United Methodist Church’s Decision to Reaffirm 1972 Stance on Same-Sex Marriage, LGBTQI Pastors Causing Some Controversy
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – A Methodist Church in Clarion is feeling the ripple effects of a February ruling by the United Methodist Church to upload and strengthen the ban on same-sex marriage and LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex) clergy within the Church.
(Photo: The First United Methodist Church in Clarion has a diverse congregation that has varying opinions on the General Conference Decision)
On February 26, 2019, at a General Conference in St. Louis, the Church, in a close 438-384 vote, reinforced a policy established in 1972 stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
That vote was on something called “The Traditional Plan” which was meant to reinforce current Church policy after questions arose as to where the Church stands on the issue.
That decision has left some individuals at the First United Methodist Church in Clarion upset while appeasing others.
“With the majority, I can sit down and talk about different opinions and go to lunch afterward even if we disagree,” said Kevin Haley, pastor at the Wood Street Church. “A few have made life a little difficult. I have had good conversations with people who disagree with me, and there have been times where it has gotten ugly.”
While Haley is seeing a few “ugly” issues in Clarion, some Methodist churches throughout the region aren’t feeling the same issues.
“In our church, it has not caused any disruption,” said Pastor John Emigh of the First United Methodist Church in DuBois. “We are a very traditional church. In fact, when we surveyed our conference, the Western Pennsylvania Conference is fairly traditional. That being said, we aren’t all cookie cutters. But, we have always known what we believe and what we stood behind.”
Reverend Lance Tucker at the Oakland United Methodist Church just outside of Oil City echoed Emigh’s thoughts.
“We are a more traditional church,” Tucker said. “Most have been in support of the Traditional Plan.”
The First United Methodist Church in Clarion might be seeing more issues than some regional churches because of the diversity of its congregation stemming from it being located in a college town.
“I am often asked, what is your church (in Clarion), Centralist, Traditional or Progressive?” said Haley. “My answer is yes. We are all of these. We have a very diverse congregation being in a university town. That is something we cherish.”
Another option that was on the table at the time the “Traditional Plan” was voted on called the “One Church Plan” was defeated. That plan would have allowed each individual church to decide on its own whether or not to conduct same-sex marriages and allow LGBTQI pastors.
Haley said he believes that plan would have caused even more issues than the one that was adopted and would have torn his congregation apart.
“We are in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference,” Haley said. “This is a fairly conservative annual conference. Some of my progressive friends, and I really don’t like labels, said the same thing. It would be a logistical nightmare to have each church decide on its own.”
While the Tradition Plan doesn’t allow for same-sex marriages or LGBTQI pastors, the pastors said LGBTQI people are still very much welcome in the Church.
“They can still be a member and still hold any other office (besides pastor) in the church,” Haley said. “I have baptized people, and we have had people on our church staff (who considered themselves LGBTQI).”
Emigh, the pastor in DuBois, reiterated that.
“As a church, we have a set core doctrine and values,” Emigh said. “We haven’t changed that. We still love and welcome LGBT people into our church.”
Daniel Grimes, the senior pastor at Fertigs United Methodist Church, Ashland United Methodist Church, Pine City United Methodist Church, and Rouseville United Methodist Church said the ruling by the General Conference was about workings of the church and not a position on individuals who are part of an “alternative lifestyle group.”
“The United Methodist Church (is) not saying alternative lifestyles are not welcome in the Church,” Grimes said. “We are not the judge of any, that position belongs to God. I invite you to come and worship with us, you are welcome here.”
Haley’s belief is the controversy surrounding the General Conference has hurt the Church as a whole.
“Nobody won. A decision was reached, but it made the denomination look very ugly,” explained Haley. “We didn’t look like a church. In my interpretation, we would have turned on C-SPAN and seen more civility from Congress. It has divided the denomination, and we are scrambling to see where we go from here.”
Haley is concerned that the current debate within the Church is taking the focus away from the main mission of the Church.
“This whole issue and all this debate to leave things the way they are is taking – in my mind – us off our mission which is to serve disciples,” Haley said. “Nobody won.”
Haley said that while the debate has been harmful to the Church, he as a pastor with the United Methodist Church it is his calling to uphold the scripture and the Methodist Church’s “Book of Discipline,” which guides the teachings of the Church.
“That (the Book of Discipline) says that homosexuality is considered a sin,” Haley said. “My job is to bring us all to the foot of the altar because we are all sinners.”
Haley said he understands why the Church is not allowing LGBTQI persons to be pastors because it centers around the Church’s belief that homosexuality is a sin, but also sounded as though he wished the Church wouldn’t have picked just one sin to list.
“If I was a pencil stealer and said I was going to continue to be a pencil stealer, then I shouldn’t be ordained because I am a sinner,” Haley said. “Why they had to pick out one sin, I don’t know. I know it was a very volatile issue back in 1972 as well.”
Haley said that in 35 years of ministry, he has never had anyone ask for a same-gender marriage.
“If someone asked me (to perform) one, I would have to tell them no because the United Methodist Church doesn’t allow that,” Haley said. “But I would tell them that some (denominations) do allow it. I am not going to infringe on their civil rights.”
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