Catholic diocesan hermit approved by Kentucky bishop comes out as transgender

— Matson is thought to be the first openly transgender person in his position in the Catholic Church.

Brother Christian Matson is a Catholic diocesan hermit in Kentucky.


Diocesan hermits by nature don’t get much attention. A small subset of religious persons, hermits mostly spend their lives engaged in quiet prayer.

Brother Christian Matson, a Catholic diocesan hermit in Kentucky, has spent years doing just that. His monk’s habit might catch his neighbors’ eye, but he is known in the town where he lives primarily through his work with the local theater.

But recently Matson decided that his faith compels him to make a little more noise than usual.

“This Sunday, Pentecost 2024, I’m planning to come out publicly as transgender,” Matson told Religion News Service on Friday (May 17), saying he was speaking out with the permission of his bishop, John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky.

Matson, who is also a Benedictine oblate, believes he is the first openly transgender person in his position in the Catholic Church. It is a difficult claim to confirm — even Stowe told RNS he did not know for sure if Matson is the first — but Matson’s status is at least highly unusual, and comes at time when church officials are grappling with how to address transgender Catholics.

According to Matson, 39, his “disclosing,” as he describes it, is a moment years in the making. He offered his story as indicative of the often difficult path for trans Catholics, including those seeking life as a religious — a category that includes brothers and nuns.

“I am currently based in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky,” he wrote in an email to friends and supporters on Sunday. “I live in a hermitage at the top of a wooded hill, which I share with my German Shepherd rescue, Odie, and with the Blessed Sacrament, which was installed in my oratory shortly before Christmas.”

Raised in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Matson converted to Catholicism in 2010 — four years, he noted, after transitioning in college, a step he refers to as a part of his “medical history” rather than a “central part of my personal identity.” After his conversion, Matson felt called to minister to people working in the arts, but knew he would encounter “issues” because of a 2000 Vatican document that, according to a Catholic News Service report from the time, declared that anyone who had undergone “sex-change” was ineligible “to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life.”

Matson approached a canon lawyer to discuss his options and was told that only two aspects of Catholic life were categorically off the table: marriage and the priesthood. According to Matson, the canon lawyer recommended being upfront about his status as a transgender man in any vocational conversations with church leaders and noted the role of a diocesan hermit, which may prove less challenging enlisting with an existing religious order.

The canon lawyer, Matson said, effectively conveyed to him “there’s no problem as long as there’s a bishop who will accept you, because there’s no distinction by sex and you’re not in a community — you’re by yourself.”

What followed was roughly a decade of searching and no small amount of rejection. Living in the United Kingdom while pursuing a master’s degree and later a Ph.D. in theology, Matson entered a vocational discernment program and approached the Jesuit order to ask if he could join.

“They said, ’No, we just don’t see how this would work for us,’ which was crushing, because that’s where I felt called,” Matson said.

Other communities offered similar responses, when they responded at all. “People who knew me said, ‘You clearly have a religious vocation,’ and these were all people who knew my medical history,” Matson said. “But when they would go to the people in the community in charge of making that decision, they … would often just refuse to even meet with me.”

In one instance, Matson said, a religious leader declined to meet simply to hear his experience as a trans man, saying doing so would be “a waste of time.”

But Matson’s call to religious life wouldn’t abate. While visiting a monastery during a retreat, he found himself unable to sleep, consumed with the idea of starting “a religious community of and for artists — artists who are living together, (operating) in the church through their art, and ministering to the loneliness and sense of precarity many artists experience.”

In 2015, he returned to New York City, where he had attended college. Having already taking private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — witnessed by his spiritual director — before he arrive, he co-created a nonprofit called the Catholic Artist Connection. The group hosted retreats and connected artists to resources such as the Archdiocese of New York’s Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, where Matson began working as a programming associate.

Matson kept running into artists who wanted to pursue religious life, he said, and continued to feel the tug himself. But roadblocks kept appearing. “As I spoke to friends in the archdiocese, I knew somebody with a trans background was never going to be accepted into religious life in the Archdiocese of New York,” Matson said.

He tried again after a move to Minnesota in 2018, but his entreaties to various religious communities and orders were also rejected.

