LGBTQ-Friendly Votes Signal Progressive Shift for Methodists

A gay pride rainbow flag flies with the US flag in front of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kan., on April 19, 2019.

The United Methodist Church moved toward becoming more progressive and LGBTQ-affirming during U.S. regional meetings this month that included the election of its second openly gay bishop. Conservatives say the developments will only accelerate their exit from one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations.

Each of the UMC’s five U.S. jurisdictions — meeting separately in early November — approved similarly worded measures aspiring to a future church where “LGBTQIA+ people will be protected, affirmed, and empowered.”

They also passed non-binding measures asking anyone to withdraw from leadership roles if they’re planning to leave the denomination soon — a category that almost entirely includes conservatives moving toward the exits.

The denomination still officially bans same-sex marriage and the ordination of any “self-avowed, practicing homosexual,” and only a legislative gathering called the General Conference can change that.

But this month’s votes show growing momentum — at least in the American half of the global church — to defy these policies and seek to reverse them at the next legislative gathering in 2024.

Supporters and opponents of these measures drew from the same metaphor to say their church is either becoming more or less of a “big tent,” as the United Methodists have long been described as a theologically diverse, mainstream denomination.

“It demonstrates that the big tent has collapsed,” said the Rev. Jay Therrell, president of the conservative Wesleyan Covenant Association, which has been helping churches that want to leave the denomination.

“For years, bishops have told traditionalists that there is room for everyone in the United Methodist Church,” he said. “Not one single traditionalist bishop was elected. Moreover, we now have the most progressive or liberal council of bishops in the history of Methodism, period.”

But Jan Lawrence, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, which works toward inclusion of Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities, applauded the regional jurisdictions. She cited their LGBTQ-affirming votes and their expansion of the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of bishops.

Jurisdictions elected the church’s first Native American and Filipino American bishops, with other landmark votes within specific regions, according to United Methodist News Service.

Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth addresses the delegates, guests and his new episcopal colleagues, shortly after his election on Nov. 4, 2022, at Christ United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.

“It is a big tent church,” Lawrence said. “One of the concerns that some folks expressed is that we don’t have leadership in the church that reflects the diversity of the church. So, this episcopal election doesn’t fix that, but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth, elected in the Western Jurisdiction meeting, agreed. He is the first openly gay African American man to be elected bishop. The vote comes six years after the Western Jurisdiction elected the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop, Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area.

The LGBTQ-affirming resolutions point “to the alignment of the denomination more with the mainstream of our country,” Bridgeforth said. “It can also help us begin to center our conversations where we have unity of purpose, rather than centering on divisions.”

Bridgeforth will lead churches in the Greater Northwest Area, which includes churches in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and small parts of Montana and Canada. He said he has always worked across ideological lines in his administrative duties and would continue to do so.

“I have used our differences as an opportunity for us to come together,” he said. “It creates more space for a different kind of conversation than, ‘That’s different, that’s bad, we can’t be together.'” If some churches under his jurisdiction do choose to leave the United Methodist Church, Bridgeforth said he would help them make that transition.

“I would not want anybody to be where they don’t want to be,” he said.

Progressive groups have said the church should be open to appointing bishops and other clergy, regardless of sexual orientation, who show they have the gifts for ministry and a commitment to serve the church.

Conservatives, however, say the church needs to abide by its own rules.

“I am sure Bishop Bridgeforth is a person of sacred worth, but he does not meet the qualifications to hold the office of elder, much less bishop, and should not have been elected,” Therrell said.

At least 300 U.S. congregations have left the denomination this year, according to United Methodist News Service. Hundreds more are in the process of leaving, and Therrell predicted that number would be in the low thousands by the end of 2023. Overseas conferences in Bulgaria and Slovakia have ended their affiliation with the denomination, and churches in Africa are considering it, he said.

Many are bound for the newly formed conservative denomination, the Global Methodist Church.

The UMC is a worldwide denomination. American membership has declined to about 6.5 million, from a peak of 11 million in the 1960s. Overseas membership soared to match or exceed that of the U.S., fueled mostly by growth and mergers in Africa. Overseas delegates have historically allied with American conservatives to uphold the church’s stances on sexuality.

