It was recently reported that amendments that would have advanced the status of gays within the United Methodist Church were defeated. Based on a July 30th news release from Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, President of the Council of Bishops, that information is incorrect and premature. The entire situation is murky.
Here is the situation, as I understand it.
Present Methodist policy is conservative regarding LGBT issues. For instance, the Judicial Council upheld prohibitions against gay marriage in a decision in April of this year, according to an article in the Christian Post.
The United Methodist Church’s top court recently ruled that clergy, both active and retired, cannot perform same-sex marriages or civil unions.
Performing such services is "a chargeable offense," Bishop Beverly J. Shamana ruled last Friday. UMC’s Judicial Council affirmed her decision.
The council further ruled that an annual conference, or regional body within the UMC, "may not negate, ignore, or violate provisions of the Discipline with which they disagree, even when the disagreements are based on conscientious objections to the provisions."
The council’s ruling was on a resolution passed by the California-Nevada Annual Conference last year, months after the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Along with providing pastoral ministry to same gender couples, the resolution would allow retired clergy to perform marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
The decision restricted individual regional bodies from adopting policies contrary to the overall denominational policy. This is key because the United Methodist Church is organized and governed globally with significant representation from European, African, and Asian conferences. The non-US conferences tend to be less LGBT friendly than US conferences.
This brings us back to the pending constitutional amendments. The amendments do not generally address LGBT issues per se but instead address governance issues that would allow individual conferences or regions greater autonomy. Thus, US conferences could conceivably adopt gay friendly policies while foreign conferences would not. These amendments are presently under consideration by the numerous worldwide conferences. The United Methodist Reporter offers an article with a good overview of the global governance issues.
News reports erroneously indicated that vote tallies from early reporting conferences suggested the amendments would fail, but Bishop Palmer’s news release points out that the amendments require a 2/3 aggregate majority of all votes cast instead of counting up which conferences were for and which were against the amendments. The conference by conference voting will continue into the spring of 2010, and the final outcome will not be known until then, according to Palmer.