“I thought, well, if I can’t find a religious community to sponsor me, maybe what I need is a bishop,” Matson said.

A priest friend recommended different bishops to contact, beginning with Stowe, who was emerging as a leading voice among Catholics calling for a more tolerant approach to LGBTQ people. In 2020, Matson sent Stowe a letter, conveying his status as a transgender man, his vision for an artists’ community and his pull to religious life.

Stowe wrote back immediately, expressing his openness.

“It was an enormous relief,” Matson said. “I was in tears. I felt my hope revive.”

Stowe confirmed Matson’s account, saying the then-aspiring brother was recommended to him by a number of people.

“My willingness to be open to him is because it’s a sincere person seeking a way to serve the church,” Stowe said of Matson. “Hermits are a rarely used form of religious life … but they can be either male or female. Because there’s no pursuit of priesthood or engagement in sacramental ministry, and because the hermit is a relatively quiet and secluded type of vocation, I didn’t see any harm in letting him live this vocation.”

He added that Matson’s spiritual journey was “consistent with the calling of that particular vocation.”

Bishop John Stowe. (Video screen grab)
Bishop John Stowe.

Matson moved to Kentucky, having already made progress on Stowe’s suggestion that he link up with an additional community through which to experience religious life. Matson entered the novitiate at a Benedictine monastery in 2021, hoping the formation offered by that path would eventually help him form a new religious community for artists.

Finally, in August 2022, Matson took his first vows as a diocesan hermit — a yearlong commitment — under Stowe’s direction.

For the next year, Matson “lived a life of basically spending half the day in prayer and half the day doing some form of work” that included producing and writing at a local theater.

Three years earlier, Matson read with frustration a document issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” The instructional letter rejected “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender.”

In 2021, the Diocese of Marquette, in Michigan, followed with its own instruction to priests to refuse transgender people asking to be baptized or confirmed until they have “repented.”

“It was suddenly becoming a lot more difficult in the church to be trans,” Matson said.

The Rev. Andrea Conocchia, center, introduces members of the Torvaianica transgender community to Pope Francis on Aug. 11, 2022, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Conocchia)
The Rev. Andrea Conocchia, center, introduces members of the Torvaianica transgender community to Pope Francis on Aug. 11, 2022, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican.

But tolerance seems to be growing in some quarters. While Pope Francis has opposed elements of gender theory and recently called its proposals “ugly,” he has also met and dined with groups of transgender people.

In November 2023, the Vatican doctrine department ruled that transgender people may be baptized and serve as witnesses at Catholic weddings, so long as doing so “doesn’t cause scandal among the faithful.”

In the United States in March, a coalition led by Catholic nuns released a letter voicing support for transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive individuals, implicitly rebuking a statement put forward by group of U.S. Catholic bishops discouraging Catholic health care groups from performing various gender-affirming medical procedures.

But overall, “Vatican-level documents that have come out on the subject have not engaged with the science at all,” Matson said, adding that he believes many diocesan-level statements are inconsistent in their attempts to categorize gender and cite scientific studies misleadingly. Matson has sent multiple private letters to Vatican offices, urging them to engage with transgender people and arguing that the church can embrace transgender people while maintaining orthodoxy.

As trans rights began to be debated in statehouses across the United States in recent months, conservative lawmakers have begun pushing bans on providing gender-affirming care for youth and, in some cases, adults.

Matson vented his frustrations to Stowe and his spiritual director, saying he wanted to speak out. But he said he was advised to first “build a foundation” in religious life for several years.

During that time, Matson had an experience that shook him. Attending a friend’s play in his religious habit, he was approached by a student who identified as trans and nonbinary. After asking if Matson was a monk, the student said they were raised Catholic, but that their parents had rejected their identity, and the student felt like they “don’t have a place in the church anymore.”

Matson responded by saying there were people in the church who would support the student, and Matson prayed with them, asking God to show the student how they are “wonderful the way you’ve made them.” The student, Matson said, grew emotional, thanking the hermit profusely and saying, “No one from the church has ever affirmed me for who I am.”

Matson, who renewed his vows in 2023, eventually began mulling a date to go public with his status. “I have to say something,” Matson told his spiritual director. He settled on Pentecost, which emphasizes preaching “the good news of God’s love to everyone,” he said. It was also the day in the church calendar when he’d been baptized years before.