Support for a compromise measure that would have amicably split the denomination, negotiated in 2020, fell apart after that year’s legislative General Conference was postponed three times due to the pandemic. The next General Conference is now scheduled to begin in April 2024 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A vote by a 2019 General Conference was the latest of several in recent decades that reinforced the church’s ban on gay clergy and marriage. But that vote also prompted many local conferences to elect more liberal and centrist delegates, whose influence was felt in this month’s regional votes.

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Church of England should allow same-sex marriage, says Bishop of Oxford

Steven Croft apologises for church’s history on LGBTQ+ rights, but calls for ‘love and respect for those who take different views’

Croft apologised for the church’s stance on gay relationships, specifically their slowness to ‘reach better decisions and practice on these matter’.

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The Church of England should allow same-sex marriage for congregation and clergy, the Bishop of Oxford has said, becoming the most senior figure to weigh in on the subject.

The Rt Rev Dr Steven Croft also acknowledged the “acute pain and distress of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church”, and apologised for his own views being “slow to change”.

But he said there must be a discourse into how the church tackles the subject in future. “Any settlement must be founded on love and respect: love and respect for LGBTQ+ people and their families within and beyond the church, love and respect for those who take different views,” he added.

In a 52-page essay, Croft apologised for the church’s stance on gay relationships, specifically their slowness to “reach better decisions and practice on these matters”.

But the bishop also said clergy must be able to refuse to opt in to any new arrangements, saying that it should be recognised that keeping a “traditional view of marriage and human sexuality” is a “legitimate and honourable position”.

Croft’s statement is significant in light of the current laws which prevents ministers of the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages.

In the piece, Croft said: “I need to acknowledge, right at the beginning of this essay, the acute pain and distress of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the church.

“I am sorry that, corporately, we have been so slow as a church to reach better decisions and practice on these matters. I am sorry that my own views were slow to change and that my actions, and lack of action, have caused genuine hurt, disagreement and pain. I remain on a very steep learning curve.

“Listening to this pain and distress has been key in my own journey and to the changes in my own views.”

The bishop added that he wanted to see the removal of the legal barriers preventing gay marriage within the church and would like public services of blessings to take place regarding gay marriage in churches.

The essay also asserted that clergy should have the freedom of conscience to enter their own same-sex marriages.

Speaking of those he described as holding “more conservative positions”, he said he did not want to see people feeling excluded as a result of any changes.

He wrote: “They are sisters and brothers in Christ. It would be a tragedy if a journey towards inclusion for one group of Christians became an experience of exclusion for another.”

Bishops are considering whether to recommend any changes to teachings on same-sex relationships this week before the General Synod in February – where there could be a vote after decades of divisive talk.

Their proposals are due by the end of the year, with signs of an opt-out conscience clause for orthodox clergy.

Croft is the only serving C of E bishop or archbishop to publicly call for such a change, although Anglican churches in Scotland have begun same-sex services.

In August, the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, affirmed the validity of a declaration made in 1998 that gay sex was a sin, but said he would not seek to discipline C of E churches that would conduct or bless same-sex marriages.

Complete Article HERE!

SBC President Bart Barber Tells Anderson Cooper Gays ‘Can’t Be Good Christians,’

— Reiterates Church’s Same-Sex Marriage Stance

By Berlin Flores

Bart Barber, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), said in a recent interview with Anderson Cooper that gay people could not be good Christians.

Based on a report by PinkNews, Barber made the statement during a CBS 60 Minutes interview hosted by veteran journalist Cooper on Oct. 9, Sunday.

‘Good Christians Cannot Identify as Gay”

During the one-on-one interview, Cooper asked Barber if an individual could be an SBC member, a good Christian, and identify as LGBTQ+ at the same time. Barber emphatically answered, “No.”

I believe that sinners should be converted out of being sinners. And that applies to all of us. We’re committed to the idea of gender as a gift from God. We’re committed to the idea that men and women ought to be united with one another in marriage,” PinkNews quoted Barber saying.

The SBC president made the comment also as a way of explaining why the Baptist congregation is firmly against marriage between individuals of the same sex.

