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Mich. Methodists debate LBGTQIA people in the church

• Jun 9, 2019 at 8:00 AM

ACME — In the midst of the global debate on the future direction of the United Methodist Church, members to the Annual Conference – a meeting of more than 2,000 clergy and laypersons – tested the waters to learn where those in attendance stood on decisions made during the General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, in February.

During the meeting, which was held May 30 through June 2 near Traverse City, clergy and laity members voted three times to approve measures that would provide Michigan Bishop David Bard and conference leadership with guidance for the full inclusion of LBGTQIA persons in the Michigan Conference.

The body approved the aspirations for the conference: “The Michigan Annual Conference aspires to live into an expression of Methodism that includes LGTQIA people in full life and membership of the UMC.”

By more than a two-thirds margin, 819-377, the measure aspires to promote reconciliation, and focus resources on mission, not trials and investigations based on sexual orientation. A declaratory decision on the constitutionality of this resolution was requested and will be acted upon by Bard within 30 days.

Voting members also approved the taking of a non-binding straw poll. Prior to taking the vote, Amy Mayo-Moyle, chairperson of the Michigan Conference Leadership Council who brought the resolution to take a straw poll, said, “We are in a hard place ... but we are at a place where we must best discern how to go forward. The reality is we very well may be facing schism. We don’t know what is to come. This will help us know the sense of the Annual Conference.”

The result of the straw poll indicated a two-thirds preference for “a United Methodist Conference whose policies allow for but do not require clergy to officiate at same-gender weddings, allow for consideration for ordained ministry of persons regardless of sexual orientation, and in which appointments are made with consideration given to the full range of contextual realities.”

About 350 Annual Conference members (31 percent) favored instead “a United Methodist Conference whose policies include the current Book of Discipline language on ‘homosexuality,’ same-gender marriage and LGBTQIA-plus ordination along with enhanced enforcement of those policies determined constitutional by the Judicial Council.”

At the conclusion of the vote, Bard made clear this straw vote was only one indicator of where Michigan congregations stand.

“It does matter how this poll is interpreted,” the bishop said. “This is a vote of the people gathered, lay and clergy, in this particular place in this particular time.”

Bard acknowledged the pain and difficulty of taking the poll and the importance of caring for everyone’s feelings: “Jesus of the parables cares as much about the 70 percent as the 30 percent. I encourage us to continue to do the hard work.”

Finally, by a nearly identical margin, the members also approved a petition to be considered at the General Conference in May 2020 in Minneapolis for the creation of a Central Conference in North America. If adopted by GCP 2020, this would “provide for the creation of a Central Conference encompassing North America,” allowing more contextualized ministry and mission. In other words, United Methodists in the United States would be able to make denominational decisions for American congregations and clergy without the input of United Methodists in other countries.

Michigan’s Annual Conference followed the historic decisions made during a global meeting of United Methodists in February that increased penalties for clergy who performed same-sex weddings and greater restrictions on ordaining openly gay persons for ministry. The denomination now faces the real possibility of a split over clergy performing same-sex marriages, the ordination of gay clergy and the acceptance of LGBTQI persons in the church. More than 130,000 Michigan lay members and about 750 active clergy are expected to be impacted by decisions made during the four-day conference in Acme, outside of Traverse City.

To date, no United Methodist Churches in Michigan have indicated they are leaving the denomination; however, a number of both progressive and orthodox congregations have indicated they are considering departure.

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