“I can’t stand by and let this false and, at times, culpably ignorant understanding of what it means to be transgender continue to hurt people,” he said. “If I don’t say anything and allow the church to continue to make decisions based on incorrect information, then I’m not serving the church.”

Both Matson and Stowe said they are bracing for blowback after Sunday’s announcement. Matson said he is largely unconcerned with “online trolls” but is sensitive to people who are “legitimately concerned” that “accepting a trans person into religious life means Catholic anthropology gets thrown out the window.”

For people with such concerns, he said, he looks forward to engaging in dialogue. “I don’t have a hidden agenda, I just want to serve the church,” he said. “People can believe that or not.”

Both the hermit and his bishop are prepared for the possibility that church officials may push for Matson’s removal. Stowe acknowledged that “if I’m told to by higher authorities, then I will have to deal with that at the time.”

Matson bristled at the idea of leaving the church, which he called “my family.” “I’m Catholic,” he said. “I became Catholic after I transitioned because of the Catholic understanding — the sacramental understanding — of the body, of creation, of the desirability of the visible unity of the church, and primarily because of the Eucharist.”

At the very least, Matson said, he hopes going public will spark dialogue about his fellow transgender Catholics, a discussion he believes can enhance unity among the body of believers.

“You’ve got to deal with us, because God has called us into this church,” he said. “It’s not your church to kick us out of — this is God’s church, and God has called us and engrafted us into it.”

Complete Article HERE!

He feared coming out.

— Now this pastor wants to help Black churches become as welcoming as his own

Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley


It was daunting when the Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley, at age 22, replaced a beloved pastor who had ministered to one of suburban Boston’s most famed Black churches for 24 years.

It was more daunting — at times agonizing — to reach the decision six years later, in 2015, that God wanted him to tell his congregation that he was gay.

To his relief, most of the worshippers at Myrtle Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts, embraced him. Crowley’s career has flourished, and he has now written a book — “Queering the Black Church” — that he hopes can serve as a guide for other congregations to be “open and affirming” to LGBTQ+ people rather than shunning them.

The Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley speaks during Sunday service at Myrtle Baptist Church Sunday, May 5, 2024 in Newton, Mass. Crowley has written a book — “Queering the Black Church” — that he hopes can serve as a guide for other congregations to be “open and affirming” to LGBTQ+ people rather than shunning them.

Crowley, 37, was born in Atlanta and raised in Rome, Georgia. He admired the preachers he heard as a child, especially at Lovejoy Baptist Church, his home congregation.

One Sunday, however, the pastor preached a fiery sermon against homosexuals.

“He called them all types of names, using derogatory phrases and really describing it as a detestable group and a sinful thing, and I just sort of knew he was talking about me,” Crowley said in an interview. “That was my first introduction to really knowing the beauty of who I am as a queer person.”

Crowley said his great grandmother repeatedly assured him that he was made in the image of God. She also told him about getting pregnant at 14 — and breaking away from her own church after refusing its demand to apologize to the congregation.

“She would say, ‘God loves you,’” Crowley recalled. “She said, ‘They almost made me take my own life when I was pregnant, but I came to know a God beyond the church, and I’ve got beyond what these preachers say.’”

The Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley speaks during Sunday service at Myrtle Baptist Church in Newton, Mass., on Sunday, May 5, 2024. Myrtle, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, takes pride in its progressive, inclusive congregation, but many Black churches and denominations in the U.S. remain opposed to celebrating same-sex marriages or ordaining openly LGBTQ+ clergy.

Nonetheless, throughout this period, Crowley felt he was called to be a Christian pastor — a preacher of the social justice gospel.

Believing he had to hide his sexual identity in order to pursue that calling, he began dating a girl at Lovejoy.

He had still not come out by the time he entered Morehouse College in Atlanta, joining its Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel Assistants program. While at Morehouse, he said, he experienced his first serious romance with a young man, but led his family to believe it was a non-romantic friendship.

After graduating from Morehouse, Crowley was accepted by Harvard Divinity School. He considered abandoning his dream to be a preacher, and instead “write books about the Black church being dead.”