SBC’s Stand on Abortion

Aside from stressing the church’s view on same-sex marriage and Christians identifying as LGBTQ+, Barber explained SBC’s stand on abortion.

He said that the Baptist church takes an interest in the topic “not to police everybody’s sex life,” but because it thinks “that’s a human person who deserves to live.”

>Barber also addressed the statement made by Lauren Baubert that the church should guide the government in stopping legal abortions. The SBC president told Cooper that ‘the Baptist’s 400-year history runs contrary to Christian Nationalism.’

About Barber and the SBC

According to the website, Barber became the head of the SBC on June 14, 2022, following his victory over Tom Ascol for the SBC presidency. Barber reportedly gained at least 61% of the votes cast during the elections.

The article noted that Barber’s comments on various socio-political matters (including abortion and same-sex marriage) run consistently with the predominant beliefs of the Southern Baptist Convention. PinkNews said SBC maintains the LGBTQ+ community is “inherently sinful.”

Barber told Cooper he ran for SBC presidency because ‘God called him up to lead at this moment so Southern Baptists could move forward.’

According to the website, the anti-LGBTQ+, ultra-conservative SBC is not without its share of controversies, particularly allegations of sexual abuse by its church leaders.

PinkNews noted that in February 2019, a joint organization investigation uncovered more than 700 alleged victims of sex abuse by 400 Southern Baptist Church leaders. The San Antonio Express and the Houston Chronicle were among the investigation committee members.

The website disclosed that the church leadership waited for at least four months before forming an investigation committee and condemning the sexual abuse allegations against some of their leaders.

Consequently, the church leadership admitted in August this year that they are facing a federal investigation into the abuse allegations. The announcement came following several accusations and leaks that painted a mishandling of the church’s probe into the sexual abuse reports.

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Anglicans derailed anti-gay vote, but 125 anti-gay bishops forge ahead

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, at last week’s Lambeth Conference.

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Progressive Anglican bishops breathed a sigh of relief that plans for a vote against homosexuality were derailed at the just-ended international Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops. Meanwhile, separate from the formal conference in Canterbury, England, conservative Anglican bishops launched an initiative that allows bishops to show their support for the anti-homosexuality resolution that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, removed from the Lambeth agenda.

Leaders of the Lambeth conference of bishops representing the 85 million worldwide members of Anglican churches backed away from a planned vote on whether to reaffirm a 1998 resolution rejecting homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and gay clergy.

As the conference ended, the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) announced that among bishops at the conference, 125 bishops from 21 provinces representing 7.9 million Anglicans, had signed up in support of the anti-gay resolution. The conservative bishops said that they would also invite bishops from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda to support the resolution. Those bishops — representing about 27 million Anglicans — boycotted the Lambeth conference because it did not exclude bishops from Anglican churches that accept same-sex marriage and/or ordain gay bishops:

  • The Episcopal Church in America;
  • The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil;
  • The Anglican Church of Canada;
  • The Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia;
  • The Scottish Episcopal Church; and
  • The Church in Wales.

The GSFA bishops said that “if there is no authentic repentance by the revisionist provinces, then we will sadly accept a state of ‘impaired communion’’ with them.”

The GSFA position is not as harshly anti-gay as that of many other anti-gay churches, especially in Africa. The 1998 resolution:

  • recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;
  • While rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex.

Progressive Anglicans remained upbeat about the conference. For example, as The Guardian reported:

“170 archbishops and bishops issued a statement affirming the ‘holiness of LGBT+ people’s love’. Many LGBT+ people had been ‘historically wounded by the church and particularly hurt by the events of the past few weeks’.

“Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for LGBT+ equality within the church, said she was ‘overwhelmed with the level of support and concern … for the global LGBT+ community.’

“Ozanne added: ‘We now need to look at practical ways to help educate people about matters of sexuality and gender identity, and to share the theological basis that has led so many to affirm and celebrate same sex relationships.’ “

Complete Article HERE!

Bridging Religion and Sexual Diversity in Latin America

People gather for a pride march in Bogota, Colombia, on July 4, 2021.

