It’s a New Day

On May 1st, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted to remove the restrictive language from The Book of Discipline. This language, saying, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” was added in 1972 with much debate, and we’ve been disputing it ever since.

In fact, there hasn’t been a Conference since, where we haven’t spent significant time debating and advocating for the full inclusion of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. Recently, this debate has come to define much of our work as United Methodists. So much so, that in 2019 there was a special called General Conference to specifically focus on how we would move forward as a denomination in light of our disagreement on LGBTQIA+ inclusion. 

However, at the 2019 GC, by a very slim margin (51% to 49%), it was voted to “double-down” on the restrictive language, adding additional disciplinary actions for clergy who chose to preside over same sex weddings. 

Rather than ending the debate, this decision sent The United Methodist Church into more turmoil. Since then, 1/4 of United Methodist Churches have chosen to disaffiliate and join another denomination or become non-denominational.

So, this May, as we moved towards General Conference, I steeled myself for more contentious debate on the floor, with harmful, hurtful words spoken towards our LGBTQIA+ siblings. 

Instead, on the morning of May 1st, petitions applying to LGBTQIA+ inclusion were placed on the morning’s Consent Calendar (as they received 10 or fewer votes against, in their committees). The vote for the Consent Calendar passed, with a resounding 93% yes. 

In one fell swoop, the restrictive language was removed from The Book of Discipline, clergy would no longer be punished if they chose to preside over same sex marriages, and LGBTQIA+ individuals could be ordained. 

That morning, as they made this historic vote at GC, I watched the livestream while getting ready for work. When the voting results were shown, I stopped. Chills ran through my body and tears started to run down my face. 

I texted a few of my friends who were at GC, and asked, “Did that just happen?” 

They said, “Yes. It’s all over.” 

I thought to myself, “It can’t be that simple, can it? We’ve been debating and arguing this for… ever.” 

As tears flowed, I called anyone I could think of to share the news: it’s a new day in The United Methodist Church!

As the day went on, I realized just how much guilt and shame I had been carrying because of the words, “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” 

No, I’m not part of the LGBTQIA+ community. But I have family members who are. And I pastor people who identify as part of that community. 

I’ve seen first-hand the harm that the incompatibility language has caused. I’ve had conversations with people who are convinced God hates them simply because of who they love. They’ve heard me say, “God’s love is unconditional,” and in their mind, they’ve extended the sentence to say, “… except for me and people like me.” 

My heart has broken as I’ve heard story after story of individuals shunned by Christian family members who believed scripture deemed them unworthy of love. I’ve watched people struggle in their faith, turning their back on God because they’ve been told by Christians that God’s love doesn’t apply to them… not really. 

But on May 1st, 2024, the guilt and shame were lifted from my shoulders. The corporate harm of The United Methodist Church stopped, and we could begin to work towards healing together. 

Brecksville United Methodist Church has been doing this work of reconciliation for the past 10 years. In fact, May 11, 2024 was our 10-year anniversary of being a Reconciling Congregation. I’m proud of the work our church has done (and continues to do!) to advocate for the full inclusion of all our siblings. It is Godly work! 

As we move into this month of June—celebrating the diversity of God’s humanity through Pride and Juneteenth—I’m reminded of what Paul said in Galatians 3:28,

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s famous “descendant,” heirs according to the covenant promises.

May we continue our work of courageous inclusion: wholeheartedly welcoming all people as their perfectly imperfect selves.

Thanks be to God! 

Pastor Heidi