I have been researching and writing a non-fiction book about the LGBT journey to full inclusion in the mainline churches. These include the United Methodist Church (UMC), ELCA, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and United Church of Christ. I will travel to Cleveland later this week to meet with persons in the home office of the UCC. Later this month, I will travel to Tampa to attend the quadrennial UMC General Conference.
The UCC has ordained openly gay clergy since 1972. The Episcopalians legislatively voted to ordain gays to all levels of clergy in 2009, but many bishops and dioceses had already been ordaining gays for many years. The ELCA and the PC (USA) both voted to allow openly gay clergy in 2009.
Thus, of the five, principal mainline denominations, the UMC is the only one not yet ordaining gays. Part of that is size; the UMC is by far the largest of these denominations, and there is simply inertia involved. The bigger reasons, however, are geographic. While the UMC has a significant southern contingency, the biggest roadblock is that their General Conferences include large numbers of international delegates, and they tend to be quite conservative.
The largest Methodist gay advocacy group is called Reconciling Ministries Network. During recent visits with their executive director and the Board President, I heard the suggestion that there is likely a healthy majority of US delegates in favor of change, but their number needs to approach 65% to offset the expected bloc of negative votes coming from Africa and other foreign delegates.
We shall see, and I hope to live blog from the General Conference with updates beginning April 30th.
There certainly are local and regional pockets that are fully inclusive. One of these is Foundry United Methodist Church of Washington D.C. that was recently featured in a newspaper report that offers a good summary of the Methodist journey. The story calls attention to a YouTube effort that includes a series of personalized videos. Here’s a link to the church news article and here’s a link to the YouTube videos. One of these videos is embedded below.
In my research, I frequently encounter the idea that progress toward full inclusion comes as a result of meeting gays face-to-face and less so from attempts at rational debate. Here is how author Chris Glaser in his book Uncommon Calling states it:
After every biblical, theological, ecclesiastical, historical, psychological, and biological question has been answered, antigay feelings will still be present in church and society. “One can’t use reason to argue someone out of a position not arrived at by reason” … Phobias, irrational fears, are not overcome by reason so much as experience. I believe the church and society’s phobia regarding homosexuality and homosexual persons will be overcome by experiencing us. pp. 161-162.
I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, meet Jan Lawrence and Lindi Lewis, a lesbian couple from Foundry UMC.