By María Mercedes Acosta

Like many Latin Americans, Enrique Vega Dávila, 36, grew up in a non-practicing Catholic family. But from a very young age, he dreamed of actually living the Catholic faith, and he chose to do so by becoming a priest. About six years into seminary, his dream was interrupted when he realized he was gay. Continuing as a member of the Catholic clergy would require him to live a double life, as so many other priests have done for centuries.

The Catholic church isn’t the only religious institution to reject ordination of or condemn people identifying as LGBTQ+. But in recent history, several Protestant denominations have chosen to be more inclusive by ordaining LGBTQ+ clergy and allowing same-sex marriage. Dávila took advantage of that change by becoming a Lutheran pastor, and he’s now obtaining a doctorate in gender studies at Iberoamericana University in Mexico City.

In his new denomination, he does not have to hide his sexual orientation, tattoos, earrings, or the makeup he sometimes likes to apply. He is well known as “el reverendo cuir” (the queer pastor). Everywhere he goes, and in every way he can, Dávila likes to remind people that religious freedom is for everyone and that no pastor or priest can prevent LGBTQ+ people from following whatever faith they believe in or loving whomever they choose.

Dávila is one of the protagonists of a multi-platform series of life stories produced by Sentiido, a nonprofit organization based in Bogotá, Colombia. Formed in 2011, Sentiido uses communications, research, and storytelling to reduce stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and leverage social change. Faith + Diversity, as the project is called, is part of Sentiido’s larger commitment to amplify the work of affirming faith communities.

Enrique Vega Dávila
Enrique Vega Dávila photographed in Mexico City, Mexico, on January 27, 2022.

Faith + Diversity began in 2017 and seeks to raise awareness about the many different ways in which LGBTQ+ people engage with religion and spirituality. Stories like Dávila’s are a reminder that Christianity is rooted in the core value of unconditional love, which is why it so often invokes Biblical phrases such as “love one another as I have loved them” or “do not judge and you will not be judged.”

For Sentiido, that also means refraining from labeling and dismissing opponents of sexual and gender diversity as “homophobic,” “transphobic,” or “anti-LGBTQ rights.” Real change—fundamental transformation—takes time, and for many, it can feel as if a new worldview is being “pushed” on them, which can exacerbate already existing polarization. At Sentiido, we also know that many people of faith understand Biblical teachings in a historical context and are open to the value of inclusion. Therefore, Faith + Diversity encourages dialogue with those willing to have conversations, reminding people of all faiths what they already know: that all humans are equal in the eyes of God.

At Sentiido, we also emphasize what unites us, rather than what divides us. For example, most Latin Americans place a very high value on their family and their faith. These shared values provide a common ground for conversations about dignity, love, empathy, understanding, and support, which can lead to addressing other issues like resilience, freedom, and solidarity.

Still, changing hearts, minds, and church policies is a process. For Dávila, it starts by letting LGBTQ+ people know they don’t have to heed the warnings of Catholic leaders who say that homosexuality is not a sin but homosexual acts are, or believe evangelical and Pentecostal ministers claiming LGBTQ+ people are making “wrong choices that must be corrected.” He affirms that divine love is bigger than a church, a religious leader, or a book; rather, it is an entire life experience.

The late Harvey Milk, a gay American politician and activist who was assassinated in 1978, once told a crowd that the LGBTQ+ community is simply asking for hope: “Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only are the gays, but the Blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the ‘us-es.’ The ‘us-es’ will give up.” He added that electing more LGBTQ+ people to public office would help to build that hope. “That gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward,” Milk said. “It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.”

Calling out the inequality, injustice, and violence against LGBTQ+ people is as central to our work as it was to Milk’s activism. We want everyone to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To do so, we share the stories and experiences of LGBTQ+ people in their daily lives, in their homes and churches, while holding space for all people to feel heard and be seen, even those who may be struggling with their views about LGBTQ+ people.

George Lakoff, a researcher in the field of cognitive linguistics, says constant dialogue around societal problems without conversations focused on wide-reaching solutions can reinforce old mindsets. People connect best to stories in which LGBTQ+ people show up as their authentic selves. So rather than focus on statements like “a world without hate” or “a world without discrimination,” we promote stories that give us picture of the world we would like to live in. It’s a world in which everyone strives to do the right thing by their neighbor, because everyone wins when they do so.

Complete Article HERE!