But one of his friends, convinced of his spiritual talents, encouraged Crowley to apply for the open pastorate at Myrtle Baptist — less than 10 miles from the divinity school.

Soon after he expressed initial interest, Crowley said, he received word that he was “exactly” what Myrtle’s search committee was seeking. He recalled his inner reaction: “I was, like, ‘What are y’all talking about? Like, I’m gay! This can’t happen.’”

But he stayed in the running for the job — even breaking away from a weekend Gay Pride party in Miami to get back in Boston in time to preach at a service attended by the search committee.

Before long, Crowley was named a finalist. His closest mentors were split over whether he should tell Myrtle’s leaders about his sexuality or stay quiet on that topic while doing a good job as preacher. He chose the latter course — and operated that way for six years after his election as Myrtle’s new senior pastor in 2009.

The Rev. Brandon Thomas Crowley speaks during Sunday service at Myrtle Baptist Church in Newton, Mass., on Sunday, May 5, 2024. In his book, Crowley notes that the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. crusaded against homosexuality during his 1908-1936 leadership of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church — one of the most prominent Black churches in the country.

But over time, Crowley said, he realized “I could only really do the work of God if I operated from a place of real authenticity.”

He also found love in the church. Crowley first met Tyrone Sutton, his partner of three years, when he was guest preaching. Sutton was sitting at the organ. On one of their first dates they sang and played music together.

Periodically during his life, Crowley said, he heard a voice he believed was coming from the spirit of God. He says it first spoke approvingly of his same-sex attraction as a child in 1993, after he was rebuked by a relative for saying that a male character on a sitcom was “so fine.”

“God doesn’t like that,” the relative said. But Crowley recalls hearing the voice tell him that God had made him that way. He says he heard it again at age 12, beckoning him to a life in ministry. And years later, as an adult, he said it would guide him through the emotional process of breaking up with a girlfriend after telling her about his homosexuality.

But those occasions all occurred in private. In the spring of 2015, Crowley says he was sitting in Myrtle’s pulpit one Sunday when he heard the voice speaking to him — telling him it was time to come out.

“Are you crazy? These people are going to put me out,” Crowley recalls telling the voice that was urging him to share the truth.

But minutes later, a tearful Crowley did just that — announcing to his congregation, “I am a proud, Black, gay Christian male.”

“We already knew, reverend,” one church mother told him. “We were just waiting on you.”

Some congregation members decided to leave Myrtle after the announcement, but mostly there was strong support for the pastor. Myrtle’s pews swelled with new members, many of them gay, and Crowley felt emboldened look beyond Newton and take aim at the broader realm of the Black Church.

This year, his first book, “Queering the Black Church: Dismantling Heteronormativity in the African American Church,” was published by Oxford Press.

In the book, Crowley recounts more than a century of Black Christian preaching that was often laden with homophobic diatribes, and broad characterizations of homosexuality as sinful. He notes that the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Sr. crusaded against homosexuality during his 1908-1936 leadership of New York’s Abyssinian Baptist Church — one of the most prominent Black churches in the country.

Myrtle, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, takes pride in its progressive, inclusive congregation, but many Black churches and denominations in the U.S. remain opposed to celebrating same-sex marriages or ordaining openly LGBTQ+ clergy.

The Rev. Karmen Michael Smith, who wrote “Holy Queer,” about the gift of being a gay Black Christian, and lectures frequently on the topic, said he’s not as optimistic as Crowley that Black churches can be “queered.” For many members of the LGBTQ+ community, Black churches are the site of trauma and exclusion, he said.

“Those folks aren’t coming back,” Smith said.

It remains a volatile issue in some quarters. The African Methodist Episcopal Church, for example, is expected to vote at an upcoming national meeting on a measure which would allow AME pastors to conduct same-sex marriages.

While pastoring at Myrtle, Crowley earned a Ph.D. from Boston University’s School of Theology. He hopes to become a professor as well as a preacher, he said via email, “further serving my Queer and Black communities in both spiritual and scholarly contexts.”

The Rev. Martha Simmons, an expert in Black preaching and founder of the advocacy group Women of Color in Ministry, became a mentor for Crowley after appearing at Morehouse as a guest speaker. She describes him as perhaps the most gifted of all the students she has encountered in her career.

