV epidemic. However, the mixed wording of the old rule has been replaced with a ban on funding any effort to “reject any LGBTQIA+ person or openly discriminate against LGBTQIA+ people.”

Other rule changes called for considering of LGBTQ people along with other demographic categories for appointments in an effort to have diversity on various church boards and entities.

The General Conference is the UMC’s first legislative gathering since 2019, one that features its most progressive slate of delegates in recent memory following the departure of more than 7,600 mostly conservative congregations in the United States because it essentially stopped enforcing its bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination.

Those departures came during a window between 2019 and 2023 allowing them to leave with their properties, held in trust for the denomination, under friendlier than normal terms. Conservatives are expected to ask that such terms be extended for international and U.S. churches that don’t agree with the General Conference’s actions.

Still to come this week are final votes on whether to remove the bans on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, and whether to whether to replace a longstanding document that had called the “practice of homosexuality … incompatible with Christian teaching.”

All of those proposals had overwhelming support in committee votes last week.

The changes would be historic in a denomination that has debated LGBTQ issues for more than half a century at its General Conferences, which typically meet every four years.

Last week, the conference endorsed a regionalization plan that essentially would allow the churches of the United States the same autonomy as other regions of the global church. That change – which still requires local ratification — could create a scenario where LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage are allowed in the United States but not in other regions. Delegates on Tuesday approved a related measure related to regionalization.

The conference last week also approved the departure of a small group of conservative churches in the former Soviet Union.

The denomination had until recently been the third largest in the United States, present in almost every county. But its 5.4 million U.S. membership in 2022 is expected to drop once the 2023 departures are factored in.

The denomination also counts 4.6 million members in other countries, mainly in Africa, though earlier estimates have been higher.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.