“The most impressive thing about Brandon is that it’s really hard to be queer in a Black Baptist world, and that’s what he’s been in for most of his adult life,” Simmons said. “And he handles it all so well.”

Complete Article HERE!

What the Methodist split tells us about America

— A separation of church and church.


Last week, hundreds of United Methodist Church (UMC) delegates from around the world sat down to vote on whether or not to reverse a longstanding ban on the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. The decision would also determine whether or not to strike a rule that prohibited clergy from presiding over “homosexual unions.”

The room was uncharacteristically hushed as delegates logged their votes. They’d gathered to participate in a quadrennial General Conference, where an elected group of clergy and laypeople review and edit the rules and social stances of the church on a variety of subjects. When the results were announced, the room erupted in loud sobs and cheering. With this vote — and several others — over 50 years of church law, doctrine, and social stances aimed at restricting the full inclusion of LGBTQ methodists were reversed.

In a dramatic deviation from the staid (remarkably congressional) proceedings, the Methodists began to sing.

Church historian Ashley Boggan told Today, Explained’s Noel King that the UMC’s schism should matter to Methodists and non-Methodists alike. “If you look at Methodist history within the United States, it’s a great lens for looking at American history,” she said.

How did we get here?

For the last five years, the United Methodist Church has been fighting over its stance on LGBTQ members.

In a one-off special session in 2019, the UMC had voted to tighten its prohibitions on LGBTQ members — a decision that nearly half of all UMC congregations across the country went on to publicly reject in the following years. So, in 2022, a splinter denomination was born: the Global Methodist Church. Traditionalist congregations had seen the writing on the wall: Change was coming, and they didn’t want to be part of it.

Conservative churches began leaving the denomination in droves, and by the time the General Conference convened this year, a quarter of US congregations had jumped ship. It was this newly slimmed-down UMC that voted to reverse the church’s anti-LGBTQ positions earlier this month.

What Methodists say about America

The Methodist church developed in tandem with the United States. Both are 18th-century experiments in democracy, and each has weathered the great challenges of the last two centuries — war, reunion, and an ever-expanding understanding of personhood — in distinct but parallel lanes.

Throughout the 19th century, as the United States grappled with the notion of Black personhood and the reality of chattel slavery, so too did the Methodists. In 1844, 40 percent of Methodist congregations split off to form a pro-slavery splinter congregation.

That was the last time this many Methodists split off from the main denomination. Fifteen years later, the Confederacy seceded as well, and a bloody civil war shortly followed. This parallel has not gone unnoticed.

According to Boggan, in the decades that followed, this pattern repeated itself. As the post-war US reconstructed itself, the Methodist church followed suit. In a 1939 merger, the Southern and Northern Methodists were once again united. As states enacted Jim Crow laws across the country, the Methodists created a segregated system of their own.

The Methodist church became a sort of bellwether for larger national sentiment, and this extended beyond racial politics, The church granted full ordination rights to women in 1956, and seven years later, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique mainstreamed “the problem with no name.”

While this all might lead us to fear that the current breakup in the Methodist church is yet again a harbinger of violence, it is helpful to remember this caveat: the Civil War-era United States was extremely Methodist. According to church historian Nathan Hatch, in the runup to the Civil War, the Methodist church was “the most extensive national institution other than the Federal government.” The sheer size of the denomination meant that the political reality of the church would eventually become the political reality of the country.

Today, church membership is in decline, and the institutional influence of mainline protestant churches is much diminished (although to exactly what effect is debatable). The church is not, as it was in the 19th century, a small-scale model of the country. Today, according to Boggan, the church acts more like a lens: a way to see broader national tensions work themselves out on a smaller scale.

What next?

At the General Conference, several traditionalists told me that their local congregations were still actively considering leaving the denomination. Dixie Brewster, a conservative delegate from Kansas, told me she feels like the UMC is no longer a big-tent denomination, and “it seems like there’s no place at the table for the conservative view of traditional marriage and family.”

I’m not sure these anxieties are warranted. On paper, the church is an objectively bigger tent today than it was last year. Queer people can pursue ordination, and clergy now have the right to perform same-sex weddings.

Notably, a clear majority of delegates also voted to pass a statement that formally enshrined the rights of traditional clergy to refuse to officiate a same-sex marriage. In a 479–203 vote, the UMC decided that “all clergy have the right to exercise and preserve their conscience when requested to perform any marriage, union, or blessing of any couple.”

It appears that this now “more progressive” UMC is walking a sort of quasi-libertarian road toward progress. By “removing restrictions on paper,” Boggan said, the conversations about how best to love one’s neighbor must change venues. No longer enshrined in the black-and-white text of doctrine, debate is forced back inside the four walls of the church.

While the Methodist church was once a reliable indicator of national sentiment, it lifted its prohibition on gay marriage nearly a decade after Obergefell v. Hodges did the same for the rest of the country. This is not to say that LGBTQ rights in the United States are set in stone. In Florida, legislators have decided that while you can say gay, you have to say it carefully. Most Republican-run states have restricted or outright banned gender-affirming care for minors, and in states where restrictions on LGBTQ people have gotten tighter, reported hate crimes against LGBTQ elementary and high school students have quadrupled.

It is unclear whether or not the United Methodist Church will continue to embody these tensions. The mass exodus of conservative congregations was orchestrated by what Boggan called the “evangelical wing” of the UMC. The wing of the church most actively engaging in conservative culture wars has taken itself out of the conversation.

Whether the Methodists pull back together or splinter further is still an open question.

Complete Article HERE!

United Methodist Church Reverses Ban on Practicing Gay Clergy

— In a meeting on Wednesday, church leaders also voted to allow L.G.B.T.Q. weddings.

Andy Oliver, a pastor in St. Petersburg, Fla., reacted to the vote by United Methodist Church delegates to repeal its ban on gay clergy.

By Ruth Graham

The United Methodist Church removed on Wednesday its longstanding ban on ordaining gay clergy, formalizing a shift in policy that had already begun in practice and that had prompted the departure of a quarter of its U.S. congregations in recent years.

The overturning of the 40-year-old ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” passed overwhelmingly and without debate in a package of measures that had already received strong support at the committee level.

Delegates, meeting in Charlotte, N.C., also voted to bar local leaders from penalizing clergy or churches for holding, or declining to hold, same-sex weddings. The vote effectively allows same-sex marriage in the church for the first time, although the original penalty was already unevenly enforced. Some clergy may still decline to perform same-sex weddings.

Further votes affirming L.G.B.T.Q. inclusion in the church are expected before the meeting adjourns on Friday.

“We’ve always been a big-tent church where all of God’s beloved were fully welcome,” said Bishop Tracy Smith Malone, the new president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops and the first Black woman to serve in that role. She called the vote “a celebration of God breaking down walls.”

She described the atmosphere in the room as a “Pentecost moment,” in which the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable.

Last week, the conference approved the first phrase of a “regionalization” plan that would restructure the global denomination to give different regions autonomy on adapting rules on issues including sexuality. The move is seen as a way to defuse tensions between the increasingly progressive American church and more conservative factions internationally.

Though the end of the ban on gay clergy applies to the global church, regionalization means that in practice it may primarily affect churches in the United States.

The United Methodist Church is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the nation; the Southern Baptist Convention is the biggest. There were 5.4 million Methodists in the United States in 2022, a steep decline from just a few years earlier, and a number that is expected to drop again once last year’s accelerated departures are counted.

Delegates also voted this week to end a ban on using United Methodist funds to “promote acceptance of homosexuality,” a change particularly welcomed by those in ministries working with L.G.B.T.Q. people.

“The energy that’s gone into preparing for and trying to get to this moment can now be refocused,” said Jan Lawrence, the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, a group that advocates for full inclusion in the church. “We have a huge opportunity in front of us.” Ms. Lawrence noted that not only were all the group’s goals for the meetings likely to be achieved, but they were doing so in at atmosphere that was notably agreeable, even joyful.

Wednesday’s vote follows years of turmoil in the denomination over sexuality, an issue that has prompted tumultuous debates and schisms in other Christian traditions and institutions.

Conservatives in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for example, have formed breakaway denominations in reaction to the acceptance of gay clergy. Catholic Church doctrine forbids same-sex relationships, but Pope Francis has alarmed some traditionalists by allowing priests to bless same-sex couples.

At their most recent meeting in 2019, Methodists voted to tighten an existing ban on same-sex marriages and gay and lesbian clergy.=

Since that contentious vote, however, the denomination’s makeup has changed, in large part because of conservative congregations departing in anticipation of the loosening of strictures around homosexuality that are becoming official this week.

Conservatives were given an exit ramp when Methodist leaders opened a window in 2019 for congregations to leave over “reasons of conscience,” in most cases allowing them to keep their property and assets if they received approval to depart by the end of last year. Many conservative congregations accepted the offer, prompting an extraordinary decline for the geographically and culturally diverse denomination.

In Texas, for example, a historic stronghold, more than 40 percent of United Methodist congregations left the denomination. Some joined the breakaway conservative Global Methodist Church, while others have remained independent.

Many conservatives had been disturbed by what they saw as the church’s failure to enforce its bans on gay clergy and same-sex weddings. Some leaders in more progressive regions had begun defying the restrictions, and the church now has a number of openly gay clergy and two gay bishops.

“This is certainly the lightning rod issue, the presenting issue, but our division goes so much deeper,” said Rob Renfroe, the president of Good News, a traditionalist caucus within the United Methodist Church. He described sexuality as a proxy issue for larger debates in the church about the authority of the Bible, the reality of sin and beliefs about salvation.

Mr. Renfroe is attending the meeting in Charlotte but says that given the outcome, he will leave the denomination within the next month. He cautioned that many denominations that have moved in the direction that Methodists have taken this week have seen their numbers dramatically decline.

“As the church becomes more and more liberal, and if a social agenda becomes its driving force, that’s not going to grow the church,” he said.

For others, the vote was a moment of deep optimism. Chet Jechura, the pastor of Good Shepherd UMC in Baltimore, wept as he watched the vote at home via livestream. Almost exactly five years ago, when the denomination tightened enforcement of its ban against gay clergy, he had broken into sobs while he was serving communion. Now he will be ordained in just a few weeks.

“Today I am weeping tears of joy — and profound existential relief,” he said. “It’s a privilege to be ordained into this renewal movement at such an historic moment.”

On the floor of the meeting after the vote on Wednesday morning, the mood was equally jubilant.

Some delegates and observers gathered in a circle to sing a Methodist song that has become a refrain for many L.G.T.B.Q. Christians. “Draw the circle wide, draw it wider still,” they sang. “Let this be our song: No one stands alone.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican opposes criminalization of homosexuality, top cardinal says

Pope Francis said laws criminalizing LGBT people were a sin and an injustice, because God loves and accompanies people with same-sex attraction.

The Vatican opposes the criminalization of homosexuality as practiced by a number of countries with the support of Catholic groups, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office said on Monday.

Presenting a publication which reaffirmed the Vatican’s opposition to sex changes, gender theory and surrogate parenthood, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez called laws punishing homosexuality “a big problem” and said, “Of course we are not in favor of criminalization.”

Fernandez, a liberal theologian whom Pope Francis appointed as head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith less than a year ago, told reporters it was “painful” to see some Catholics support anti-homosexuality laws.

In February 2023, returning from a trip to Africa where same-sex relationships are often taboo, Francis said laws criminalizing LGBT people were a sin and an injustice, because God loves and accompanies people with same-sex attraction.

“The criminalization of homosexuality is a problem that cannot be ignored,” the Pope said, citing unnamed statistics according to which 50 countries criminalize LGBT people “in one way or another” and about 10 others have laws including the death penalty.

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Under Francis, the Catholic Church has become more welcoming towards LGBT people. In December, Cardinal Fernandez’s office issued a landmark document allowing the blessing of same-sex couples, triggering substantial conservative backlash.

Nevertheless, the Church officially teaches that homosexual acts “are intrinsically disordered.”

Answering a question on whether such language may be amended, Cardinal Fernandez said, “it is true that it a very strong expression and that it needs a lot of explanation, perhaps we could find a clearer one.”

He said that the point of Catholic teaching was that homosexual acts cannot match “the immense beauty” of heterosexual unions, and the Church “could find more apt words to express” this.